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Executive Editor

Sal Alfano is executive editor for Professional, 202.365.9070

Riding Shotgun

Succession planning and passing the “bus test” ought to be a priority for every remodeling company owner

December 28, 2017

While packing up my tools at the end of one late-winter workday in 1987, I slipped on a patch of ice. I didn’t fall, but it may have been better if I had. Instead, I caught my balance and wrenched my back, aggravating an old lower-back injury. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I arrived home an hour later after a 45-minute drive and couldn’t get out of the van.

I spent the next 10 days lying flat on my back on the living room rug. At first I focused mainly on finding a comfortable position and on mastering the precise choreography needed to avoid excruciating pain while getting up off the floor to eat or to answer a call of nature. But it was a long 10 days, so I had plenty of time to think about how much my remodeling company depended on my personal involvement in each project, and about the risk that represented, not just for me but for everyone who worked for or with me. At the time, we were punching out a custom home, a phase of construction that my employees typically handled with minimal involvement (they might say “minimal interference”) from me. But it would have been a different story had I been out of commission during preconstruction and startup—a time when I was often the go-to guy.

The Bus Test

By the end of those 10 days, I’d made two resolutions. One was to learn how to sit, stand, recline, and move in ways that protected my back; the other was to reorganize my company so that it would pass the “bus test”—that is to say, if I got hit by a bus, the business could run without my day-to-day involvement in every detail of its operation, whether in the office or the field.

Passing the bus test begins with delegation, but it ultimately leads to succession planning, which is—or ought to be—a top priority for every remodeling business owner. That’s not only because succession is a critical element in any remodeler’s plan to sell their company and cash out on their life’s work, but also because it’s the final stage of their responsibility as an owner—so carefully managed while building their business—to protect and preserve the livelihoods of their employees and trade partners.

I didn’t do a very good job with succession planning for my remodeling company. For a variety of reasons, I ended up closing the doors in the middle of the 1991 recession to take a job as an editor at The Journal of Light Construction. In my defense, I was only 41 years old, and succession was the furthest thing from my mind. Fortunately, the editing gig turned out to be a pretty good fit. 

But I learned my lesson, and in the 26-plus years I’ve spent writing and editing remodeling trade magazines I’ve made it a priority to make sure someone on the team could take over if ever I ended up on the short end of an encounter with a bus, whether literal or figurative.

Which brings me to the point of this rambling story, which is to celebrate Erika Taylor’s first issue as Director of Content for Professional Remodeler. Erika is not really new to the job—she’s been editing trade magazines for more than 15 years—but when she joined Pro Remodeler in 2014 as Editor-in-Chief (or Chief of Content, as we in the digital age now call it), she was new to the home remodeling business. But she’s smart and curious and a quick study, and she has brought a fresh perspective to the publication at a time when women are finally beginning to receive the recognition they deserve for the roles they have always played in the success of our industry. 

As for me, I am not going anywhere. I do have a fancy new title (Executive Editor) and less involvement in the day-to-day operation of the magazine, but I’ll still be doing what I’ve always done: turning the hard-won insights of working remodelers into stories that others in the industry can use to make their businesses more successful and their lives and the lives of their families and their teams more rewarding.

As for that bus, Erika’s driving, I’m riding shotgun, and there’s miles to go before we reach my stop. 

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