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Last Update: Tuesday July 27, 2021

Key Idea: Plan to Let Go

Founder Marty Edelston has turned the leadership of the company over to a young team.

Key Question:


Marty was 67 when this story was taped; like all of us, he has to think about the fact that he is not going to live forever.

  What is happening now to insure the longevity of the company?

A:  Marty's children and one other long-term employee have formed a succession team and are working with a consultant to plan for the changes which must take place so that the business continues to thrive when Marty leaves. The single biggest problem is the transfer of the dream. Marty's mission is to help his readers live their lives in an ever increasingly hostile world. Is this really what the next generation wants to do?

Also, the younger generation admits they don't want to work as many hours as Marty does. They are hoping to share the tasks of leadership so that no one person has to carry the load that Marty has carried. This may mean the business will loose some of its productivity edge, however, that's OK because it is an intentional decision.

One daughter said, "This is a Marty-centric place and that will have to change because none of us can be Marty." She is right and even though Boardroom will be completely different without Marty, it can continue to be a great company.

Today, one of of Marty's daughters and her colleague, Brian Kurtz, run the business.

Q: How do you go about the task of letting others take over?

A:  Pam McNair, founder of Gadabout Salon and Spas says we need to delegate with design. By this she means prepare. Think hard about the job to be delegated and about the person to whom you will delegate.

Using the same analytical skills she developed as a hairdresser, Pam is able to turn jobs over to people on her terms who are best suited to the task. Just like she used to make her clients look good, Pam studies her employees then designs jobs that will make them not only look good but feel good too.

Q: What is the ultimate delegation task?

A: Putting a succession plan in place which means you eventually replace and fire yourself. Anne Beiler, founder of Auntie Anne's -- the company that makes the best pretzel you have ever tasted in your life -- said she wants her company to out live her. She has acted on her goals by recruiting Sam Beiler and naming him President of the company.

He is qualified first because she trusts him. They both used this most important word when talking about the success they have had at passing the leadership torch. The inability to place trust in another person is probably the biggest reason entrepreneurs fail to put a leadership succession plan in place.

Most companies die with their founder or they die when the founder decides to quit working. Some would throw these types of companies into a category called "lifestyle companies." In other words, the company was a vehicle for the founder to live a certain kind of life. We disagree. Most small businesses would-could-and-should have a life separate and apart from the founder. If the founder would first learn to trust, it opens the way so the founder could find people in which to place that trust. And the business, with all its customers, suppliers, and employees, should continue to perfect relations, systems, and their contributions to their community and world. Happily this is the case with Anne.

Before he became president of Auntie Anne's, Sam spent years in the field. He and his wife became Auntie Anne's franchise owners in 1989, and then he became an employee of the corporation working with franchise owners. He was perfectly groomed. You might wonder about his last name being the same as Anne's. The two are cousins. The fact that Anne and Sam are related could bring up the seemingly endless discussion around family-business issues. Our observation of this situation is that endless communication internally at headquarters and externally to the franchisees has made the family relation a non-issue. Sam worked his way to the top. He was not given anything that he did not earn simply because his last name is Beiler.

Q: Where did the idea of retirement come from and is it good for people?

A:  When we became industrialized and so many Americans started working in factories, the congress mandated retirement for safety reasons. Prior to World War II, the merchants worked in their shops until they died and farmers died "behind the plow." Retirement is a modern concept and probably a bad one. Just when people get smart, we tell them they have to stay home in a rocking chair. Many small business owners don't plan to retire because they love what they do and this is part of the reason small businesses as a collective group contribute so much to the economy. Small businesses are often being run by the wisest people because wisdom only comes with experience and it takes time to experience so many of the complexities of life. Rita and Marty Edelston would be forced to retire if they worked for a big company. What a loss to everyone.

Rita and Marty do not expect to retire in the traditional sense. Rita loves being around young people and says she has to look in a mirror to remind herself she is old because she doesn't feel old.

Think about it

When was the last time you delegated a task? Are you happy with the results? What could you do to improve? What keeps you from passing the torch? Do you have someone you are training that can move into your place soon? Are you nervous that if you pass the torch, you won't have anything to do? Do you think your life might feel empty if you don't have to be in the office everyday?

Clip from: Boardroom, Inc.

Stamford, Connecticut:  In this episode of the show we go inside one of the most productive businesses in the world (using the ratio, gross income to total number of employees). Where the Fortune 500 companies average under $300K per employee; in this small business, it is over $1M per employee.

How can any business be so productive? You'll learn right here.

Marty Edelston, founder of Boardroom, Inc. started this company in 1971. Today they are the publisher of the world's largest subscription-based newsletter, BottomLine Personal; this business with just 78 employees will do over $80 million in sales. This is about five times the productivity rate of the Fortune 500 companies.

