Gini Dietrich

Business Succession Plan: What Happens In An Emergency?

By: Gini Dietrich | August 9, 2009 | 

city-at-530-am1On Saturday morning, I set out with my cycling group to ride at 5:15. The sky was overcast and a bit foggy and the wind was gusting at 35 mph, but the temperature was perfect, the wind was blowing only in one direction (which meant on the way home it’d be at our backs), and it wasn’t threatening to rain until well after we’d finish our ride.

We had a great ride going south, even though it was directly into that wind, and we were all talking about the Bears season and how each of our businesses are faring going into the fourth quarter.

Then it started to pour, but I hiked Pike’s Peak in snow and ice, I certainly wasn’t scared by a little rain.  And it was a warm rain so it wasn’t too bad, despite how filthy I was getting. I was in the middle of the pack and we came upon some joggers. I was at Roger’s tire in front of me and I wanted to get around the joggers before I hit a huge puddle that would inevitably splash water in their faces.

As I crossed the bike path to pass them, I sped up in order to avoid the puddle so I wouldn’t splash them. But my back tire got stuck in the crack in the middle of the path and, because the pavement was wet, I couldn’t recover.

It actually happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time for my life to flash before my eyes. Roger told me the only reason he turned around was he heard the joggers scream and my helmet crack.

I’m okay, but sliding down wet pavement at 22 mph has left me pretty banged up on my entire right side.  So much so that I can’t put on pants because my leg is so swollen (guess I’ll be in skirts all week). And I hit my head so hard that I cracked my helmet in half. It did its job, but it made me think.

What if I’d hit my head wrong and the helmet didn’t do its job? What if I’d broken something? What if I’d slid into the road and into an oncoming car? What if I’d ended up in a coma? Worse, what if I’d died?

What happens to the busines then?

I have a succession plan in mind, but it’s for 40 years from now, not tomorrow. What happens in an emergency?

And then I read Jay Goltz’s blog that had a similar tone.  Apparently I’m not alone in freaking out that the business doesn’t have an emergency plan.

He says:

Every year I review my three-page disaster plan which details all of my insurance, banking, passwords, keys, and I include my best guess as to what the options are for successors, buyers, or liquidation.

I make a list of people that I would want my family to use as advisers (and some I would not!). I explain what I would want to do for certain employees if the business is sold or closed. And I include a “get out of guilt free” card that tells my family to move on and not get entangled in any “he would want this or that” strangleholds.

All of these are great ideas and I’m going to add them to my own disaster plan. But I’d like to think the business would continue without me, especially if I do my job right in shaping my staff to become CEOs.

By Dec. 18, 2009 I will:

* Have my emergency plan written.

* Create opportunities for every one of my colleagues to be able to take over my duties (speaking engagements, keynotes, social media training, media training, crisis communication, panel discussions, social media for Arment Dietrich, marketing the agency, driving toward the vision, client development, and being the rainmaker) should something happen to me.

* Have discussions with my executive team, and put our decisions in writing, so that my family doesn’t have to grapple with whether or not to sell the business and how to take care of my colleagues.

Now, other than decide on who gets my shoes, what else should I include?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Omg! I’m glad to hear you’re ok, but that must’ve been a nasty fall. Hope you recover quickly!

  • Wow Gini! I’ve had some close calls but havent come off the bike yet (touch wood). Sometimes I think I wear my strap too tight but I am always a bit freaked out about the possibility of my helmet shifting should I come off – as you know we can get up some speed on those down hills! I actually read an article about a year ago that conducted a statistical study that found that stastistically speaking you are less likely to get into a cycling accident (ie get hit by a car) if you are not wearing a helmet! Unbelievable right. The survey found that cars stayed double distance away from cyclists without helmets than they did with cyclists with helmets and hence the survey results (ie its safer to not wear a helmet) – let me tell you, it didnt convince me not to wear my helmet 🙂
    Great lead in for a great topic – sorry it had to come at the expense of your right side – ouch! I had a similar “near death” experience when my plane (in 1994) almost had a mid-air collision as we dropped about 10,000 feet in a matter of seconds – lots of wounded and I think I was in shock for a good week or so afterwards.
    As they say in France – Bon Courage!

  • Well, I’ve already wished you well on Facebook, and know you’ll be back on the bike in no time. So, let’s cut to the chase.

    As we’ve discussed, you are the primary rainmaker at Arment Dietrich. Sure, you’d like to get to the point that other people at AD begin to make it rain, but right now it’s you. The first issue I see is if you aren’t capable of generating income for the business, or aren’t around to generate revenue, then what? Let’s take this a step further and assume someone else takes over the rainmaking responsibility and does it quite well, and something happens to them while you’re off writing and speaking. Again, then what?

    I would recommend life insurance policies for key personnel, paid for by the company, and with the company as sole beneficiary. This way, if something happens to a key person within the organization, and it takes a relative amount of time to shift gears, the proceeds from the life insurance policy would be a hedge against the time it takes for the company to recover from the loss of a key individual, or individuals. Yes, individuals as a plural! Remember the Trump Organization lost three or four key executives in a fatal helicopter crash?

    Also, for you Gini, proceeds from an insurance policy could be used by the company to pay your estate for the business, should your heirs decide against operating the business. The company could be structured as employee-owned, and the employees would be able to carry on. The policy should be for an ample amount to satisfy the estate, as well as provide for your loss as a leader and primary rainmaker.

