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August 2020

Family Succession Planning


Looking Forward With Family-Owned Courses
By Scott Kauffman

The ongoing crisis created by the coronavirus is affecting all facets of U.S. businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, forcing many of America’s business owners and boardrooms to immediately begin thinking about a future financial road map. A common concern is how best to successfully navigate the pandemic and create a structure or transition plan that allows these businesses to be sustainable for years to come.

In the case of America’s many family-run operations, the goal is to hopefully make it to – or even through – another generation. For course owners Bud Beucher, 63, in Florida, and NGCOA president Steve Graybill, 58, of Pennsylvania, this type of succession planning was actually well in place long before COVID-19 became an issue.

For them, it is just part of the natural planning process that comes with senior ownership in a family-held enterprise. Indeed, for Beucher and Graybill, both of whom began working in the golf business with their fathers 30-plus years ago, they are more than prepared to hand over course controls to the next generation. That is easier said than done when it comes to passing down the family business.

In fact, one of the most quoted and misinterpreted statistics used in family business circles is this one: 30 percent of family businesses make it to the second generation; 10-15 percent get to the third, and 3-5 percent last to the fourth generation. The person responsible for this conclusion was John Ward of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, whose 1987 study was limited to Illinois manufacturing companies.
Of course, it is open for interpretation how one defines “making it” to the next generation and even extrapolating this out to other industries and the entire country as a whole. Nonetheless, whatever the true transitional success rate is for families, those involved in these types of businesses would likely acknowledge it is challenging, to say the least.

The Beucher and Graybill families hope to defy the odds as they consider course succession plans in the coming year with their respective family’s third generation of hopeful owners. In the case of Graybill, who co-owns Foxchase Golf Club with his cousin, Doug Graybill, after the relatives acquired the business from their fathers about 10 years ago, the third generation of Foxchase owners might lie with Steve’s daughter, Shannon Graybill.

Shannon Graybill, 29, a certified instructor with the U.S. Golf Teacher’s Federation, started working full-time for her family’s 18-hole facility as a golf program manager in March just prior to the pandemic’s forced closure of the course for six weeks. Like many family businesses, Shannon and several other siblings and cousins grew up helping in the business, and Doug’s daughter used to be the facility’s event planner before she got married and moved to Michigan (now, Doug’s daughter-in-law is filling in those full-time shoes).

But Shannon Graybill, for now, is the lone millennial family member showing interest in climbing the course ladder of ownership and becoming a partner one day. As her father and uncle describe it, the understanding is Shannon will immerse herself in the day-to-day pro shop operations for one year, working closely with the family’s longtime director of golf and “getting to know the staff and customers.”

“The goal is to get her in here and see if she wants it to be part of her life, but we need to see what she or anyone (from the family) brings to the table,” says Steve Graybill, an avid golfer who oversees the turf and golf shop operations, now in its 30th year of business.

Doug Graybill, who comes from the family’s longtime grocery store business and naturally oversees Foxchase’s successful food-and-beverage businesses, describes Shannon’s situation as a “trial year to see if she likes us and we like her.”

When asked if any of Doug’s five children have expressed this kind of long-time career interest, he jokes that his youngest son has helped out since he was a kid but is now 21 and pursuing an engineering degree.

“He doesn’t want to be flipping burgers and steaks like me,” Doug Graybill adds. “I told him you’re too smart to be a golf course owner. You can be a lot different.”

What Graybill is referring to is living and breathing the golf business, a period when he and his cousin worked “stupid hours, 12 hours a day, six days a week” while they helped build the business the first 20 years, literally from the ground up, with their fathers.

“None of our seven kids are lazy,” Doug Graybill adds, “but my wife was a golf widow. We didn’t get to do much for ourselves those first 20 years and I think my kids saw that.”

The last 10 years, the elder Graybills have managed to escape the business more often and consequently, the children might see the family facility as being a bit more glamorous these days. Yet at the end of the day, Graybill notes the millennial generation has a distinctively different work-life attitude.

“This generation, call them the millennials, has a real good work-life balance,” he adds. “We did it through God’s grace and it worked out for us. Our wives did not leave us, and we have all of these successful kids. … But they’re different.”

Shannon Graybill, whose course sits on family-owned farmland dating to 1901, welcomes her new life in golf after saying goodbye to a previous position in corporate America as a fitness trainer.

“The fact I can come to work, and I have family there, sometimes it can be challenging,” she says. “But I do think there’s more pros than cons. … I love challenges. I don’t want the job to necessarily feel easy.

“I strive to be creative and try to eliminate road-blocks with people. That’s kind of where I take my ideas and kind of figure out why people aren’t here, and what we can do differently to create an atmosphere they want to come to every week.”

To be sure, identifying someone from the next generation with the same passion to assume the responsibility of one’s family business is perhaps one of the biggest challenges. Coincidentally, this fall, Beucher is in the process of creating a “transitional relationship” with his daughter, Morgan, despite having two young kids.

Beucher, whose family’s historic 36-hole Mission Inn Resort & Club was the 2009 NGCOA Florida Course of the Year, has been running the family’s business for years, now that he’s the oldest of two boys left in the business. His four sisters also held significant management positions at the property for decades, from human resources to sales and marketing to merchandising. But Beucher just turned 63 and figures he has no more than seven years tops before he would like to officially retire from the day-to-day “slog” as he jokingly describes it sometimes.

“The way I envision it, and I did speak to my (retired) brother about it the other day, is we hire a reasonably good sales-oriented general manager, and then Morgan would come to work, let’s say five days a week,” says Beucher, whose father, Nick Beucher, acquired the 1,200-acre residential resort community on the outskirts of Orlando in 1964. “And Morgan’s job is to walk around, provide the GM with input and direction and let him run the day-to-day.”

Then, Beucher foresees creating a structure comprised of himself, his son Nicholas and nephew, Scott, both of whom are successful and busy professionals in their own right. This trio of finance–savvy Beuchers would act as an “executive committee” for Morgan and serve as a trusted set of eyes for the family’s numerous family shareholders.

“It would be something where we go and meet monthly to review all the P&L statements, FF&E and the backlog of business reports, and kind of serve as advisors to her and the GM,” Beucher says. “Hopefully that would work for Morgan, so she’s got as much time in this as she wants. If we don’t burden her too much, meaning it’s not a seven-day slog, and they’re not waking her up in the middle of the night. … That’s what we pay the GM for. I think it’s pretty doable.”

Most importantly, Beucher says his daughter is open to the possible transition plans.

“Now, I haven’t sold her yet,” he notes. “I haven’t gotten the hard yes, but we’re hopeful.”



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