He believes these results come from a powerful process he calls, I-Power. Marty believes every person has an endless supply of ideas, especially ideas to improve their workplace. Every week every employee is asked to answer two questions: What can I do to improve my work area? And, what could others do that would cause my work area to improve? Simple, brilliant, easy to do, so what are we waiting for?

Marty was 47 with three children at home when he quit his job as a salesman in the publishing business. He had worked for some of the country's biggest companies and felt there was a need for a publication that ". . . helps people live their lives in this increasingly hostile world."

All the key ideas and videos of this episode...
Go to the homepage of this episode...

Boardroom Inc.

Marty Edelston, Founder & CEO

281 Tresser Blvd
Stamford, CT 06901

Visit our web site:

Office: 2039735900

Business Classification:
Information Services

Year Founded: 1971

Plan to Let Go

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Rita, Marty's wife, has worked with him all along.

RITA: Marty used to get the mail in New York, and he'd come home on the bus carrying a big sack on his back. The mail -- we'd open it up at home, and between the kids and me, we'd sort it out. I made the deposits -- you know, checked everything off, made the deposits, and then we'd send the orders out for these little Speed-O-Mat metal plates to be made.

HATTIE: OK. When you were doing that back then, did you ever dream that you would eventually have $110 million in sales, with 80 people?

RITA: No. No. That was a different world. I mean, you still think back and say, `My goodness, we're from there to here.' No, every time we think back of what we had in the basement when we started,"'How did we ever deal with all this stuff down there?'

HATTIE: Would you say you're the size you want to be?

MARTY: We've been discussing this for the last couple of years, and right now, as I move close to my 68th year -- my 67th birthday, 68th year -- it takes on greater seriousness because, well, we have a succession team in place and they are working with a training group that trains succession teams, literally, and they're coming up with their mission statement.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) All three of Marty's children, Sarah, Marjorie and Sam, work in the business, and today, along with another 15-year Boardroom veteran, Brian Kurtz, they form what is called the succession team.

SARAH (Marty's daughter): Well, the company has spent 25 years building a structure that's Marty-focused. And we have 85 people who all look to Marty. And now we're gonna have a new structure that's gonna have a team of four rather than one, and we have to build a whole new infrastructure. And none of us are Marty, none of us have his creative gut and his sensitivities, so we have to figure out how we operate in the future.

MARJORIE (Marty's daughter): And none of us want to work 20 hours a day.

HATTIE: Like he does.

SARAH: Yeah. Well, we're at different life stages. When he started the company his children were all--we were all older elementary school, junior high school age. He had a wife who was home and 100 percent supported. We have two women who are married, so that--we've got husbands, we've got children that we have to deal with. We have two fathers with young children, so that we all want a different balance in our lives, and want to--we're at different stages where we need to know our children and be able to involve ourselves in that way as well.

Marty, like most entrepreneurs, didn't know what to do. He knew he had to do something, but he didn't know how to teach us. And we--he would try something, and we would try to respond to it, and we were never talking the same language. We didn't know what to do 'cause we'd never been in the situation before, he'd never been in the situation before. And Marge through the Family Business Council, had identified that there are people out there who can help us.

SAM EDELSTON (Marty's Son): For one thing, we've been getting together as a foursome for several years now and just talking through--talking about issues and now, for the first time, we're being asked and really sort of compelled, you know, forced to come up with group opinions on a subject.

SARAH: Marty said to us, `Go have lunch, go deal with succession, go figure out what's gonna happen.'

MARJORIE: `What happens when I get hit by a bus?'

HATTIE: He said to the three of you.

SARAH: Right.

SAM: Five years ago.

SARAH: `Go have lunch and come back and let's talk about this stuff.' And the three of us went to lunch, and the first subject that came up was, `We can't do this without Brian,' because he's such an integral part of the marketing department. He's been here for 15 years--at that point he'd been here for 10 years--but he is Mr. Direct Mail. He knows everybody, he knows his business better than anyone in the business, and he knew a portion of the direct marketing and list business that none of us did, and it was someone--we work well with him, we feel like siblings with him.

BRIAN KURTZ (Boardroom's, Marketing Department): Well, you know, how many businesses survive from first generation to second generation? The odds are...

HATTIE: Most businesses fail at 27 years. You all are right on the cusp of failing.

BRIAN: Right. And that's still first generation.

HATTIE: That's why you're doing--most businesses don't make it through the succession.

BRIAN: Right.

HATTIE: That's why what you're doing is so smart, and that's why you will because what you're doing will prevent the failure.

BRIAN: That's right.

SARAH: We have to figure out what's our vision. Marty has his vision. He probably talked to you about survival in a hostile world. And we have to figure out our definition of that vision, which is very much in sync, but is it exactly the same? Maybe, maybe not.

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