Dec 18, 2023

143: Strategic Planning For Transition with John Denny

Succession Stories host Laurie Barkman, The Business Transition Sherpa(™), welcomes John Denny, Principal of Denny Civic Solutions and the first client Laurie brought onto the show.

In this episode, Laurie and John tackle a topic close to Laurie’s heart – succession planning and ownership transition.

Listen in as they explore the keys to successful exits without regrets, the nuances of envisioning your business legacy, and discuss critical aspects of planning for the future.


They also highlighted that planning succession isn’t taboo; it’s an essential conversation for every business owner’s future.

Enjoy this Succession Stories episode on ownership succession and legacy with John Denny.

Find John here: https://www.dennycivicsolutions.com/

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TRANSCRIPT:

Laurie Barkman
John Denny, welcome to Succession Stories. Not only are you the first client that I’ve had on the show, but we’re also going to dive into a topic that I don’t talk about very often with my guests which is looking forward as opposed to the rearview mirror. Thank you for the courage to come on the show and put yourself in the hot seat.

John Denny
Great to be here. I look forward to it and just be gentle on me.

Laurie Barkman
Of course. John, I know you well but the audience doesn’t know you yet, right? You got the memo. If people are watching us on YouTube, they’re gonna think that I invited you on the show to wear your red shirt.

John Denny
I know

Laurie Barkman
We look good, though. We do with our red shirts on.

John Denny
That’s right. We tell ourselves that.

Laurie Barkman
Red is a power color.

John Denny
Oh.

Laurie Barkman
It is. Now I know you well, but the audience doesn’t know you yet. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your company?

John Denny
Thanks, I’m happy to do so Laurie. Glad to be here. I am the Founder and President CEO of Danny Civic Solutions, which is a Pittsburgh-based consulting company, where we work around the issue. We work around advocacy for our clients, putting smart connections, smart advocacy, smart messaging, and communication strategy to help advance good policy both locally and at the state level.

Our vision is to create change for the common good. Now, how did I get to this point in my life? Earlier in my career, I worked in campaign politics, I worked in philanthropy, I worked in nonprofit management, and in the public sector. About 12-13 years ago, I thought I can take all those components together and mold them into a new company. We’re working to do the kind of advocacy efforts that most clients don’t always get when they just have a government relations firm, or they’ve got a separate communications firm, or, what have you. We kind of combine it all into one and a new approach.

Laurie Barkman
That was one of the things that really impressed me when I met you, about three-ish years ago, COVID. It was a crazy time. I remember being really impressed and I still am to be hearing about all the services and the value you’re providing to your clients with a really small team. It’s a pretty small team. To the outside, someone looking at your firm saying, what they do kind of looks like a marketing services firm, in terms of what you deliver, and how you deliver it but it’s more than that. As you said, it’s the advocacy. When we met, one of the things we talked about was putting together a strategic plan for the business that set a course. At the time, we did a three-year plan strategic plan. It’s been set a course for growth.

John Denny
Which means it’s time to restart it.

Laurie Barkman
That’s right. Let’s just talk about that because: a) small companies like yourself, don’t normally do that work. So it was really interesting to me as your strategic planning facilitator to work with you and your team on it. In hindsight, I would love to hear your reflections on how that process went and what impact it has had on your business since.

John Denny
There were probably four or five key things that came out of this strategic planning process. As I look back on it, number one, we had a hard time clearly defining what we do and being able to articulate that. Frankly, we came up with our vision statement, which cop captured everything we were trying to say in five or six simple words making change for the common good. That set the stage for all of our work going forward, number one.

Number two, we identified a number of services that we provide that are I’m not sure this is the right word but replicable. In other words, these are services that we provide, that we can have, most of our employees be trained to do. That would also help take a load off of the other work that we do with clients, being very creative in our approach, and management of the projects. That was critical to this.

Number three, we forgot about one big key element–sales. I mean for the longest time and still to this date, as the head of the company, I tend to be the lead in all sales. But because we focused on the sales-component of the strategy meeting of the strategy plan–how you go about doing sales, how you market, we engage with a your recommendation and other company that led us through that process–so that now, everybody in the team is able to either promote our services in the correct way or sell up on some of the clients the other services we do, or simply get them more comfortable in doing pitch sessions, or as we call them informational sessions, just to kind of learn what a prospect may need and what we can offer.

