Breakthroughs in Corporate Renewal result in surprising – and exciting – shifts in leadership

Mark Richard’s story is hard to believe. Owner and CEO of a small and fast-growing company, Mark had been coaching with Kyle Mercer for several months. He invited Kyle to lead a Corporate Renewal, which was soon held on a Saturday/Sunday. Then on Monday – completely unplanned – Mark announced his retirement!

Typically, when a company’s owner/CEO unexpectedly steps away, the news sends shockwaves through the business. The grapevine buzzes with speculation. Some people panic, some play politics. Many are driven to distraction. Most lose sight of important goals.

But that didn’t happen. Thanks to Corporate Renewal, the staff remained calm. They were excited about their role in the company. And they forged ahead, supporting clear company goals identified during the weekend’s Corporate Renewal.

Let’s start at the beginning of this story…

In 1992, entrepreneur Mark Richard founded Icon Design & Display, which specializes in retail point-of-purchase displays. As the business grew, Mark handpicked employees who would contribute to the company’s ongoing success. He invested time and effort to create a collaborative environment that allowed people to gravitate toward areas where they could contribute most.

Fast forward – the company rapidly grew to nearly 100 employees. Sales and revenue continually increased, as well as the pressure to perform. The previously warm, cooperative environment grew cool and tense.

“The business almost got too big,” Mark says. “We couldn’t maintain that same intimate community. Plus, as the revenue numbers got bigger, I got hooked on our financial reports. We became performance driven, and we lost sight of important aspects of the business that weren’t directly related to the bottom line. It was intense. There was an emotional impact on the staff as they pushed hard, trying to achieve what they understood to be the goal.”

The business had morphed from a creative, entrepreneurial stage to a “serious” business-building stage. And Mark became less engaged. “There was no leader at the helm. This impacted the staff, and the business was not performing at the same level.”

It was time to act. It was time for Corporate Renewal.

“At the time, I was coaching with Kyle Mercer and having great success with coaching, focusing on my personal and family life,” Mark explains. “When we talked about the business, Kyle helped me recognize that my company was an extension of myself. He opened my eyes to my role as leader. He helped me see that I could create an incredible environment for my employees.”

Mark notes that the primary goal of his Corporate Renewal was to recreate a community where everyone contributes at their highest level. “Early in my career, I worked for a start-up company,” Mark tells. “I was educated in growing a business – and contributing at your highest capability. It was a beautiful experience, and I wanted to emulate this. I wanted my employees to have a platform to create success for themselves, as well as for the company.”

Before attending Corporate Renewal, the leadership team was hesitant, Mark admits. “I’m an idea guy. Over the years, we tried a lot of different trainings and approaches – initiatives that fell short. For the 8 managers who were attending, there was a sense of ‘here we go again.’”

Mark adds, “Personally, I was excited about Corporate Renewal. I trusted Kyle, and I trusted the process. I knew it would be an experience of discovery – I had no idea what the outcome would be. I was feeling stuck, so any outcome would be great because we’d be moving forward!”

The Corporate Renewal process: “Engagement, passion, and steadfastness”

On the first day of Corporate Renewal, the team identified the company’s strengths and weaknesses. “We essentially tore down the company and let go of things that weren’t working – just like Kyle does through his one-on-one coaching process,” Mark says. “There was a lot of emotion – and a lot of healing. Many people had worked for the business more than 10 years. And, frankly, I was not the easiest boss.”

Mark notes that, while other team members were creating their vision for the company’s success, he was feeling a sense of release. “They were always very passionate about the business,” he says. “I watched them re-engage in their continuing passion and become empowered. I saw their excitement for the possibilities – for what they had always envisioned the business could be. It was gratifying to see the steadfastness.”

On the second day of Corporate Renewal, the entire team – including Mark – identified what they wanted the “new” company to look like, to feel like. “Kyle gave everyone the space and freedom to have a voice in the new vision, including specifics like growth level and profitability,” Mark remembers. “The team identified a new direction, and they shared a sense of being accountable to one another.”

Mark adds, “There was a fresh sense of what everyone could create by working together: the service, products, ideation of what we design. There was a feeling of TEAM. Meanwhile, it felt great not to be THE voice at the head of the table, but to simply be one of the voices participating in the discussion. Everyone embraced my goals for the company, plus they were imbuing these goals with their own ideas, their own excitement. Everyone kept saying, ‘this could be really powerful.’ ”

Day 2 brought a surprising turn of events …

“I’ll never forget this moment,” Mark says. “We were creating the organization chart. Kyle asked, ‘Who wants to be CEO?’ Then it hit me – I realized I didn’t want to be CEO. It was a cathartic moment. I didn’t raise my hand.”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“There was silence for 5 minutes!” Mark recalls. “Finally, Max (our VP) raised his hand. So we rebuilt the org chart. Surprisingly, it didn’t look that much different, other than a different name at top.”

Mark underscores that Kyle’s approach to Corporate Renewal enabled participants to trust the process, including this surprising turn of events. “You could see it in their faces – what had just transpired felt really authentic to everyone. As the process continued, they knew my vision for the company would be alive, even without me at the helm.”

Significant outcomes of Corporate Renewal

On Monday – the day after Corporate Renewal – Mark formally resigned as CEO and Max took the helm. Kyle guided Mark and Max to structure a board-level relationship for ongoing accountability. (Mark remained full owner of the company.) In addition, Mark and Max coached with Kyle congruently during the transition.

How did clients react to the transition? “This is one of the most powerful and humbling points for me,” Mark says. “As a supplier, we had become difficult for our clients to deal with, directly due to my leadership style and beliefs. The team created a new message they truly believed in, and projected this to the marketplace. Long-time clients responded with loud applause. They were enthusiastic and positive. They were big believers in Max, and knew he was instrumental in our business. After the transition, clients truly felt appreciated again. This was a huge reversal.”

A year later, the company held another Corporate Renewal, without Mark, to keep the vision and excitement alive. Not long after that, Mark sold his company. He notes, “I sold a more valuable entity – the people, the manufacturing, and the account base – an account base that was excited about their supplier.”