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Passing the Baton

Michael Stone | Business Articles
Another company in the midst of a generational transfer is PROCARE Landscape Management, Inc., based in Byron Center, Michigan. PRO- CARE is a full service, year-round landscape and snow-removal company that has grown to five separate divisions, with one hundred full-time and seasonal employees at peak season. It was founded in 1989 by Dirk Bakhuyzen Jr., who runs the business with his sons Dirk III and Kyle.

As with Miller Landscaping, a hand-off is in the offing. “Having realistic expectations for the transition is key,” said Dirk, Jr. “I didn’t start PROCARE until I was 35, so I’m not going to take myself completely out of the picture. I need to ensure that our transitional plan takes everything into account—health benefits, retirement, you name it.”

The boys have been working in the business since they were old enough to hold a rake. Just like the new generation at Miller Landscape, they are in line to run the show when the founders are ready to pass the baton.

“My dad instilled strong work values in us,” comments Dirk III. “Since I started at PROCARE, I’ve had the view that if the company succeeded, then I succeeded. That’s driven me to learn everything I could and naturally led to a desire to own the company one day.”

In evaluating how day-to-day organizational roles played into the transfer, Dirk III is blunt. “We would have failed even trying to transition prior to having our roles clearly defined,” he said. “It’s not an easy topic to raise.”

“Communication is the biggest thing,” adds Kyle. “It’s important to address everything. Don’t leave any unanswered questions.”

One way that consulting firms can help in a generational transition is to make sure that all the right questions get asked in the four major portfolios of any landscape business: sales and marketing, human resources management, operations management and business management. Yet even with the right questions, getting good answers is more easily said than done, particularly when the founders see the end of their lifelong labor.

“I need to realistically understand what the company’s value is and what the boys can afford to pay, as well as what the business itself can sustain without crippling it,” Dirk, Jr. notes.

PROCARE is at an earlier transition stage than Miller Landscape.

“We’ve only recently started strategic planning meetings and engaged a lawyer. We’re now figuring out real dollar figures,” says Dirk III. “My dad has been generous in gifting over a percentage of ownership to Kyle and me. It’s all part of an open dialogue to make sure our individual goals are being factored in as we assess the business and start the transition.”

Just as with Miller Landscaping, the issues are emotional, as well as organizational and financial.

“As I’ve been downsizing my book of business, I’ve realized the handoff is not as hard and devastating as I thought it might be,” said Dirk, Jr. “I know when I do retire that my customers will stick with PROCARE because they’re being cared for by a trained account manager. It’s actually been quite liberating—I smile a lot these days.”

With all the headaches of our industry, smiles can be as rare as turf that never needs cutting. Both PROCARE and Miller Landscape demonstrate how, with the assistance of an insightful and helpful advisor, the passing of the baton from one generation to the next can happen in a way where everyone wins. Now, that’s something that should bring smiles to everyone involved.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Crummy is a technical writer for The Promersberger Company.

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