I am not sure why most firms close when owners decide to retire. It has never made sense to me, after all, the clients are still there, employees still want jobs, and just because the “boss” has decided to transition out, there is no reason that a firm cannot continue on. I have seen dozens of design firms and agencies disappear completely, when owners retire and lock the door and leave. I wanted something different.
Ever since I retained majority ownership of Grafik well over 20+ years ago, I started to plan my exit strategy. I had a couple of criterions in mind: I did not want to sell the business to a third party, I did not want to work for anyone except myself, and I did not want to screw my staff— leaving them all to fend for themselves, and I hoped that the Grafik legacy and driving principles could continue on.
I knew that putting a strong leader and a strong management team in place was of paramount importance. With my partners, Lynn Umemoto, Gregg Glaviano, David Collins, Johnny Vitorovich and Lance Wain, I knew I had a solid base. Adding a strong management team composed of Cheryl Haar and Hal Swetnam solidified the offering. And then the process of identifying a strong leader started.
I appointed Lance as the new president three years ago. I also announced at that time that I would be stepping down as CEO in 2015. The last three years has been spent setting up a different management structure, mentoring Lance through daily 7:30 am phone calls and weekly meetings, and gradually having my presence dim.
It is not always easy to make oneself irrelevant, but in this case, in order for there to be an invisible easy transition, it meant that I had to start to step into the shadows. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not used to playing second fiddle, but since my goals were to see Grafik continue on as a formidable force, it meant I had to step away from being the conductor to being part of the orchestra.
Lance has emerged as a strong leader with a vision for where Grafik will be in the future. We will continue to change and morph as we have done for the last 35+ years and there will be decisions made that might be different from ones I would have made. And that is exactly as it should be.
I am confident that a few things will not change.
- Grafik will continue to strive for excellence.
- “The Right Idea™,” our brand mantra, will continue to influence every decision.
- We will be an ethical firm guided by moral principles.
- Balance will be an integral part of our DNA.
- We will continue to treat our clients, our partners, and each other with respect.
It has been my privilege to lead this company for over 35 years, and I eagerly look forward to seeing the new Grafik leadership continue these efforts.