October 8, 2013

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Article

Take the Wheel

Jerry Seiner Turns His Keys Over to the Next Generation

By Rachel Madison

October 8, 2013


In 2012, after more than 30 years at the helm of Jerry Seiner Dealerships, Jerry Seiner stepped down from his role as president and CEO of the company he’d built from the ground up. He then established himself as chairman of the company and gave the responsibility of president and CEO to his son-in-law, Chris Hemmersmeier. This handover didn’t occur overnight, though. Seiner had been grooming Hemmersmeier to take over the family business for more than 20 years.

Seiner began his venture into the retail auto business in 1975 when he purchased a Chevrolet-Buick dealership in Cadillac, Mich. Five years later, he found a 17-acre Chevrolet dealership for sale in Salt Lake City, and after doing some research, moved to Utah to begin growing his company. His dealerships have now grown to include four locations that offer Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, GMC, Kia, Isuzu and Nissan franchises.

While Hemmersmeier was engaged to Seiner’s daughter, Sandy, in the late 1970s, he began working for Seiner as a car salesperson in Michigan. Seiner told him if he wanted to take over the company someday, he had to be able to sell cars. In his second month at the dealership, Hemmersmeier became salesperson of the month.

After the Hemmersmeiers got married, they followed Seiner to Utah where Hemmersmeier worked for him in a variety of positions, from salesperson and used car detailer to corporate sales trainer and general manager. A few years ago, Hemmersmeier began to shadow Seiner. During that time he learned how to work as a company leader, financial officer and operating officer.

Hemmersmeier also spent the last decade buying stock in the company and is now the majority owner of Jerry Seiner Dealerships.

Seiner says fortunately in his family, Hemmersmeier was the only one who wanted to be in the car business. “He wanted it and he earned it,” Seiner says. “I was fortunate to have one son-in-law who wanted it.”

Although the two men have a great relationship—both at work and within their family—they realize that business succession planning isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to family. The leadership transition ultimately went smoothly, but Seiner and Hemmersmeier say they did learn a few things about business succession planning and transitioning along the way.

  • Start planning early. Seiner says he’s always known his eventual goal was to hand the business over to someone in his family. That’s why early on he let Hemmersmeier know that the company could be his if he worked hard and learned how to sell cars, make money and keep customers happy.
  • Think about your business family. Seiner has several employees who have worked for him for more than two decades. If he had turned the company over to someone outside of his family, he says, the chances of those employees being able to stay at the company would have been put in jeopardy. “If some outsider came in, who would know if they would bring in their own key officers, which would cost our people jobs after they’ve been loyal to the company for several years,” he says. “I know Chris is going to retain every competent employee.”
  • Keep employees informed. “Have a good team in place that understands what the plan is so employees aren’t in the dark about what’s going to happen during the transition,” Hemmersmeier says. “If they don’t understand what’s going on, they may be anxious or nervous. You want to reduce that stress.”
  • Don’t kid yourself about the competency of the next generation. “You have to be able to hear your kid isn’t qualified,” Seiner says. “They have to earn it. You are only successful when others believe you are successful. Nobody knew Chris would be my son-in-law when he started working for me, because I didn’t want him to be treated different. He had to earn it [like everyone else].”
  • Balance work and home life equally. Hemmersmeier says the ground rule has always been that on the weekends when the Seiner family gets together, they never talk about work, even during a major transition. “Work is work and home is home,” he says. “Those things don’t intersect. That way we can have those aspects of our life in balance.”
  • Be open, honest and transparent. “Relationships with family can be the most difficult, but they are the most important,” Seiner says. “I’ve had a lot of business challenges over the year, such as the downturn in the industry in 2008, but I can honestly say I’ve never had any challenges with my family when it came to the business succession, because I was open, honest and transparent.”
  • Plan for the unexpected. If Hemmersmeier’s marriage to Seiner’s daughter were to end, Seiner says nothing much would change, but it’s always good to be prepared. “In terms of my estate planning, all of my children will be treated equally,” he says. “Each of them will have trusts and that has nothing to do with who their spouses may be, whether it be Chris and Sandy, Jerry, Jr. and his wife Catherine, or my youngest son and whoever his spouse may be.”
  • When it comes to Seiner’s business planning, he says Hemmersmeier has earned the right to be president and CEO of the company, as well as the majority owner. He admits that Hemmersmeier had an edge because he’s married to his daughter, but he also believes Hemmersmeier earned it 100 percent.
  • Reap the rewards. Because Hemmersmeier has taken over the company his father-in-law built, he feels honored to continue providing the culture and values Seiner instilled in the company to employees and customers. “We can continue with what he’s built and extend that through the next generation,” he says. “Plus, we get to see a family business stay in the family.” 

 

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