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Caught Looking

Do you approach your long-term growth with care? Or are you like me: flying by the seat of your pants?

By Anna Wells, Executive Editor, IMPO

This article first appeared in IMPO's May 2011 issue

Over the weekend, we had one of those strange 80-degree April days that caught everybody off-guard. It was supposed to thunderstorm all afternoon, but wound up being partly sunny, hot and muggy -- a welcome surprise for those of us in Wisconsin who aren’t good skiers and spend the winter mostly indoors.

My brother and I made plans to meet at the batting cages to hit some slow pitch baseballs. Slow pitch -- in this case -- being fast enough to kick the knob of the bat back against my wrists every time I made contact. The resulting bruises -- and my brother’s tweaked back -- were evidence that we were out of practice. After a few short rounds of BP, we were heading for the locker room.

I spent the next few hours digging out some summer clothes and scanning websites in an effort to finally select which flashy beach cruiser bike to order -- a task I’d been putting off for a few weeks, despite needing a new bike. By the time I got through this, and started checking my hopper for dead tennis balls, the air was beginning to rumble with static and light. Though late to the party, the thunderstorm showed up anyway -- noisy and belligerent -- and drowned the whole afternoon. So much for a well-used 80-degree surprise.

I recently did a story for IMPO’s sister publication -- Industrial Distribution -- on a leading supplier out of New York, MSC Industrial Supply. Many of you probably have a relationship with this company -- an industry fixture since they first entered the market as “Sid Tool” in 1941.

While at MSC’s Melville, NY facility, I sat down with COO Erik Gershwind and CEO David Sandler to discuss the company’s recently announced executive succession plan. Sandler, a long-time MSC associate (and CEO since 2005), will transition to the role of vice-chair of the MSC company board of directors. Gershwind will take on the role of CEO.

What I found most interesting about this succession plan is that MSC has elected to dedicate two to three years to accomplishing the task. Despite the fact that Gershwind has spent 15 years with MSC, the company is determined not to miss a beat. Now that’s preparation.

Sandler explained it this way: “In a market like this one, you can’t afford to see management gaps that could affect the customer,” he said. “You can’t miss even once, any day.” I found this insight enviable and intelligent, and its resulting strategy one I doubt many would dedicate such time and meticulous effort towards. And Sandler’s right: If you “miss” -- even one day -- you can’t take it back.

There is nothing sadder than a beautiful opportunity wasted, something I can attest to after spending a rare 80-degree April afternoon digging out pairs of shorts and “planning.” Unfortunately, planning implies preparation -- whereas I was sorting summer clothes into both piles “too little” and “too late.”

So my question to you is whether you’re ready for these gem-like opportunities. Much like the MSCs of the world, do you approach your long-term growth with care? Or are you like me last weekend: flying by the seat of your pants, when you really should be wearing shorts?

Thoughts? Email me at [email protected].