Morry Stein's fear of flying prompted him to leave written instructions with his sons about how to handle the family business, Camp Echo Lake, if he and his wife were ever to die in a plane crash. Ironically and tragically, Morry was one of 68 passengers killed in the crash of an American Eagle plane in October 1994, en route back from a camping association meeting where he had been raising funds for inner-city children to attend camp.
Tony Stein, Morry's 32-year-old son, had been planning to re-enter the Warrensburg, New York, summer camp as co-director the following month. Instead, he was cast into that position sooner than expected. "It all happened so quickly, I forgot about the written instructions," says Tony. "It wasn't until after the funeral that I found the papers and realized we had done everything exactly as my father suggested."
The transition, though painful, was about as smooth as could be expected under the circumstances because of Morry's diligence in regularly sharing "the state of the camp" with his three sons, two of whom were interested in joining the business. "About 10 years ago, we started having business meetings around the dining room table at my parents' house," Tony says. "We talked about new program ideas, the future of camping, how we could raise tuition, when we would enter the business, what our strengths were and what we liked to do . . . things like that. Dad, who had an MBA from the University of Chicago, was a big believer in preparing for succession."
In his written instructions, Morry told his sons who his trusted advisors were, whom to call on if something were to happen to him, how to handle various employees, where to find information they would need such as his will and a net worth statement, and a written pep talk. "In essence," says Tony, "the pep talk said, 'Whatever happens, you guys will be fine.'"