Bob Youngman received the expected ‘don’t come Monday’ message. The next day he
was out one door and in through another.
All had been going well for Bob and his soon-to-be partner Tim Richardson when they
were part of established machinery supplies company Richardson McCabe. Bob joined
in 1972 and was appointed a board member the following year. Tim was manager of
the construction machinery section. Over time, a strong working relationship evolved
into an enduring friendship.
The venture grew, they joined forces with a similar ‘old school’ company Tappenden
Holdings, and their worlds remained unruffled. That was until 1979 when they found
themselves in the sights of corporate raider Brierleys. A 50 percent stake was taken
and immediately on-sold to Ceramco.
A week after Bob’s departure, Tim followed suit. They were both at an age and stage
where they were likely unemployable but were also well into survival mode. Creating
Youngman Richardson became the best option.
Bob—nine years Tim’s senior—decided they would set up a limited liability company
rather than the ‘kiss of death’ partnership option. They had equal shareholding
and operated under a formal board structure and operating procedures.
With the contractual ink barely dry, the two men boarded a plane to Japan with the
aim of securing a range of franchises. They returned with relationships established
with Robin/Subaru Engines and Denyo Generators. Slowly and surely they acquired
more dealerships and larger premises, and the business duly prospered.
The move to bring family into the business came not through a bout of nepotism but
rather through a search for good people.
“Family essentially came on board when we needed people,” says Bob. The first off
the rank was his son-in-law Tony Fairfield. He had been general sales manager at
Morgan Furniture so he’d already built his own reputation and had a track record
that could be assessed.
Three generations now work in the business. Tony is managing director. His son Phil
is national sales manager and Tony’s son-in-law is the current Tauranga branch representative.
Tim is chairman, after being handed this position by Bob Youngman four years ago.
His son Ed is sales and marketing director. Part of the success of this succession
route is that all the offspring established themselves first in other situations.
If they had come straight from school without additional life experience the results
may not have been so enduring.
That said, both Ed and Phil got their taste of the operation at an early age.
“Both used to come in during school holidays and work in the warehouse but then
when they finished school they went off to make their own way elsewhere,” Tim said.
When Ed returned from working overseas with multinational North Sails he asked his
father about the possibility of a position in the family firm. His request was referred
to Bob to avoid any notion of favouritism.
“At the time we had nothing available. Six months down the track a suitable position
became available—in the warehouse.”
Both Phil and Ed started in this role which created a ‘sink or swim’ urgency underpinned
by the instructions each received on day one: “Don’t let us—or yourself down.”
Each founder agrees there is a natural risk of overprotecting kin that anyone in
the succession planning process needs to contain. There have to be clear performance
measurement criteria and responsibilities expected.
The generational involvement in the business has sent positive messages to the bank,
the marketplace and also key suppliers—especially the Japanese.
“The family connection is well regarded and helps maintain and build strong relationships.
With one key supplier, Mikasa, we have dealt with the grandfather, father and now
son. Like us, their offspring started working from the ground floor up,” says Bob.
Bob comes and goes from the business but remains on the board. Tim comes in three
days a week and will remain, he says, as long as he has work to do and is not a
nuisance. “You know when it is time to go home.”