Appeared in the May Issue of LBM Journal

Stephen Boyd has led Manufacturers Reserve Supply (MRS) as President since 1983. Although he has no desire to slow down, knowing who will take over the helm of the family- owned, fourth-generation company—whether the circumstances are planned for or unexpected—has always been at the top of his mind as well as the rest of the leadership team.

Even though Boyd has two children, how succession would unfold at the Irvington, N.J.-based wholesale distributor was never set in stone. His daughter, Nancy, went into pharmaceutical sales and his son, Brian, went to work for another building material distributor after college for five years.

Brian did decide to join the company, returning to MRS in 2010. Like Stephen, who also spent some of his early years outside the family business, Brian’s experience brought a different level of work ethic, knowledge, sales experience, and vendor management, helping him fully understand how businesses operate. It also gave him unique perspectives to bring back into the MRS fold that allowed him to establish his own worth beyond his lineage.

Upon his return, Brian entered into a multi-year program in which he immersed himself into two-year stints in different areas of the company, ensuring he understood every element, from cleaning the warehouses to dealing with financial matters. Six months ago he was promoted to General Manager and is surrounded by a strong leadership team that MRS carefully built and is working together to define the company’s future.

As such, Steve’s own role has gradually changed. Today he’s more focused on strategic issues, including mentoring and training, rather than the day-to-day operations. It’s a role he’s not only enjoying, but also allows him to keep a gentle but hands-off eye on the leadership team while fostering programs within the company that engage employees and increase their investment and loyalty. In other words, he’s continuing his career-long efforts to keep the company on a strong footing and growth path.

Throughout the process, planning and communication have been key. “Some of the things employees are always cautious about is the movement of succession planning and how it’s going,” Steve notes. “It’s incumbent upon the owner to over-communicate the process, how it’s going to look, and how it’s going to evolve. Current management also needs to understand that their job is not threatened, that their job is whole and their loyalty will be rewarded.”

Outside partners also need to know what’s going on, he notes. “You need to take a proactive approach to discussions, whether managers, employees, customers, or suppliers, which I don’t think everyone does.”

Boyd and the managers meet with a business coach every six months, which includes occasional evaluation of their skill sets to determine where there are weaknesses or vacancies that may need addressing through new executives. The management team also is continually evaluating its “catastrophe” succession plan, which is in place to guide the company in the event of Steve’s unexpected departure.

Thirty-four years after he took the helm, Steve has no desire to slow down, continuing to work up to 60 hours a week and still loving the action each day brings. If and when he decides to pull back, he’s ensuring he’ll leave the company in the well-prepared and capable hands of a thoughtfully curated leadership team that will continue the MRS legacy.

Katy Tomasulo is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and content marketer with 17 years of experience covering the LBM industry.