Owner hires son to boost sales. Would you?

Posted12/13/2015 6:00 AM

Ron Wajer needed to jump start his business. He hired his son to gear up sales.

Whether that was a good move -- son Michael came on board in early August -- won't be known for several months, but veteran business coach Mark Akerley thinks Wajer's plan will work.


Managing partner at Sigma Resource Group Inc., LaGrange, Akerley is well aware of the risks. "You risk damaging family relationships," he says, "but we're not going to let the business break the father-son relationship."

Wajer, the Dad, is managing partner of Business Engineering, a Northbrook company that has a corps of 10 consultants who specialize in process improvements in the manufacturing and distribution sectors. The consultants are independent contractors Wajer calls upon as needed.

The issues -- which do not include transition because "I have no exit plan," the senior Wajer says -- are easy to spot. Perhaps the biggest is Michael's retail background.

There's a hint of concern when Ron talks about his son's retail experience. "You need to get into outside sales," Ron says he told Michael. "Business-to-business isn't sitting in a store waiting for someone to walk in.

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"Mike was a retail guy. I said, 'You could help us, and we could help you (by broadening Mike's selling experience).'"

Michael came to Business Engineering from 10 years at Dania Furniture Co., a Petaluma, California, home furnishings chain with four Chicago-area stores and others in the Pacific Northwest. Much of his experience had been in sales and store management.

"It was a different kind of retail," Michael says. "My job really hasn't changed much from what I had been doing, except that I'm selling a service rather than a product.

"My role is to learn about the business -- how the business is run; what makes it run; meet the key people" inside and in the business community.


Ron has charged Michael with developing a telemarketing operation to reach more prospects, and Michael is lead on resulting sales visits. "I make the appointment," Michael says. "On site, I introduce myself. I introduce Dad as a senior consultant. I do the sales pitch. If there are technical issues involved, Dad answers.

Internally, there's the fact that Michael is the founder's son. However, Akerley says Michael benefits from the reality that "Most consulting engineers despise marketing and sales. They're highly skilled people who want to do the work, not run the business."

That helps, but Business Engineering already has a business development officer who has similar duties, though without the telemarketing, and who is paid by commission. So far, the two work together well, partly because Michael is a salaried employee.

There's also the question of whether Wajer would have hired Michael if Michael was not his son. Akerley admits he's "not sure," but adds, "Ron has been trying to find someone to come in a run the business."

We'll follow up when Michael has been around longer.

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