Business Mentoring for Your Kids

Planning ahead

When formulating a plan for nonfamily manager mentoring, the following issues should be addressed:

  • Who should mentor? In companies with several skilled senior managers, one or a number of them could lead mentoring efforts. Most of the time, the senior family member initiates the process after obtaining approval from the successor and other, pertinent family members.

At Monsen Engineering Co., an air conditioning design, installation and service company in Fairfield, New Jersey, the impetus to mentor Eric Monsen, son of president Dick Monsen, came from the chief operating officer and the chief financial officer. Both senior managers had attended a seminar on family business succession and left concerned that without a strategy to prepare then 29-year-old Eric to lead the company his grandfather had started in 1948, the company's future was in doubt.

"I was ripe for their suggestion," says Dick Monsen, who, at 59, was beginning to think about retirement. They set up a committee that included Eric and Dick Monsen, the two executives and an outside executive coach, and dubbed it the Merlin Group (after the magician who, according to Round Table legend, helped Arthur become king). The two senior managers handle most of the internal, day-to-day mentoring; the outside coach helps Eric develop his leadership skills.

Selecting an interim leader to act as the mentor is another option. Parents ready to retire might opt to hire an interim president when they take leave of daily responsibilities, if their successors are not quite ready to take the helm. In this case, part of the new president's job is to mentor the heir apparent so he or she is ready to take over in a given number of years. For example, Shel Schultz knew when he assumed the presidency of Scranton Gillette Communications, a business-to-business magazine publisher in Des Plaines, Illinois, that one of his prime tasks was to broaden the experiences of previous president Halbert Gillette's two sons, Ed and Hal, so that in time Schultz could step down and they could step in.

  • What should mentors know? Before a nonfamily manager assumes a mentoring role, he or she should be clear about the latitude of his or her decision-making responsibilities, advises Harvey Meier, a family-business consultant in Spokane, Washington. Among the issues to be addressed: Can the manager discipline the successor or decide the successor's compensation and job duties?

Once the parameters of the mentor's authority are established, Meier says the family has to assure that they will support the manager and that the job will be worthwhile, either through written guaranties of job security or additional financial compensation.

  • What shouldn't mentors do? On occasion, mentors--even those with verbal assurances from the family that they are supported in their precarious roles--feel that their positions, security, informational edge or personal relationships are threatened by the successor. They might try to sabotage the mentoring process by delaying it, not including the successor in meetings or withholding important information. Any action that seems like a stalling tactic should be openly addressed so it is not repeated.

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Family Business.

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