After 30 years, a director at a family-owned business moved to a competitor. How did the firm’s lack of progress and succession plan prompt Amy to leave?
This is our fourth blog for our “Inside Voices” series, periodic interviews of professionals at different points in the employee lifecycle, to hear about their experiences and insights around skills and competencies.
After 30 years working at a family-owned title business, an office manager was recruited to a new company. In this “Inside Voices” edition, we share Amy’s reflections on her three-decade tenure with one company and the factors that led to her decision to leave.
If you’re a small or family-owned business, what are the lessons from her story? We’re reminded of the need for executives of every generation and every company to embrace innovation and to create a culture of continuous improvement. Those are essential elements to keep current in the market and to retain your most valuable employees.
Avilar: What was your job when you started with the family-owned title company? How did your career progress?
Amy: I started as a typist, in an entry-level position. After completing my baccalaureate, I very quickly moved into other positions with a variety of duties, so I was able to learn the business and grow. A lot of trust was placed in me early on.
Within two and a half years, I opened and managed my own office, so there was always something new, something to learn, and the ability to grow. Later, I became a manager and then a director, reporting to the CEO/owner from the satellite office I ran.
Avilar: These days, it’s unusual for someone to stay with one company for 30 years. What was it about the company or culture that kept you there for three decades?
Amy: I liked that it was a family business. I liked the work and the customer service. There was always something to learn about the title industry and I found that interesting. Economic changes played quite a role, too, so every year was different.
Avilar: Please describe your learning and development over that time.
Amy: Earlier in my career, the company offered a lot of training opportunities. Lots of seminars and one-on-one education. As the years passed, and with the addition of technology, webinars became the form of continuing education, which was great. It was a lot easier than traveling to a class or workshop.
Over time, though, it was no longer requested that everyone company-wide pursued learning. It was something we had to make sure we did on our own.
Avilar: What kind of skills did you build over your career?
Amy: People skills. It really is a people business, so I learned to deal with a lot of different types of people.
Technical skills, too. Laws often change, and you have to keep up with that. We always had resources to help us learn about the changes or to answer our questions, so we knew we were on the right path.
As a manager, I also learned how to utilize employees to the best of their abilities, trying to weed out the people who just weren’t right for the business. Title work is not for everybody, just like any industry. The hardest part was managing people. Each person had a different idea of what was, or what they wanted to be, expected of them.
Managing people was definitely the most difficult part of my job. The longer I was there, the more responsibility I had in that way – and that was one of the least enjoyable parts of my job.
Avilar: What did the leadership transition from the first to second generation look like?
Amy: Our CEO was the first generation. He was raised before computers and the internet, so it was hard for him to understand that there could be benefits to introducing better ways to get the work accomplished, even if the changes were costly.
His children, the second generation, pushed for progress, but they got pushback for a long time. Even those times that the CEO finally agreed to a change, he did it begrudgingly because technology cost money. He didn’t understand how helpful it was to the entire staff, to make them more productive.
Avilar: What did the leadership do to support the shift to the next generation? What worked and what didn’t?
Amy: Quite honestly, there really wasn’t a lot of support. The first generation was still at the helm, and he had the final say. The second generation finally gave more input that was being heard and starting to be utilized, but the CEO was still in charge.
It would’ve been more advantageous for that company to start the succession process sooner. They eventually did start, but they lost some good people because of the delay.
Avilar: When a recruiter reached out to you, what made you decide to leave?
Amy: Burnout was a big part of it. We weren’t given the tools we needed to do our job efficiently. Although the economy in this industry has been doing very, very well, we weren’t allowed to hire. We were just expected to continue to get the job done. For me, the buck always stopped at my table, and I had to take everything on myself. That’s not a good rule when you’re a manager. You are supposed to be able to delegate, but we didn’t have enough people to do that.
Part of what kept me at that job so long was the learning. But I was at a point where there was no more opportunity for growth at the company.
When I was recruited, I knew right away that their technology was better than ours. They also had a different culture. It was a culture based on work-life balance, which was not what I had at my previous employer. So those were two very tangible aspects of this new job that were hard to resist.
Avilar: You’ve been at the new title company for about 18 months, now. Any regrets?
Amy: No regrets. I do miss my former work family. I mean, I was with them for 30 years, but I do not miss the job.
I was fortunate, I left one company to stay in the same industry, so I’m still working with the same clients that I worked with when I was at the previous company. It’s just that I now have a new employer with better systems.
Avilar: What advice do you have for business leaders who are moving through a major change?
Amy: Employees are key. We all know that.
You need to find the right ones. The ones who work well together. I mean, you bring in one bad egg and that can really drag down the morale of your entire company. So, it’s so important to pick the right employees, but also have compassion for your employees to understand that they do need that work-life balance.
But also, they are employees, so they can’t rule the ship. It’s a partnership, a give and take from both sides.
Avilar: What one thing do you want people to remember after reading this blog?
Amy: The importance of keeping your good employees. I consider myself an excellent employee. I was there for 30 years, but it had more to do with my work ethic than it did with the company itself.
At my new company, the culture is so incredibly different. We have each other’s back in everything that we do.
So, remember to keep your good employees happy. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you.
Thank you, Amy, for sharing your story! We wish you all the best for all that’s ahead in your career.
If you’re looking for ways to build the leadership skills in your organization or to create a culture of continuous improvement that will engage, develop, and support your employees, download our Competency Management Toolkit for some tips. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ competency management systems can help.
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