" Dino Signore speaks to hundreds

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JOHN SOBCZAK Even if Monique Sasser (right) could stand the heat, she got out of the kitchen where she was simultaneously concocting and building Nikki's Ginger Tea. To be more accurate, says her top executive, Andrena designer replica handbags , "I kicked my mom out." Dino Signore speaks to hundreds of second-stage business owners a year. During his seminars, he likes to ask how many of them signed up to be managers when they launched their businesses? How many attended a business class?Not many hands go up for either question.Signore is manager of entrepreneurial education at the Edward Lowe Foundation in Cassopolis, where he helps owners of second-stage businesses — defined as those with annual revenue of $1 million to $50 million and 10 to 99 employees — evolve from the seat-of-the-pants startup days to the more bloodless manager role.”Now all of a sudden they’re becoming more of an executive — becoming managers. Many of them don’t like that,” Signore said.Delegation means giving up authority to people who may not have the same passion or appetite for risk, Signore said. But to grow the business into this stage, and someday out of it, the founder must accept this new reality by letting go and forming a management structure.Crain’s talked to Signore and two local businesses about their tips and mental approaches that can make this transition less painful.Nikki’s Ginger Tea LLCOwner: Monique SasserStruggle: Rapid growth leading to inconsistent productThe last time Crain’s heard from Monique Sasser, she was on stage at the 2011 Salute to Entrepreneurs awards event, facing the crowd and a ballooning business.Sasser, owner of Detroit-based Nikki’s Ginger Tea LLC and a Salute winner that year, told the audience at Greektown Casino-Hotel how she’d gone from cleaning houses to getting her products into a Whole Foods Market store the previous month. Adding fuel to the fire was Jim Hiller, founder of Hiller’s Markets and guest speaker, who made the surprise announcement at the event that his stores would carry Nikki’s Ginger Tea.But with the growth came the problems. In the first months of 2012, as Nikki’s took up Hiller on his offer, product issues emerged. The bottles were swelling on the shelf and the taste was inconsistent from bottle to bottle.That’s when Sasser got serious about letting go and delegating more.What precipitated the decision to put others in charge of operations?Sasser began selling her teas in 1997 to bring in some money on the side. It wasn’t until 2010 that she brought in managers. The first were her daughter, Andrena Sasser, who became vice president, and Katherine Randolph, who was her kitchen manager.But it was a few years more before circumstances forced her to really let go. Or, more accurately, it was Andrena who forced her.”I kicked my mom out of the kitchen,” she said.What tasks were delegated?Up to this point, Monique had been whipping up batches on the fly.”I’m like a mad scientist in the lab, stirring pots. Everything is in my head. We needed to get recipes,” Monique said.This is when Andrena stepped in.”She would be throwing stuff together, and I said, ‘Mom, there’s no way to tell people the nutrition facts or why this batch is milder from another,’ ” Andrena remembered.Andrena dove into research on shelf stability and ingredients, developing the recipe and setting a repeatable process. This protected not just the consistency of flavor but also the stated nutrition facts on the bottle.Then she trained Randolph to take over the day-to-day kitchen management. Andrena now is in charge of making sure overall operations run smoothly, and watching orders and deliveries. She also manages current accounts, gets new accounts and attends meetings with corporate customers and vendors.”Any little problem, she won’t tell me she solved it. She doesn’t want me to get upset,” Monique said.Andrena brings Randolph with her to some of these meetings to build redundancy into the management structure and continue the line of delegation. That added managerial know-how will be needed this year as Nikki’s Ginger Tea expects to double the number of stores where its product appears to more than 120.What can the founder do now that managers have taken over operations?Delegation has uncluttered Monique’s days, giving her the clarity to take a longer view of the business. She talks to distributors, potential investors, lenders and economic development people as she looks ahead to next stages of growth.She also has the time to speak at events, meet with nonprofits and women’s groups, give presentations at schools and make appearances at product samplings. “People want to see the face behind the product,” she said.What was challenging for you personally in all this? What mental change did you make to let go?Trusting a person in her 20s, who also happens to be her daughter, to manage her business was the biggest challenge for Monique.”People would say, ‘Why do you want to make her vice president? She’s so young.’ I wanted her to grow into that title. I was tired of wearing so many hats,” Monique said.She was able to let go by trusting her daughter — keep the personal separate from business when it comes to working with family, she advises — and reminding herself that the business would stagnate if she kept “doing things mom-and-pop.””It’s up to the younger generation to take this baby into the future.”What advice do you have to others who foresee going through similar growth?Change is tough, but it has to be done, even if that means giving up some degree of control and watching others make mistakes.”You’ll only stifle your business if you keep doing it the same way,” Monique said.Coliant Corp. John Swiatek, CEO, Coliant Corp. CEO: John SwiatekStruggle: Finding someone who can lead the day-to-day operationsColiant Corp. has been transitioning from an entrepreneurial culture to a professionally managed one during the past two years.Launched by three partners in 2004, the Warren-based company makes electronic powersports accessories www.pbvw.be , such as power outlets for motorcycles and heated clothing for riders.New corporate customers pushed the company into a cultural and structural reformation, as industry specialists were injected into the company and new heads of operations installed.It’s a work in progress. Coliant is in the middle of its third search for a company president in two years; the last two tries didn’t work out.”Going from an entrepreneurial state to a professionally managed state is the art of making 4,000 decisions in a two-year span. A lot of things are moving fast,” said CEO John Swiatek.What precipitated the decision to put others in charge of operations?Coliant for many years focused solely on the consumer market — motorcycle and powersports enthusiasts. Then three years ago, work started picking up for the companies that make those consumers’ motorcycles and powersports machines. And a third type of customer came along, too — the Department of Defense, for Coliant’s clothing products.Coliant suddenly was in multiple original equipment supplier relationships that called for different, and specific, business skills and experience than its consumer business relied on. About a year later, the company began searching in earnest for experienced account managers, project and product managers, and engineers.”I needed to bring in guys who could navigate the waters of a given industry,” Swiatek said.As business grew, Coliant worked with more distributors of products instead of owners of independent powersports shops that its staff was used to working with. This required business travel and came with different professional expectations.It’s often said that people who are great for a startup business are ill-suited to the formal procedures of a professionalized company. Swiatek said that held true for his company’s transition.Coliant added five people to its staff of 20. About five existing employees were guided into the new way of doing things. Another five or so either chose to leave the new, more managed culture or were forced out.Swiatek wanted to keep as many of the trusted people who helped build the company as he could. Managing the cultural transition is the way to do this — communicating the direction of the company and what would have to happen, helping those who wanted to stay for the ride to do so and, for those who didn’t, giving them letters of recommendation.”Don’t come at this heavy-handed,” he said.What tasks were delegated?Swiatek’s spare time dwindled with the newfound work. “As I became busier as the face of the company and not the doer inside the company, I had less time for operational needs,” he said.It was important to identify weaknesses, not to dwell on the company’s strengths, as is the tendency of most companies. A strong operations person, someone to mind day-to-day activities across all departments, was needed because the company didn’t have one, either among its staff or its two other founders, Adam Bonislawski, vice president of sales and business development, and Dave Meerhaeghe, head of finance and IT.”No matter how many founders you pull together, there always will be a hole somewhere,” Swiatek said.This is when it was decided that a company president was needed, in addition to managers with industry experience. But that task of delegation remains unfinished: Coliant has burned through two presidents and is looking for a third.The first two presidents came from much bigger companies, were used to having their own staffs and were well-versed in one subject matter but unaccustomed to the turbulent ways of a young company, Swiatek said.He advises other businesses in his situation to make sure they communicate to prospective hires precisely what they’re getting into.”These might be people who are used to having a staff. Can you actually be a doer also?” he said.He also recommends trial periods of about six months for top execs, an idea that was borne out of hard experience. “That’s what we’ll be doing on the next one,” Swiatek said.What can the founder do now that managers have taken over operations?Delegation of operational responsibilities has freed him to focus on matters of company direction, team building, company culture and raising expansion capital. The company plans to invest in all areas of the business this year, including equipment and hiring.What was challenging for you personally in all this? What mental change did you make to let go?Becoming a manager necessitated that Swiatek, whose background is in engineering, learn how to be a salesman. “The challenge was understanding how to move from a product-feature mindset to salesmanship,” he said.He took the challenge as an opportunity for personal growth and reminded himself that he has stakeholders and employees who depend on him.What tips do you have for others who expect to face the same challenges?Swiatek recommends building a strong board that can help find and vet managerial talent, as well as advise on compensation and incentives matters. Coliant is seeking new board members who have certain experience and credentials to bring to the table.He also said it’s important to let people make their own mistakes and learn from them; the default should be to trust them to do a good job and fix their own mistakes, rather than to assume they don’t know what they’re doing and micromanage them. “Trust and verify,” he said. Related Links5 tips for business owners to avoid micromanaging and let new managers take over

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