Laurie Barkman
The reflection of the team’s reactions to not only where we are now but if you can think back to were there any objections, or they were always bought into the process?

John Denny
I think, first of all, there was a fear factor. I think when we started it, just before we started, I can remember one of our employees saying, oh, my gosh, you’re not going to make me be a salesman, are you? No, that’s not what this is about. That’s a component but selling it, the place, we’re going to meet you where you are as an employee and find out how you can best help us on the sales. There was probably some a fear factor and then I would say throughout the process, there was a level of concern, which we’ve managed now and mastered was, how in the world are we going to implement everything that we’ve come up with? But we’ve designed a system where we literally have, every two weeks, a strategy session with a team where we go through by category by line item, what we’ve done, have we hit our market target? Does it still make sense? We found some things that we thought were absolutely critical at the time, doesn’t make sense where we are now. We’re able to adjust but there was another fear factor of are we going to be able to do it all?

Laurie Barkman
Yeah, because you’re a small team and you’re servicing clients. I’m really proud for what you just said that you’ve embraced the action-oriented nature of a plan. If you create a plan and you put it away on a shelf, or in your Google, Dropbox, whatever, and you never look at it again, what good is it? You could not only did it but you’ve continued to update, you’ve continued to modify, and execute, which is huge.

John Denny
We even make on our every on our bi-weekly calls. We make a team member after practice, one of the sales pitches is the wrong word, but sales approach of what we do before the entire team, and at first they were scared to death about it. Now it’s become a kind of an engaging fun part of our every other week session.

Laurie Barkman
If you were going to rewind and say I wish we had a strategic plan years ago. Could you say that? It is something that other companies should be doing as well?

John Denny
Absolutely. In fact, I thought we did have a strategic plan before we engage with you, Laurie. I mean, we work as a team. Let me put it this way: We google it all the strategic planning processes to go through, which were helpful, but when we were leading ourselves through it, it just wasn’t the same as having somebody who has gone through the who is a professional at this strategic planning process to lead you through it. We did have strategic plans that frankly, weren’t that good. We never really followed until we engage with an outside company to help us think through its strategic plan. Regardless of ones size, I think is valuable. The only thing I feel ashamed of is that I’ve realized it’s not three and a half years almost, and we haven’t started the new planning session but I think we’ll get into that.

Laurie Barkman
That’s great. You have gotten a copy of my book and I know you’ve cracked it open. I know you’ve gotten through a couple of chapters. I want to say three chapters. That’s awesome. And you told me that your wife stole it from you.

John Denny
My wife is part owner of the company. I brought this book home about really transitioning or beginning the transitioning process from owning a company to life after owning the company. I got through three chapters. She took the book from me and she started reading it because she thinks it makes a lot of sense, I do too, but she was really interested in thinking through the process as part owner. As soon as she’s done, I’ll go back to chapter four and finish the next. I believe it’s a 20 chapter book.

Laurie Barkman
It’s about 15 chapters.

John Denny
Finish it, but we met you and I about two and a half weeks ago, you asked me the question. What’s in the future for me and Danny civic solutions. I said, well, I haven’t really thought about that. I’ve got another five to six good years, and maybe 5, 6, 7 good years, I’ll think about what we do next or how we transition. At that point, you said, I wouldn’t wait much longer because to get the maximum amount of what you have and what you want to get out of the company, regardless which direction you go, find somebody else to run it, sell the company, or even just shut it down. You need to start planning that now so that’s where we are. Finishing the book, first.

Laurie Barkman
Finishing the book first. Let’s talk about business transition because the planning side for growth is where you and I have started, and that’s important. A number of things that you and the team have been working on, will create value, such as the sales process, and that you is one person or not the only person who knows the process, and who interfaces with clients, on prospects and so on.

