Founded more than 400 years ago in 1570, local law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore LLP has had its fair share of bosses.
Its chief executive officer Simon Slater is just about to complete his first year in the top job having been groomed for the role by senior partner James Partridge.
This is one Tunbridge Wells company which understands the importance of succession planning and the need to have a pipeline of talented people lined up. Mr Slater was formerly practice director.
For centuries, this regional law firm, which also has an office in the Thames Gateway, has also provided succession planning advice to corporate clients and family firms. It understands from its own experience the business benefits of thinking about the future today, so a firm always has the right staff in place.
Thomson Snell & Passmore did not previously have a CEO. Mr Partridge wanted to release himself from the day-to-day management of the firm and concentrate on his own clients. He also heads up the firm’s corporate and commercial department.
He needed someone he could trust, who had the right experience and who understood the culture of the firm. Mr Slater has more than 25 years experience within professional service firm management, spanning marketing, sales, operations and general management roles at global, national and regional practices. Having been practice manager he also knows what makes Thomson Snell & Passmore’s 35 partners, 41 other lawyers, 19 more fee-earners and eight trainees tick.
Simon Slater commented
Professional firms need a strong succession plan because of the personal nature of the relationship between them and their clients. Over the next six years we have a handful of partners coming up to retirement and we are already putting plans in place.
Indeed, Richard Ellard became head of commercial property almost a year ago, at least five years before his predecessor’s potential retirement. Meanwhile Fiona Follis stepped up as head of clinical negligence and personal injury in 2013, also a few years before her predecessor’s potential retirement. A new appointment to Thomson Snell & Passmore’s private client business from outside the practice will be announced within weeks.
Other west Kent companies could think about their own succession planning and what will happen when the owner or a key senior employee retires or leaves.
Family butcher Fuller’s has been selling meat to the people in and around Tunbridge Wells for more than 40 years and owner Steve Fuller says succession planning vital.
Mr Fuller said
We need to identify and develop our internal staff who have the potential to fill the positions of departing or retiring employees. As a family-run business, we are committed to developing the butchers of the future.
He adds that the local companies must be committed to training because this increases the number of experienced and capable employees who can assume senior roles when they become available. “Finding the butchers of the future is challenging so we focus on the skills that are needed,” he said.
Whatever the size of the company, there are risks from not having a strong succession planning strategy in place.
These can include an over-dependence on the current leadership team, nervous clients and customers because there is no apparent natural successor, and ultimately a reduction in the value of the business or its market share.
For private firms, including family businesses, the risks include any successor being underprepared to take the reigns when asked or an heir feeling disengaged because there has not been a proper handover. There can also be a leadership vacuum and a dip in company performance.
The human resources department should be in charge of succession planning but there is a role for every manager. Even line managers should be thinking about the future when they oversee someone’s performance review. Can they recognise whether the person they are assessing has the potential to be a senior manager or ultimately lead the business?
Good staff will stay with a business if they can see clear opportunities for career progression. If there are, people will prepare themselves and want to be trained so they are ready to step up to more senior roles when the time comes.
First published in The Times of Tunbridge Wells on 29 April 2015.