    Certainly, I’m not an estate or financial planner, but I know there are plenty of options available that a qualified professional could guide you through.

  • Gini,
    Best wishes from your friends in Brazil. Two lessons that I take away. One is the need for the plan, right on!
    The other ,though, is sometimes in business and in life it´s better to Slow Down than Speed Up . Life and business are full of puddles and cracks are everywhere.
    But don´t give up the bike!

  • So sorry about your accident. Just think if you hadn’t been in good physical shape, that leg may be broken instead of just swollen. Although I know you well enough to know you’ll get right back on the horse again, try to take it easy. Use this quasi-down time to get started on your self-imposed tasks! Take care, Susan

  • Gini,

    I’m really glad to hear you are ok. Leave it to you to turn a near death experience into an insightful blog post a day later.

    I love that you touched on giving those around you the opportunity to get involved in some of the things you are currently doing to build the business. I have watched several businesses build succession plans only to realize later that the plan was only what they wanted to happen, not what they had prepared to execute on.

    People that we expect to be able to step up and lead a business have to be developed to do just that.

    Talent planning needs to be done throughout the business as well as at the highest levels. How good could businesses could be if they devoted half as much energy to building their leadership pipeline as they do their client pipeline.

    Great post Gini, as always.


  • Gini! I had no idea. But you never cease to amaze me (and many others). As Randy just said: Only you would take a near-fatal fall and write a blog about it THE NEXT DAY. Unbelievable.

    And what is the blog about? How to look after your business if something happens to you. Also, did not miss the fact that you were being considerate of the joggers when you tried to avoid the puddle. That’s so you, Gini.

    Loved the advice from Paul Segreto and Tom Reaoch, too.

    Rest up, my friend. Maybe some ocean water will make you feel better?

  • Gini,

    I am so sorry to hear about your accident, but I am glad you are okay.


    PS The rest of the blog was good as well, definitely something we all need to think about.

  • Gini, wow what a story. Good to see you used good decision making at critical points; NEVER go cheap on headgear! That said, I agree with your Brazilian friends, sometimes slow down, don’t speed up. Your concern for everyone, the joggers, the folks at AD the guy in China who built the bike, and whoever else…… make you special. Write your plan, grow your people into positions then sit down and have a glass of wine, pet the dog and watch the sun go down. Do something for yourself!

  • bob cole

    so glad your ok love bob

  • bob cole

    so glad your ok love bob

  • bob cole

    so glad your ok love bob

  • bob cole

    so glad your ok love bob

  • bob cole

    so glad your ok love bob

  • So Evil? When can we expect to see you jump some cars, or something?

  • I started succession planning several years ago but I’m quite a bit older too. Everyone on my staff knows what the succession is in our office. We met with CPAs, Insurance agents to insure that the company isn’t met with undo taxation upon my death, attorneys to put it all in writing. It starts out being “wow, I’m talking about my death” but ends up being quite liberating. There are many things to think about that you haven’t yet and I suggest you start with your attorney and accountant. Your company is small so it won’t be as complicated as ours was but as you grow, you will have already done the hard work. Good luck and thank God you’re ok!

  • Ces

    I have also plans in place for emergency’s during natural disasters or even man made disasters. Living in the Houston area and suffering through power outages, communication gaps etc also create a reason to think through some of the issues that may create client problems during those types of emergencies as well.

    Also, helps to have these same types of processes in place for your personal/home life as well!

    Get back on your bike!!!


  • I think Paul’s life insurance suggestion is a great one. It’s so scary to have close calls like that, but if it’s made you think about how to better prepare your business for operating without you there’s obviously a silver lining.

    Many of us think only of our immediate family as beneficiaries, but when you run a business you have a responsibility to make sure all bases are covered if something happens to you — well, you have that responsibility if you believe in the good your business is doing and want to see your hard work live on.

    I really commend you for making lemonade here; lemonade that your entire firm will be able to use as nourishment if something happens to you. And A+ for getting back on this morning!

  • Gini —

    This is scary on so many levels! I’m glad you’re okay … and that you saw this potentially disastrous incident as an opportunity. Thanks for sharing, and best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  • Angela

    We all know who gets the shoes!!

  • This has been such a good day full of love and sympathy from all of my friends…even my darling sister-in-law who clearly has already claimed the shoes!

    I don’t know how I’m going to top this blog post tomorrow, but rest assured it won’t be by accident.

  • Gin – man, that was close! Thank God for your helmet. Don’t know that this world, including me, is ready to be without Gini Dietrich. Thanks for wearing it.
    Really good point your brought up. And it always makes me wonder…is that why this happened? Who knows, really – but if it shares a point with you and then you share it with others, as you’ve done…then you made it worthwhile. Very glad you’re okay though.
    You asked me what if your personal or professional freedom is taken away due to an accident. Again, I would say that if it is, it’s our choice to let it slip through our fingers. You have allowed the accident to happen and have its way with you, so to speak (as if you had a choice), but you have not allowed it to kill your spirit or become the victim. You have chosen to maintain your personal and professional freedom by gaining meaning and direction from it, implementing what you’ve gained, AND sharing it with others.
    Can’t imagine you ever giving up your personal or professional freedom, girl. You rock.
    tam (:
    Thanks for asking.

  • Such great advice, and I don’t even own a business. I think it can apply for anybody though to have a plan in case of an emergency.

    I hope you’re feeling better!

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