My client in Tucson is a business that started as a sole proprietorship and grew to dominate its niche in Tucson and make major inroads in the larger Phoenix market. As is often the case, a large part of the success of the business is invested in the personality of the founder. I’m engaged there because some venture capitalists I know purchased several businesses in the same niche and needed someone to pull all the accounting together into a single system.
I’ve wondered about the logic of the acquisition, since venture capital works best when it’s the wind that spreads a hot local fire to acres of ready tinder. Something replicable - think Starbuck’s. This business seems more like a free-standing oak on a savannah.
Anyway, there is the problem of cloning The Founder in order to not only grow the business, but to merely continue its existence if he croaks or decides one weekend that he just won’t return from his place on the Sea of Cortez. The original idea was for him to groom a young principal from one of the other acquired businesses, but he’s consistently disdained this fellow, and it’s started to look like it won’t happen.
On my arrival in Tucson this week, I found The Founder’s 30-something Son working across from me. The Founder intimated to me that his hope was for this Son to assume the mantle that ill fit the hapless acquiree. My immediate reaction, as I regarded them, was a pang of desire - at that moment, I wished I had the opportunity to bring my son into a business, to work with him as mentor and partner, and for the first time since meeting him I envied The Founder.
The next day, while The Founder and Son were in Phoenix, The Founder’s Brother came into the Tucson office. The Brother has been very successful in business ventures elsewhere, and is known not to suffer fools. In conversation with me (he hasn’t discovered yet the profundity of my foolishness, although I believe he has his suspicions), he asked if I’d met the Son. I said I had, and he shook his head and said, “It’s not going to work. The kid just has no personality, he’s a dud. I mean, the kid’s had some hard times and I feel badly for (Founder), but this won’t work out.”
I had to (silently) acknowledge that my attempts at discourse with the Son hadn’t generated any sparks, and I saw that Brother was pretty much right on the money. I foresaw then that this would not end well for any of them, and my envy for The Founder was replaced with regret for the strife and disappointment that seemed to await him.