For over three decades, Centennial, Inc. has served organizations in many business sectors and has carved out a niche with privately held companies and family businesses. In the last decade the ability to understand, connect, and internalize what our clients are experiencing has become our own reality, as we too are a family business experiencing ouritbut own succession plan. My father, Mike Sipple Sr., and mother, Susan Sipple, both own and serve in critical leadership roles for our organization, and I have spent the last ten years growing personally and professionally to prepare for a passing of the baton under their leadership.
My mentor is a leader who puts trust and integrity above everything else and his reputation of 35 years has created a significant foundation for Centennial and me to stand on. Although he happens to be my father, I could ask for no better leader from whom to learn, change, and grow. Honestly, I do not know many men, let alone fellow family business colleagues, who can say the same. As a father, husband, son, and a service provider to my clients – this is what I strive to become and why, like every other Father’s Day before, this Father’s Day means so much to me.
As Marshall Goldsmith states in his book, Succession, “If all goes well, you may have taught your successor a great lesson: how to successfully pass the baton of leadership on to his/her successor; who will then lead an organization that will continue to prosper in the future — an organization that all three of you will be proud of!”
Based on all we have experienced and learned we are on track as a family business. It is an awesome experience to work with both parents and still enjoy going to each other’s house for dinner and family events and leave plenty of time for grandparents to enjoy their time with the grandchildren.
The greatest reward for us is that our values and approach to serving clients fully align as a family and as leaders of our organization. Our clients have communicated to us that after decades of service there is a nice balance of consistency and change from both Mike Sipple, Sr. and myself. Our firm has doubled in employee size over the last four years and we intend to continue this growth trend as we move into the future. But we can only do so in our industry by listening and changing to further meet our clients where they are today. We also have an incredible business family that makes it all possible. Culture and team are critical to any great organization and we consider ourselves to have a great culture and the best team and advisors, too.
The ‘Voice of the Customer’
The most rewarding and defining experience for our organization over the last few years has been the “voice of the customer” process we went through in 2008 and continue to visit on a regular basis.
2008 was a critical time for our business, like many others, as we were just beginning to work through the early stages of our own succession plan. It was also a time where we were experiencing growth organically and geographically for our client companies. It was a turning point of taking our company to the ‘next level’ as it relates to strategy, communications, brand awareness, and our service delivery model.
The “voice of the customer” process included, but was not limited to:
- Why organizations seek to have Centennial, Inc. on their team when they are experiencing organizational change and growth?
- What ways, in terms of services, geography, and position levels, our clients want to be served as it related to talent management and talent acquisition services?
- What qualities do our clients see in Centennial, Inc. that they wish to remain the same?
- Where can we improve as a client service organization?
- What do our client companies ‘REALLY’ need versus what we think we are providing?
- What value does our entire team, our business family, bring to their organization?
- What differences do our clients see in Mike Sr. and I that we need to be aware of as we transition relationships for the future?
- What is important to our client companies and leaders as we go through an organizational succession plan?
The last section of our “voice of the customer” process revolved around the family business. After serving clients for over three decades, we have some clients who have worked with each of us independently and some clients who have worked with both of us. Our organization is focused on long-term success and we want to ensure our transition plan includes our long-standing clients.
The message from our customers was clear – We trust you; keep serving, listening, and delivering results!
Our organization believes that culture, character, chemistry and competencies are the most critical elements to hiring, leading an organization, and leading a team. The clients with whom we work value the same and see the same in both generations at Centennial.
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“As far as a family business, we certainly have different personalities but bring a single focus to our clients as it relates to client satisfaction! We also enjoy serving our clients, our team, our families, and our community.” – Mike Sipple, Sr.
