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Succession Success Part I

Part one in a two-part series- Sally and Malcolm Bryant, founders of the Malcolm Bryant Corporation, reflect on the steps taken to ensure a successful transition of leadership in their business.


Malcolm and Sally Bryant began working in real estate in 1980, and in 1993 they officially incorporated The Malcolm Bryant Corporation, a successful real estate development and property management company in Owensboro, Kentucky. Over their 37-year history, the Bryants and their company have grown to become one of the most respected, innovative, and impactful businesses in Owensboro and played a key role in revitalizing the downtown area. Given their visibility and relationships in the community, they knew that, when it came to succession, they had to get it right – for their family, team members, customers, and the people in the community. Here they share the path that led them to select outside consultants to help create a plan a process for the post-retirement continuity of their business and to recruit a non-family successor.

SRG: What were your first thoughts and attempts at addressing succession planning and hiring an outside executive?

Malcolm: I first addressed the issue of my succession by beginning to look at my network to hire an executive. Sally helped me understand that this was a paramount moment that we needed to approach together. This wasn’t as simple as finding and hiring a person that would allow me to retire some day. We were thinking about the future and that included maybe hiring an executive or maybe selling the business. After some conversation between the two of us, it became crystal clear that we needed to do a lot of soul-searching and planning and to not make any unfounded decisions.

SRG: Describe your approach to decision making and how it led you to seek outside advice when it came to succession planning?

Sally: In absolutely every facet of our business, we go about finding and understanding best practices. We don’t swing from the hip. So, when Malcolm woke up one day and realized that he didn’t want to run business operations for the rest of his life, we got to work learning about what to do next and what that process might be, because that’s how we operate.

The pursuit of learning led us to interview a number of consultants, and ultimately, we selected to work with Barb Dartt and the Family Business Consulting Group (FBCG).

SRG: Early in your planning process, Barb Dartt asked you the critical question: “Why do you want to invest in the continuity of your business?” How did you answer that question and how did your answer guide your next steps?

Malcolm and Sally: On a macro level, entrepreneurs are trying to beat a financial obligation and fulfill their dreams. They think, “Let’s see if we can break even and make cash flow.” Then, one day, there’s a business, and you’re employing great people and improving their lives.

That was our story. Step by step, and without realizing it at first, we had built a community that depended on us, and we depended on them. Investing in the continuity of the business was about integrity and taking care of our people.

SRG: How did you form the strategy that guided your continuity planning?

Sally: Barb tried very hard to get us to develop a vision and mission. It was very difficult for us because we were worried about imposing too much of our vision on the future. We struggled with this assignment.

It became clear that if this business were to continue, we were going to need to redo this mission and vision once the new people were on board. So, our ‘playbook’ was about getting us from where we were to someone else taking the reins.

The vision that Malcolm and I came up with took us to the point where we hired