We, you and I, might have known that that was an underlying piece of what we were working on together for the plan, but your team, they still they might not see it that way and that’s okay. The business transition side gives us more runway when we have more time to build value. If we say, your clock probably started three years ago because you’ve been working on pieces to drive value in the business. The sales piece is just one example and there are others, right? The context of if you want to have a transition, and five to seven years, maybe we should just unpack that a little bit.

Why did I say to you, you really should start now and that’s because of this issue, a lot of business owners get to the point where they think they can sell the company, and it’ll be attractive to whoever they assume is going to buy it then a couple of things can happen.

One, the price that they get back is just way off from what they expected to the intended buyer. Many times, it could be a family intention, I think I’ll sell to family or transition to my family member or my son or daughter, they don’t want it. That also can happen with management where a management team member, it might be presumed to be a successor then that person is intimidated, either financially or operationally to do so. That’s a big risk to find out at the last minute, that our vision for what an exit might look like, is not meeting our objectives.

John Denny
What I liked about our meeting, one of the first things or one of my first takeaways was even thinking through or being aware of what are all the different options potentially, from family, from an outside buyer from someone on the management team, taking over from shutting it down and saying goodnight, everybody do that thinking through or first being aware that there are all these different options. Frankly, I wasn’t even at that point, number one, number two, regardless of which option, it seems to me that you don’t pick that option, right at the first start. You kind of go through a process and get involved gone through chapter four. I think he goes through a process and as you’re going through the process, you’re kind of whittling down. What might make the most sense, is that correct?

Laurie Barkman
I think that’s right. We start with your goals. What are your personal goals? What are you what’s your vision for a) use the word exit transition, you know, retirement, whatever word you want to use, where you are no longer in the business day to day. For some people, they just want to be chairman and put their feet up on the desk and have arm’s length. That’s their vision. They’ll do that for a long time because they’ve hired in the CEO. Others say I might recapitalize and bring in a minority investor or a majority investor. I have a client that just did that. They brought in a majority investor and they’re still in the business day to day as a CEO. Others say I don’t want to sell outright, so what role you want to have and the vision you want to have is I want to put my feet up in my RV. You’ve told me you want to get an RV and you want to travel, right?

John Denny
I’m the only one in my family who wants the RV.

Laurie Barkman
You might be alone in your RV.

John Denny
Maybe the dog will come with me.

John Denny  

Well, I’m anxious to get started now knowing that I’ve got to get it started five or seven years in advance, because before you know it, it’s going to be on top of me. And I can’t even believe we’re almost at the summer of this year. So I look forward to it. And I appreciate the time to spend with you on this podcast. And and we will get to work on my transition.

Laurie Barkman  

Well, I’m excited to work with you, John. Just to close out the episode. I know you’re a fan of the show Succession. Do you think succession is a taboo topic?

John Denny  

I don’t know if it’s a taboo topic. I think it’s something we either don’t think about or we don’t allow ourselves to think about it that. If it’s not allowing ourselves to think about that, maybe that is a taboo in a way. For example, people won’t even think about what they’re going to do or plan for the inevitable. How many times in families do we see that happen that all of a sudden you’re in a crisis situation with an in-law or a parent and you’re thinking why didn’t we plan in advance? Let me tell you, my wife has already bought my tombstone. I told you I was sick. I think that you need to talk about these issues and get get a plan put in place.

Laurie Barkman  

That’s awesome. John, thank you so much for coming on Succession Stories today, sharing your experience, and talking about the things that maybe we don’t talk about enough so that people aren’t fearful of what’s to come and they’re more part of the process.

John Denny  

My pleasure. Thank you so much. 

Laurie Barkman  

If people want to learn more about you and Denny civic solutions, what’s a good way to get in touch with you?

John Denny  

They can either check us out on our website, dennycivicsolutions.com, and register for our newsletter to come out or feel free to give me a call at 412-551-1770.

Laurie Barkman  

Thanks again, John. To our listeners, be sure to follow Succession Stories in your favorite podcast player, and YouTube and leave us a review. Five stars helps us get the show discovered. To learn more about maximizing the value of your business and planning for your transition, sign up for a newsletter and book a complimentary call with me at thebusinesstransitionsherpa.com. Join us next time on Succession Stories for more insights from transition to transaction.

 

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