Lessons From a Young CEO

Kathy Fortin

May 15, 2018

Lessons From a Young CEO

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the CEO of a New Hampshire family business. I also interviewed her father, who ran the company from the early 1970s, whom she succeeds.

She is forty-four years old and has held this position for only five months. However, she grew up in the business and knows it inside and out. My purpose in meeting her was to write a magazine profile and was unrelated to my work as a law firm consultant. Yet, I found that the many aspects of running their business paralleled the business of running a law firm.

 The father told me he had watched about forty companies through the years, small businesses like his. He considered the time spent a personal learning lab that provided many insights into running his own business. He told me that today thirty-eight of those businesses are gone, many lost to bankruptcy. The fact his family business is still here, thriving and successful, gave a few lessons worth noting:

 It Starts with Solid Leadership.

The business was founded in 1952. Three generations of consistently solid leadership have contributed to its success. They have the advantage of the leaders coming from the family’s common values -- strength of character, treating employees well and putting the customers’ needs first.

Effective leadership in law firms is paramount to everything. It is what carries a firm from one generation to the next and provides for its continuity, reputation and profitability.

 Adapting to Change.

The former CEO was never afraid of change. His daughter says she remembers the day he came home with the first Mac computer.

While accepting change is necessary in every business, lawyers are often slow to make changes in their law firms. With a strategic plan and commitment to implementation, change is controlled, monitored, and happens over time.

 Adhere to the Core Mission.

This business began outsourcing production of some manufacturing, seeing that as a trend of many small businesses. However, they experienced problems and realized they had lost their focus. Remembering their core mission is to provide personalized customer service and quality products, they returned production to in-house and are more successful and satisfied than ever.

Identifying a firm’s Core Mission comes through Strategic Planning. What is its purpose? What is its goal? It is important to identify a firm’s reasons to exist, to stay true to its principles, no matter what distractions might come along.

 Support and Empower Everyone in Your Company.

Many of the nearly forty staff members have been with the company long term, some twenty years or more. The owners value their loyalty and longevity.

 People are the only differentiator when conducting a business. Choose the right people, treat them well and they will stay with you as dependable employees.

 Cultivate a Culture of Passion.

I saw that the daughter and her father got along well. Their passion for the work was evident. They are excited to go in the office every day and race each other to see who arrives first. As I toured their work space and met others, I felt a positive corporate attitude.

No matter what the business, stress and the daily demands can override the enjoyment and can mask what should be a satisfying venture. Having a passion for your own law firm, its goals, its success, and its future, is key to cultivating a healthy culture.