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Don’t force what isn’t there

Progressive Cattleman Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 24 July 2017

“It looks like you’re not having fun,” one father said watching his son go about his day-to-day tasks. “I’m really not,” replied the son.

That was the moment 85-year-old J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr. knew his son wouldn’t take over the family business. And it was tough.

With only two CEOs in the global hotel chain’s history – Bill Marriott Jr. and his father – it’s no wonder it was a shock when Arne Sorenson was appointed CEO at Marriott in 2012.

“He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t joyous about coming to work, which I think is the most important thing about a job,” Bill Marriott told the Wall Street Journal. “You have to love it, or you can’t do well in it.”

Pegged as a potential CEO candidate years ago, John Marriott is what Bill Marriott would call “natural-born entrepreneur” – not quite the skill set needed for a multi-billion dollar company. He didn’t want to be tied to his desk and daily meetings.

Sorenson had been employed with the company for more than two decades and had the people skills to boot. He knew the business inside and out and had the passion Bill Marriott was looking for. So, after visiting with John, they made the executive decision to appoint Sorenson as the next CEO – a smart move for father, son and the business.

“I am quite happy with how the process has turned out,” Bill Marriott later told the Harvard Business Review. “And John is far happier in what he’s doing now … I mentioned that I’d spent the day in a 10-hour management meeting. John just shook his head and laughed. That isn’t the life for him.”

The headaches and heartaches associated with transitioning family businesses to the next generation aren’t unique to agriculture. Every family business crosses that rickety bridge at some point, while some are more prepared than others. But let me ask you this: Do your kids have the same passion for the industry that you do?

I made an interesting comparison yesterday while trying on jeans at a local country store. Always a sucker for a good deal, I was mesmerized when I walked in to find a rack full of jeans priced at 50 percent off. Wiggling and shimmying, I tried on almost every pair close to my size only to find they were too short, too long, too ugly or too much.

Still captivated with the thought of 50 percent off, I tried to make at least one pair work but became frustrated in the process. I learned sometimes you just can’t force what isn’t there. Instead of walking out with a great deal and some new jeans, I walked out with an hour less in my day and a need for some caffeine.

We’ve all seen families who pressure their children into playing sports or to become a doctor rather than a teacher. But did they consider that maybe their dream might not be their child’s? Too many relationships are broken as a result.

I am lucky to have a dad that instilled my passion for agriculture but never forced it. By all means encourage, train and mentor, but let them discover it for themselves. After all, a successful transition only happens when both generations are passionate about the same business, no matter what industry they’re in.

Now, if I can only remember this when I have children.…  end mark

Cassidy Woolsey
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