Choosing The Right Transition Path For Your Family Business

Bonnie Elgie

Knowing the right time to leave a family business takes a lot of soul-searching and it is not usually a straight-froward path. Ashlynne Dale is passionate about Norwood Industries, a portable sawmill company that evolved into an outdoor lifestyle brand under her leadership. But there came a time when she knew she needed to make a change in order to achieve more balance in her life.

In this edition’s feature story, Ashlynne shares her transition journey and the options she considered along the way. Highlights include:

  • The signs that signalled to Ashlynne it was time for a change
  • The steps she took to set up Norwood Industries for success going forward
  • The four options she considered as part of her transition strategy
  • The solutions that gives her the best of both worlds

You’ve worked hard to create a bright future for your family. Our team is here to help you navigate key life decisions, showing you the options so you can make choices with confidence.

The decision to transition from a multi-generational family business is not an easy one. Watching loved ones build a business from scratch, growing it into a successful, thriving enterprise – and knowing the sacrifices that were made along the way – can weigh heavy.

Just ask Ashlynne Dale, the former CEO of Norwood Industries, a personal portable sawmill company turned global outdoor lifestyle brand.

Norwood Sawmills was founded in 1993 by Ashlynne’s father, Peter Dale. After completing her law degree and practicing commercial law for a few years, Ashlynne joined the company in 1999 and has spent the past 22 years helping to transform Norwood from its humble beginnings into an international industry leader with sales in over 100 countries. Her track record of success is impressive, including establishing Norwood as the global leader in portable sawmilling technology (as evidenced by 75+ registered patents and 30+ pending patents), as well as launching the all-new brand Frontier.

About five years ago, Ashlynne recognized that she was on track to burning herself out and feeling the impacts of a relentless work schedule of six and a half days a week and countless hours. She acknowledges that her “all-in” drive is simply part of who she is and part of how she is wired.

“I work really, really hard and give everything my absolute all,” she said. “And I realized I was burning myself out. I thought to myself that I can do this for a while longer, but at a certain point, I'm going to need to make a change, and I wanted to put steps in place so that the transition happened before I began to resent the company.”

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She says that she was apprehensive about breaking the news to her father as an only child and the sole custodian of the family business. Ashlynne explained the impact of the work on the quality of her personal life and the crushing load she was carrying. Over time, her dad realized the toll it was taking and was supportive of her decision to begin to plan for a transition.

It was then time to start to look at options. Ashlynne says there were four options to consider including having her son take over the business, putting in a professional management team, selling 100% of the company to investors, or bringing in an ownership partner who has complementary/additive skills and experience. After much soul-searching, she decided that bringing a partner by selling a portion of the business was the best solution, along with hiring a CEO to run the company. The added skills, experienced horsepower and resources opened up the door to more balance for Ashlynne and opportunities for Norwood.

In essence, Ashlynne was involved in two transitions: the generational purchase of the company from her father and then bringing in an outside investor.

“This scenario was a way for me to still have a big piece of this, but I am no longer solely responsible, and that actually gave me the breathing room to not have to go to the office on Saturday and Sunday or stay there till eight every night. I ended up choosing this path, because it was the right fit for me.”

Today, Ashlynne is the Executive Chair of Norwood Industries, working closely with the company’s President who later stepped into her role as CEO. She said the process of moving into their new roles took over a year and admittedly required some adjustment.

Finding a way to work together productively and positively, while accepting the actual de facto change in responsibilities took time and is something they are both still working on. Both of them are committed to open, honest communication that is critical to the success of their respective roles.

“He will be a much better CEO if he continues to be open with me about all aspects of the company and gets my counsel, guidance and perspective. I will be a better and more effective Executive Chair if I know what's going on and can therefore deliver more value to the company.”

Ashlynne advises entrepreneurs who are looking to transition to look at all the options before making their choice. It doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” solution and take the time to understand the option that is best for you personally.  She is enjoying this new chapter and her role for the balance it provides, as well as giving her sense of purpose.

“I am involved in strategy and continuity of purpose and vision. There is nobody at the company who can see where we're going as clearly as I can or be thinking about the next place we're going to go after the current visions are executed. And so that's my highest and best purpose now: making sure that we remain, as an organization, true to our values and true to our philosophies that got us here and will underpin our success in the future.”

Ashlynne Dale will be a speaker at BTF Toronto on May 4, 2022.
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