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Shepherding In a New Era

Quality Lift Trucks undergoes a major succession and transition plan
By Steve Guglielmo

Quality Lift Trucks was founded in 1978 on the principles of quality, integrity, service and commitment to its customers. The forklift dealership has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 36 years, expanding to include operations in Chula Vista and San Marcos, California as well as Baja California in Mexico. While the company was humming along remaining extremely successful, President Dennis Hines began to look down the road.

“It has always been important to me that our employees, suppliers and customers can rely on our business to support them long after I played an active role in the company,” says Hines.

And so, approaching 60, Hines began to formulate a plan for his succession after he stepped away from the company.

“In June 2011, after 33 years in business, I decided it was time for me to take the necessary steps to prepare our employees to manage the business in my absence,” he says. “In order for our business to continue uninterrupted, it was important to implement a structure that would prepare our employees to take on the role of leading the business upon my departure.”

To Dennis, it was important to have an outside perspective on the state of affairs of Quality Lift and what would be the best course of action moving forward.

“I wanted an outside set of eyes that could look at what we were doing in an unbiased way and could bring other thoughts about what was going to be right for the company,” Hines says. “Having never worked for a large company, I felt that I might be too close to the action to make the best choices.”

Years before, Hines had met Stephen Ross, a material handling consultant, while Ross was working for one of Quality Lift’s manufacturers.

“I felt that Steve could bring value to the company and was the right person for the job since he had a background in all aspects of the business, including operations, financial and sales experience,” Hines says.

Quality LiftHe contacted Ross to explain exactly what he wanted to accomplish with the transition plan and what he envisioned.

“I had the end result that I wanted to happen and once Steve agreed to take on the project, we worked together on the plan for implementing it,” says Hines.

After analyzing Quality Lift’s market positions and financial condition, Ross agreed to a yearly contract with Quality Lift in September 2011.

The initial goals included: preparing for the continuation of the business without Hines’s input, creating a structure of plans and procedures that could be followed by employees, cross-training of personnel so that the company could continue uninterrupted in the event of a surprise employee departure and a structure of systems for team-led advertising, budget and goals.

“We made changes throughout the entire structure of the company,” says Hines. “We made management changes and changes in reporting systems. We completely departmentalized our financial reports and trained people in new positions to get them prepared for when Steve left the company and when I leave.”

Since it was founded, Quality Lift Truck has been a family business. Dennis’s son, daughter, brother and brother-in-law all work inside the company and many of Quality Lift’s other employees have become like family.

“It was important to me that there would be a smooth transition and that all of our employees, including the family members, understand and accept their new roles,” says Hines. “The last thing I wanted was to have struggles within the company or within the family while filling the vacuum created by my departure.”

When Ross first joined the company in September 2011, Hines noticed just that happening.

“There was a little bit of reluctance from people to accept Steve being here and making these changes,” Hines says. “Once I started seeing that, I decided to step back even further than I originally anticipated and allow Steve to actually manage the day-to-day operations of the business rather than just make the succession plan. It would allow him to get a better feel for what was happening.”

What began as a year-long job ended up stretching out to nearly three years, as the company had several priorities before the transition could begin and even more so during the transition.

Before the transition could begin, Steve and Dennis came up with a list of priorities. It included:
• Replacing a long-term sales manager who was set to retire within a year.
• Exposing Dennis’s son, Chad Hines, to areas of sales, sales management, operational and general management.
• Exposing Chad to leadership training to ensure he could lead inspire the company’s valuable employees.
• Make changes to the company’s incomplete balance sheet, a result of Quality Lift’s dependence on an outside CPA, to be able to produce effective financial statements in house.
• Create a budgeting system and financial statements to compare goals within budgets.

Ross remained with Quality Lift through May 2014 and in that time have seen Chad Hines promoted to Executive Vice President and Dealer Principal, 14-year employee Evelyn Martinez promoted from account receivable clerk to accounting manager and spearhead the transition of bringing the balance sheet in house, IT employee Antonio Pineda transition to branch manager to lead the Quality Lift team in Mexico and Administrative Assistant Danielle Hines transition from administrative assistant to human resource manager and rental/transportation manager.

“With Steve’s help, we have seen many positive changes and know our team is better positioned to lead the company into the future,” says Hines. “If something were to happen to me today, I am confident that our employees, partners and customers would be in very capable hands.”

He continues, “While the overall succession plan was a large investment in time and money, I feel that we made the right choice in hiring Steve Ross to lead and implement the succession plan and feel our strengthened employees are a testament to that decision. There is an old cliché that says ‘Everybody is expendable.’ Through this process I recognized that I’m expendable and it’s actually comforting. I believe the future of the company has never looked brighter and it makes me comforted to know that.”