Lesson #7 - Make the Exit You Want

Jean Bye

This column is the final of seven installments based on Jean Bye’s 2022 Hoyt Memorial Lecture delivered at CastExpo in Columbus, Ohio.

Having spent a lifetime in the high intensity foundry industry, the thought of backing away was daunting. Many of us have a lot of friends in the industry and our travel or even in some cases our personal life has centered around the industry. It can be with mixed emotions when you decide to slow down. Will you stay connected and relevant? Many of us are in the industry because we thrive on the intensity and the excitement. Yet as you transition to a more advisory role you are not a part of that.

Learning to be the best cheerleader you can be becomes a new role that involves intentionally invoking a vastly different set of skills.

After a lengthy career, I was very bonded to the company. Much like an entrepreneur, I felt like it was my baby.  I had spent years nurturing it. But now it was time to see how the organization and the team would do without me and with a different leader.

The measure of success of a CEO is not just how the company performs while you are there, but how it performs for the first few years after you leave. How well did you leave it positioned culturally, strategically, financially, and with a depth of talent? That may seem counterintuitive. Many may believe that if things fall apart when they leave that shows they are needed. I will offer that if things fall apart it shows that you are an individual performer rather than a true leader or executive. If you spent your time and your career focusing on the wrong things, you may have held it together during your career only to see things fall apart after you leave.

First, were you a good steward of the finances? Did you leave the organization with a solid balance sheet so that the new team has the option to make long-term decisions and is not tethered by short-term constraints?

Second, have you invested enough time getting the core values and other cultural components firmly rooted into the entire organization or do they only continue if you are there to make the decisions personally? I’ll reflect on our fire and how quickly the leadership team came to consensus without my influence on things—like how we were going to approach sharing our intellectual capital with the competitors who would be producing parts for our customers. Our core values left no room for anything other than complete transparency. I did not need to be there to make that happen.

Third, did you take short cuts over your tenure, or did you remain overly focused on showing great short-term results, but at the expense of long-term success? That will haunt you when you leave.

Fourth, is the strategy solidly in place and supported by all? Or, without your input, will some see that as an opportunity to push another agenda? And is the remaining team firmly entrenched into the strategic process so that they will continue to remain strategic with the company and not just follow the flavor of the day, but be focused?

Fifth, how strong and empowered is the team?

About five years before stepping back, I created a list of 13 things that I wanted to see accomplished before I left. By having that list and reviewing it regularly, I increased the chances that when I did step back, the company would be where I wanted.

That list included goals like the type of talent I wanted on the leadership team, automation projects I wanted complete, manufacturing changes, and the financial position of the company. It kept me focused on my goals for the company and my end date.

I have enjoyed my 50 years of ups and downs and the many lessons I’ve learned. Now I am enjoying cheerleading, advising, and watching this next generation take over and take the industry through its next stages.

Another advantage of this stage of a career is the enjoyment of having more time for other things as you slow down.

My parting thought comes from Indra Nooyi the former CEO of PepsiCo. She said you can’t feel great about your job when you are doing a constant juggling act—sometimes multiple times a day—between work and family. And when you are doing that juggling you are generally not feeling guilty about work—you are feeling guilty about home. That guilt gnaws at you and wears you out.

Sometimes we run ourselves ragged trying to get everything right and that is a formula for failure. We as managers need to remember to find ways to let go of the perfect and find a balance that works for us to fly high and be successful in both areas of our lives. Work and foundries are important. But they are only one part of our lives. If we don’t focus on the “care” side of our lives and our employees’ lives, we will have employees, spouses and ourselves who are not happy. That is not good for the organization. We as leaders need to find balance for ourselves AND for the rest of the team or the company will suffer. Each of us can help our organizations be sure that we include caring for others as part of our goals. When you have the ability to make a change in the society to benefit others, do it.

TAKEAWAY #7: Think about your exit years in advance to best achieve both the personal and professional goals you want. There is life after foundry! But don’t wait until you retire to find that life balance!