More than 50 members of The Unified Group convened for the organization’s 14th annual Owner’s Forum and Annual Meeting in November to discuss the importance of succession and strategic planning, networking, business success, and more.

Doing Your Homework

Prior to the gathering, attendees were issued a “homework” assignment. Members were asked to rifle through a list of 10 topics and select three to focus on. Within each selected area, members were asked to record notes, benchmarks, and proposed goals

Upon arrival, members were split into small groups based upon their chosen categories. Inside each group, nonproprietary discussion centered on each participant’s ideas, plans, and goals.

“This is how we all learn from each other,” said Julie Bishop, executive director, The Unified Group. “I continued to hear over and over again, the answers to all our problems are in this room.”

Jim Bartolotta, managing partner, The Unified Group, said the learning started the second you walked into the room.

“This is a forum like no other, where people actually look forward to doing their homework,” he said. “When you have successful business owners together, discussing their strengths and weakness, it provides very powerful insight to build upon.”

To keep members on task, The Unified Group sends a reminder letter in the mail within six months of the meeting, reminding participants of their newly created goals, and what they need to do to accomplish them.

“Inside these small groups, you share that you’re struggling with a certain topic and, without exception, one of your group members has experienced a similar situation, and offers a solution,” said John Speed, director of operations, Shoffner Mechanical Services, Knoxville, Tenn. “This way, we don’t have to recreate the wheel. We share our struggles and a working solution is instantly offered.”

Setting the Standard

At the three-day event, The Unified Group unveiled a financial benchmarking tool that allowed attendees to compare fiscal data through pie charts, bar graphs, and more. Statistics were broken down using a number of filters, including revenue per technician, annual gross, net profit, and more.

“If a member is exhibiting extraordinarily high or low marks, we can now discuss best practices to even things out,” said Bartolotta.

Speed said the benchmark data was worth the price of admission.

“It’s very important to examine your bottom line. But, to do it with your peers, this is a great learning tool,” he said. “When you compare your finances to your peers, you learn a ton. You may be over- or under-paying technicians and through this data, you discover issues — good and bad — that you never knew existed.”

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Neil Koenig, business consultant, teacher, and author, shared expertise on the necessity and implementation of succession planning.

“Seven out of 10 family businesses end after the 20- to 30-year mark,” he said. “One out of 10 businesses will survive the third generation. What plan will your company have in place to ensure you are successful for years to come?”

The topic hit close to home for a number of attendees as nearly half of all The Unified Group members work in a family business.

“We’re a very family-led organization and Neil shared valuable information on the importance of having the right people in upper-level positions, and what will happen to the business once the highest-ranking officials pass away,” said Bishop. “Following his speech, we split up again and began developing individual succession plans, which then led to a comprehensive discussion on leadership.”

Richard Bodwell, president and owner, Innovative Service Solutions, Orlando, Fla. has already experienced business succession following his father Ken’s retirement.

“I grew up in a family business and now I own one,” he said. “I’m not at the point where I’m thinking about transitioning, but I know others that are. This year, I assigned senior leadership roles and understand exactly what he was talking about. As I grow older, and transition becomes a necessity, I’ll be much better prepared thanks to Neil. This certainly opened my eyes a bit.”

Speed said he doesn’t have an ownership stake in his company, but did learn a valuable lesson from Koenig.

“My next day at work, I began asking our managers, ‘What are your plans for the future?’ If I’m investing all this time and energy into the company, I deserve a right to know what the future holds for me, and the company as a whole,” he said. “The direction and ownership plan of a company should not be kept a secret, and once I brought the topic up, it spurred a lot of great dialogue.”

Honored Member

Speed was ecstatic to learn that he was chosen as The Unified Group’s 2012 Member of the Year.

“As a company, we realized long ago that we don’t have all the answers. Membership in an organization such as The Unified Group gives us a fantastic opportunity to learn how to do things correctly,” said Speed.

“I meet a new best friend at every meeting I attend and I know our team, and others in the group, feels the same way.”

Allison Rodgers, sales and marketing coordinator, The Unified Group, said Speed personified the team-first attitude that is The Unified Group.

“He kept repeating over and over that it isn’t about him; it’s all about his team,” he said. “He said it’s about getting multiple people at his company engaged in the group, creating networks for them to bounce ideas off one another. He said The Unified Group makes his company stronger, and his participation certainly does the same for us.”

Publication date: 12/24/2012