Although they admit it's still several years away, Eldon and Anne MacKeigan are already working on their exit strategy.
Unlike many small business operators in Nova Scotia, the MacKeigans know a well-thought out succession plan is key to keeping their business going even after they have decided to reduce their involvement and eventually retire. That's where Eric Fry comes in.
Fry brings nearly 20 years of sales and management skills to the Sandler team. As former vice president of sales with ABM Integrated Solutions and vice president of sales for Staples Advantage, Fry brings an impressive record of success in working with high performance sales teams. He also brings a corporate skills set that was missing from Sandler's makeup.
"Our background is as small entrepreneurs," Anne says, "so we didn't have the experience of working in a large corporate environment. Eric can walk into any boardroom and be comfortable thanks to the huge credibility he brings from his corporate experience."
"We knew that to continue the evolution of our business we would need to find the right fit for our company, and we found that with Eric," Eldon adds.
Anne says they have actually had their eye on Fry for many years. As far back as his early years with Xerox and then Staples, Fry often put sale staff through Sandler training and was quite familiar with the company's methods. Likewise, it brought his approach and ability to manage and coach sales teams to the MacKeigans' attention.
"We've known Eric for years and he was often a client. He and Eldon spoke often," Anne says. "In fact, whenever he was thinking of making a move he would talk to Eldon about it and get his advice, so we had complete faith that he was the right guy. He brings a tonne of potential to the company to eventually grow it to wherever he wants it to be."
Fry says the timing was right from his end too. ABM Integrated Solutions was looking at heading in a different direction and he wanted an opportunity that would allow him more involvement while allowing him and his family to stay in this region.
"Eldon had approached me before, but this time it was the right fit. I've been a corporate guy for a long time and even back was I was with Staples I started thinking about an opportunity to invest and stay here. We're Maritimers and this is home."
Still, Fry admits he has a lot of learning to do before he's ready for any kind of transition in leadership.
"One thing I have to be cognizant of is that even though I have all this corporate experience, the Sandler curriculum is still the curriculum and I have to learn how to deliver it. Right now I'm getting to do a little of everything – sitting in on training sessions, listening to the CDs at night and still making sales calls. I see so many learning opportunities," Fry says.
"That's the great thing about Sandler – it's as much about developing the people who work here as it is about teaching our clients."
Fry is also taking this time to build connections with his Sandler co-workers. He and Brad Smith have teamed up to help each other grow and Fry says he's fortunate to be able to work with the youngest member of the MacKeigan clan, Megan.
"Megan is a huge part of this as well, " Fry says. "The skill set she brings and her youth and enthusiasm are a huge asset to me going forward."
"We're very fortunate to have fabulous people in our organization," Eldon says. "Every person is contributing to our success and, thankfully, that success is moving to another level – meaning we needed to bring in more people. We have a strong five-year plan to expand further than we are today."
That plan will build on the company's current success, which has seen it move from being a sales training organization into a well-rounded business training provider that can deliver expertise in sales management, customer service, hiring, and consulting.
"This is the way Sandler works," Anne says. "You have to have someone working for you that will take over. So much of what Sandler is in this region is about Eldon and I, and as long as we feel we're contributing we'll be here, but at some point you have to have a succession plan in place."
Fry says Eldon and Anne's continued presence is a tremendous opportunity he intends to take advantage of.
"I'm very fortunate to have the drive of the current owners available to e for an extended period. It makes for a great transition," Fry says.