Being in business with family can be challenging
Two of the greatest challenges a family business will face is effective communication and creating a plan that is best for all parties involved. Mike Sr. and I have invested three and a half years working through succession-related activities. This has included being intimately involved in an organization that focuses on educating and providing the tools for a succession plan to be effective. The Goering Center for Family & Private Business at the University of Cincinnati is a leading educational and informational resource center for family and closely held businesses. The Goering Center has one of the leading programs in the country, preparing the next generation of family business owners to manage and grow a family organization. Mike Sr. has said, “The Goering Center has been instrumental in our organization’s development, Mike Jr’s development, and my own development as we approach the next step of succession for our organization. We believe that we are a better company and better leaders from our experience seeking outside counsel and guidance. We also strongly recommend any family business to surround themselves with great advisors who truly understand the dynamics of family business and ultimately care about your success as a family first and then focus on the success of the organization.” This will not just help as you look at the next generation of leadership – it will also ensure that you put first things first; and that’s family.
Based on our expertise and experience in recruiting, coaching, and talent strategy we know trust and open communication are the greatest assets of any high-performing organization. We hold ourselves accountable to succeeding in this area and while it is never easy, it is well worth the effort. We strive to have communication as a strength as so many of our client companies and family business colleagues struggle as a family and a business because of their weakness in this area.
Mike Sr. says, “We want the best for our children! The fact that I have a son who is also my business partner is simply a plus. Any parent like Susan and I who gets to work with their child knows there is nothing more rewarding than working along side of and with their child. To see our son develop as a business leader, husband, and father gives us much to be thankful for.”
Additional Insights — 35 Years of Learning’s Reflections by Mike Sipple, Sr.
The following are some of my father’s reflections from 35 years in this business. I am proud to share them with you in celebration of Father’s Day – what better gift to give my father than to share the wisdom he has so generously bestowed upon me.
- My son’s last name may have gotten him in our company’s door, but his performance and commitment to our company over the past ten years has made him worthy of being at the leadership table and my future successor as owner / steward of our company.
- My son has excelled in each and every role he has served and led…technology, marketing, branding and communications , strategy, recruiting, and client support (Farmer), business development consultant (Rainmaker – Hunter) and organizational leader.
- Learning is a two-way street – I have learned, and continue to learn, as much from my son as hopefully he is learning from me. We learned to respect each other’s roles, personalities, styles, and why we make a great team.
- Our business is a “people” business and an “information” business. Today you have to be great at both. My son’s generation (Generation Y) has the information tools today that my generation (Baby Boomers) simply did not have, or had to work very hard to get; laptops, iPads, social media, smart phones, mobile applications. I can remember when we had to fax resumes…and even worse – when we had to snail mail resumes. Imagine a client waiting 2-3 days to receive your candidates’ resumes and introductions.
- Some of our character traits are personality driven and some are more generation driven, especially those related to computers and other technology.
- Working with family members is great, but it is not easy. It takes a lot of work and we have to respect our individual roles. In our one-on-one meetings we both have to determine which ‘hat’ we have on and must be able to change them quickly. I can be consultant, CEO, Owner, Steward, or Father, and in many cases my answers may be different depending upon which hat I have on at that given moment regarding the topic or discussion.
- I believe our business is a simple business, but it is not an easy business. I also believe it takes a lot to be successful in our business. I have been blessed to be in this line of work for more than 35 years. I believe my son will be even more successful.
- It is a true joy to have my son as my business partner. I have often told him, “I enjoy you being my business partner and I hope you will continue, but it is more important to me having you as my beloved son.”
- We are constantly learning the difference in separating “ownership” and “leadership.”
- Succession planning is tough, not because of who my successor will be, but because it is a time in my life where I really have to think about separating myself from the company in which my wife and I have invested 35 years. It is a very emotional and psychological time: thinking about what is best for my wife and myself as well as what is best for the business and what is best for our son and his family. But, it is the right thing to do for all parties involved and I am excited to be preparing all parties for a “passing of the torch.”
We wish each of you a Happy Father’s Day and encourage you to do the right thing and be authentic – personally and professionally. Approaching our 36th year in this business, we can attest to the impact it has on the lives of your business family, those you serve – your clients, your team, your families, and your community. All of us at Centennial believe that you and your business will be blessed because of the effort, and know while it is not easy, it is absolutely worth the investment.