From left: Ray Byers Sr., General Manager Jeff Fierstein and Ray Byers Jr., of Byers Enterprises, based in Grass Valley. (Photo courtesy Byers Enterprises)

Start Preparing Your Succession Plans Early By Allowing People to Make Mistakes

Back Commentary Oct 16, 2017 By Ray Byers Sr.

I first visited Nevada County in 1986, when I came up from Oxnard, in Ventura County, to help my grandmother put a new roof on her Grass Valley cabin.

There, sitting on the roof and watching the sun set over the Sierras, I saw a different future. Within a short time, I was living and working in Grass Valley. It would have been impossible to predict that from the card table in my grandmother’s living room, I would start a business in 1987, now called Byers Enterprises, and 30 years later would have grown it from a single contractor to an 87-employee full-service roofing, gutter and solar business.

I know Ray Jr. will not forget his mistakes, and the more I allow him to take on, the more he learns.

I see my two adult sons working hard each day, putting the proverbial walls up on the foundation I built. Management transitions have been gradual, with each Byers manager, whether family or not, earning their job through experience and success. I believe this approach is key for considering the future of one’s business and succession planning as it relates to a family business — when the time comes for the next generation to take over, they’ll need to be prepared.

I firmly believe in learning by taking responsibility. My eldest son, Ray Jr., has taken on responsibilities with full accountability for successes and errors. I have always learned my own lessons and realize that to become better at managing a business is to make mistakes. I know Ray Jr. will not forget his mistakes, and the more I allow him to take on, the more he learns. He knows he can ask questions on handling certain aspects of the daily business, as well as offer his vision for the future.

But I apply this approach to all of my employees — family member or not. No one gets special treatment. Partly that’s because I have never been a very good micromanager. When I hire someone, I educate them on the position, and then allow them to succeed within that position, and make their own decisions and mistakes.

When Ray Jr. was brought into the company in 2004, he learned all aspects of the business, starting with the yard, then roofing and gutter installation, followed by other product lines. I continue to transfer more daily duties to him, while guiding him along the way. My younger son, Cameron, began with the company around 2008, and has advanced with his knowledge of building and large equipment operation. He heads up our Land Clearing Division as a licensed timber harvest operator.

Byers operates without a formal plan for business development and moves rapidly when opportunities present themselves. I see business as fluid, and approach new products and technologies with an open mind. I like to compare the business to a bus. You put the right people in the right seats on the bus. Through the life of the business, people get on and off the bus. Finding the right seat for each talent and letting them find fulfillment as team members is very rewarding.

If you find the right people, you can trust each manager to make the best decisions daily. Even if they don’t ultimately make the right decision, at least they’re not afraid to try. If it is the wrong course of action, we correct it and move on. I’ve learned that as a boss, it is incredibly important not to micromanage and to instead allow your managers the opportunity to proceed on their own judgement.

My dad, who worked as an urban planner and real estate broker, gave me lots of good advice. He used to tell me: “A wise man surrounds himself with wiser folks than himself.” I have been fortunate to build and keep a strong, dedicated team, and our core team has been together for many years. General Manager Jeff Fierstein has worked with Byers since 1992, Sales Manager Lance Bellows since 1996.

My son Ray Jr. now serves as operations manager with the support of others, including his brother Cameron. Ray Jr. is thriving and surrounded by steady advisers. Cameron is happy being outside the office as my MacGyver — fixing or building whatever may come along, from equipment to new construction.

It is understood at Byers that whether you are a relative or not, you have to earn your seat on the bus. Others in the company recognize this as the way the business has been built. This understanding alleviates sensitive issues around family roles. For instance, family friend Jeff Fierstein went from picking 15 year-old Ray Jr. up from his karate class to working side-by-side with him in management. This takes a certain type of open-mindedness, to mentor with the goals of the business always first.

I have brought Ray Jr. into meetings with key vendors and associates over many years. This provides a comfortability between stakeholders and the next generation. His earned trust makes transitions seamless. I am now moving gradually away from the company, though still working on a daily basis. The continued growth and success of the team gives me more latitude, though I’m glad my input is still requested once in awhile. Watching Ray Jr. and the team take on more responsibility and do a great job makes me very proud as a father and company owner. The opportunities seem endless with the talents and work ethic of both my sons.

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