Kevin approached me in the spring of 2015 and asked if I wanted to be the next president. This wasn’t the first time he had done so, but this time it was different. He had completed his several one on one discussions with the partners and he indicated that he had the support of the entire group. He not only asked if I was willing, but if I truly wanted the position. I had started my career at the firm and truly was passionate about Clayton & McKervey; our mission, people, and clients. Though the responsibility seemed great, I thought that the privilege to lead the firm was even greater.
I was always amazed at Kevin’s vision and ability to see far out with extreme clarity. He knew that with his name on the door, that the transition would need to be done in a careful and diligent manner and much time was needed. Kevin was well known through the community and was a force in the industry. He wanted to make sure that our clients, contacts, and the entire professional community knew that we carefully planned the transition.
Kevin then went to work, focusing on the transition as well as addressing the contrast in our styles, and most importantly, the gap that would be lost without his leadership. We devoted our entire annual strategic planning in 2015 to the transition, discussing mostly the challenges, but also addressing the opportunities that lie ahead. After returning from our strategic planning, Kevin announced our plan to the entire staff, making them aware so there would be no uncertainty about our future. Though a formal announcement wasn’t made in the press at this time, he always discussed our plan with our key contacts and clients. In hindsight, this was invaluable in the success in the transition, especially considering how it all turned out. For these folks to hear it directly from Kevin added a credibility and certainty that would have been difficult to express in the aftermath of his sudden death. This transition would be the fourth generation of leadership in the firm. Above all, we have always treasured our independence and have built the firm on the concept of controlling our own destiny. Internal succession was very important to us.
The eight months that followed this formal announcement to the staff were some of my most memorable with Kevin. He was like a proud father, never passing up the chance to discuss sensitive issues that he rarely could discuss with others, coaching and counseling me on his insights to addressing the prickly issues. Most of the time our discussions started talking about a serious issue, then morphed into two guys talking about anything under the sun. I will always treasure this time.
In late February of 2016 Kevin contacted me to mention that he was in the hospital for a minor issue. I didn’t think much of it, for he stressed it was not a big deal and that he would be back in the office in two or three days. Well, his two day stay turned into a two week stay. Though he was finally released to go home, he indicated that the was going to be home for four or five weeks recovering. Though the leadership group was concerned, we expected that he would recover in due time, and a rested Kevin would return with his usual hard charging approach. However, that never happened. Five days after returning home from the hospital, at midnight on a Sunday, we received the phone call that changed everything. He had suddenly passed away.
At midnight, I called all the partners and the executive team and asked them to get together Monday morning. We crafted a plan to contact our clients and key members of our network about the sad news. This would be personally delivered by each of the partners. But before this, we gathered the staff to tell them of the shocking news. Grief and shock filled the room, as everyone tried to absorb what had just happened. That entire week was all about the funeral and supporting Kevin’s family. Over the week, hundreds of clients and business community contacts reached out to express their condolences. This was very touching and a great reminder of Kevin’s impact and what lied ahead of us.
We then crafted a plan to address the future of the firm. We had several town hall meetings letting our staff know that all was going to be OK for we had planned for this. We let them know that our focus now was the same as it always has been; serving internationally focused and growth driven entrepreneurs. That was our focus of the three previous generations of leadership, and that wasn’t changing. We then unveiled a 100 day plan that was focused on reassuring the community of our approach and unwavering commitment to our clients and community. We spent countless hours bringing key groups together to share Kevin stories and as importantly, reinforcing our focus and letting them see the powerful leadership team that we had. I, along with my partners, made sure that we reached out often to our key clients, especially the ones that had special bonds with Kevin. There were no client or staff losses in this entire process. Ironically, we long before scheduled our strategic planning, precisely 100 days after Kevin’s death. We used this as the beginning of the next chapter, and our time to chart our course for the future.
It is hard to believe that two years has gone since we experienced this tragedy. When I am asked how things are going, I respond that I believe that Kevin would be proud. And he should be. Most of our leadership team was handpicked by him and greatly influenced by his leadership and coaching. For many, he was the most impactful mentor and coach in their professional career. They were spectacular in responding to this tragedy.
In reflection we did many things well. My partner group was great in being out in the community, sharing the message, and most importantly, being an ear to others within the firm. My COO was vital in helping fill in the gaps that Kevin and I didn’t address, and often giving me the insight that she had in how Kevin would address certain issues, especially the prickly ones. Also, our marketing director was spectacular in helping keeping us on message, reminding me what my role should be in communicating to both internal and outside sources. Her expertise in crisis communications proved to be invaluable as well, providing me key coaching and important times. Certainly we weren’t perfect in addressing all of our staff concerns and the one thing I underestimated was the grieving process. Everyone worked so hard that year, and I was eager to get started on the next chapter. However, I think many were tired and emotionally drained. I am not sure that I read it as well as I should have.
However, the one who deserves the most credit for the success in the transition is Kevin. His proactive approach in finding and announcing his successor, five years before the expected retirement was exactly the right move. For this I am forever grateful and has let me start thinking about my successor.