The Return of the CEO / Building an Enduring Organization

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On February 22, 2010, I addressed a topic in my column that, quite frankly, was difficult for me to write about – and for good reason. That was the day I shared with you the news that my father had been diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer and, since he is also my partner and the CEO of our firm, the relevance of that news was based on the need for a proper succession plan to mitigate the negative effects a serious illness can have on an organization.

I don’t mind reiterating today what I admitted in that column about the succession plan that we had in place at the time: “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” The fact is we had a company-wide succession plan, and as a result we were able to deal with my father’s absence during his treatment and recovery, but we had other reasons for its implementation. At the time we were focused on growing the organization through top grading (a process for hiring from the top ten percent of talent within a specified salary range, and a critical component of succession planning) particularly in the area of project development and design coordination which my father was solely responsible for. In November of 2008, we hired David Prada, AIA, LEED AP, as Director of Project Development – a move that proved to be as timely as it was serendipitous. By the time we received my father’s diagnosis, David was ready to take over project development entirely, and we never skipped a beat. As a result, instead of worrying about the negative effect his absence would have on the company he spent a lifetime building, my father was able to focus on beating the cancer. Which he did. He’s back. And last week, on August 23rd, six months and a day after the February 22nd column, we had an office party to celebrate the return of our CEO.

We actually had two reasons for celebrating that day. One was obvious – we all wanted to officially welcome my father back after months of difficult chemo and radiation treatments, surgery and recovery. But we also wanted to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that he not only built a successful business, he also helped create an enduring organization that was greater than himself, capable of surviving without him, even during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. That says something. While many of us are still jaded by Corporate America’s exposed “smash-and-grab” practices, and the “take-what-you-can-get” mentality of some of its biggest executives, it’s important to remember that the mark of a true business leader is the ability to act in the best interest of the organization and ensure its continued success – beyond one’s ability to lead it.

How To Build An Enduring Organization:

  • Identify Your Corporate Values and Purpose: Every business entity embodies an ideology, whether intentionally or not, made up of a set of values and a purpose. Your company’s values are those lasting tenants, which require no external justification, and which serve as the guiding light for your organization. Your company’s purpose is a brief yet powerful statement which clearly defines why your organization exists beyond profit. As a business owner it falls to you to articulate your company’s values and purpose, and to promote a fanatical commitment to that ideology from everyone in the organization.
  • Develop a 5 Year Strategic Plan: John Argenti, author and founder of the Strategic Planning Society, wrote, “A plan is a list of actions arranged in whatever sequence is thought likely to achieve an objective.” If your objective is to build a truly successful and enduring organization, then a strategic business plan is an absolute must. I’ll address the key components of a successful strategic business plan in a future column. You can also find valuable tools and resources for strategic planning at
  • Set Ambitious Goals: An enduring organization is one that is ever-striving. Don’t be shy about setting goals that may seem just out of reach. It’s amazing what a group of people can accomplish when they come together under a common purpose. Robert Browning once said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s Heaven for?” I’m reminded of this quote every time I think about President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 announcement before a special joint session of Congress where he set the ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. While the very idea may have seemed to border on the ridiculous, at the time it was exactly what this nation needed to reach beyond itself. Though he wasn’t alive to witness it, his goal was achieved on July 20, 1969.
  • Implement a Strong Succession Plan: Not only does a strong succession plan help a business better prepare for a future crisis, it is demonstrates your commitment, as a business owner, to building an enduring organization. For tips on developing a strong succession plan for your business, click on “The Importance of Succession Planning” at

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