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How to Successfully Transition to the Second Generation CEO in a Family-Owned Company with Shelley Van Etten

Guest: Shelley Van Etten, the president and CEO of WLT Software, a family-owned company that develops software for adjudicating and processing health and medical claims.

Overview: Generational CEOs aren’t just inheriting a BIG responsibility when they take over the family business. They’re also taking on the skepticism, stubbornness, and, yes, jealousy of other employees who couldn’t be part of the family succession plan. The new CEO has to keep that essential talent aligned with the business’ core values while also leading in a personal and authentic way.

On today’s show, Shelley Van Etten discusses how she navigated the challenges of leading a second-generation family business, preserving company culture while evolving with the times, and preparing the next generation to keep Making BIG Happen.

Shelley Van Etten on changing culture while maintaining values during family succession:

“What we kept was our philosophy on how we treat our customers and how we value their input. And we always put them first. When he was running the company, my father was very strict. Everyone called him ‘Mr. Tiner.’ And anytime employees had to go up to his office, they would be shaking. I had another approach where I was more team-oriented and open. Now my employees call me ‘Shelly’ and half the time I can’t even get them out of my office, they’re so excited to come into my office. So I think that was the difference in our leadership. My father was, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do, and I expect to get it done,’ whereas I am, ‘Okay, how should we do this? Let’s go ahead and collaborate to figure out the best solution.’ But how we go ahead and approach business values, it’s the exact same way my father did, because he really instilled into us that without the clients, there’s no need for us.”

Shelley Van Etten on putting your stamp on the company as a new CEO:

“A lot of the leadership programmers and heads of the departments had more seniority than I did and they didn’t know how to react to my leadership role. And very shortly after I became the president, I told them, ‘We’ve been on this platform for this long. We’re now moving it to another platform.’ The vice president of programming, his jaw just dropped. He goes, ‘That’s going to take a long time.’ I go, ‘Then I guess you better get started, huh?’ So he was at first a little hesitant about my progressiveness for moving the software forward, but then he started really understanding the whys. So then he started getting more on board.”

Shelley Van Etten on the family’s responsibility to the family business:

“As a family member, you know you’re going to have to prove yourself. I have told that to my family, to the next generation: ‘Your bar is higher because you have to prove yourself, that you deserve this.’ Always make sure that you respect the fact that it’s not just you who’s growing that company, there’s other people. Give them a portion of the company, because that would make them feel valued. But more importantly, give them a position of being able to have a voice, such as putting them on the board. And always remember where you came from. Obviously my father knew something and he had a good formula. Always make sure you remember where you come from. But more importantly, always respect the people that helped you get there.”

3 Ways to Successfully Lead Your Family Business – Many of the 1,000-plus CEOs and entrepreneurs we’ve worked with at CEO Coaching International are part of family businesses. And many of the conversations we’ve had with them have touched on similar topics.

4 Ways to Flip Family Business Stress to Big Success – CEO Coaching International’s Sheldon Harris discusses how family-run businesses can learn to keep their family issues from running the business into the ground.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average revenue CAGR of 31% (2.6X the U.S. average) and an average EBITDA CAGR of 52.3% (more than 5X the U.S. average).

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