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 Succeeding Your Father in Business – Part 2 

Posted on: 12/2/2021

In the spring of 2021, I interviewed Alberto Pianelli from F&B Rentals about his ascension in the company. We focused on continuation planning which involves succession to the next generation. We looked at the operational transition of Alberto into leadership. We also touched on the financial and legal transitions of a business. Alberto started in rental like many young children do in families that are focused in the rental industry. In his case, he took some time away from rental and did not come back till he was about 27. At that point, he committed himself to getting back involved in F&B, learning all aspects of the business, especially, managing people and systems. He also began to serve his industry through his activity with the American Rental Association. As of this writing he is acting as the president of ARA of California. He also served on the first Young Professional Network board in the ARA and was involved in the Anaheim, CA planning for The ARA Show. Alberto has been active with legislative issues in California, as well as on a national level by representing the ARA with Washington Caucus trips. – Dan Crowley

In 2005, I was 19 and I decided to step away from the business.  I moved to LA and went to school.  I was just learning life as a young man and went to work up there in a totally different field then rental.  I was working in a dual diagnosis drug and alcohol mental health facility for adolescents. I went to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor. So, my whole focus in life really turned away from the rental industry.

I was pretty successful up in LA. I remember my parents calling me seven years later and asking me, “Hey, what interests do you have in taking over the business? Do you want to come back, you want to do this?” They were really starting to plan their life and saying what do we want to do? Now my brother is 10 years younger than me, so he was still in school at the time. They were not really considering him at the time due to his youth.   I saw it as an opportunity to keep our family legacy going. I felt comfortable with the rental industry. I felt like the experience that I had working in mental health and going to school really helped me understand people a lot more.

That helped transition me to come back. I am a firm believer that you can have multiple careers and do whatever you want to do when you put your mind to it. You know? I jumped back in and, at first, they started me on as a salesperson, and I told them, “Hey, if I’m going to come back, I want to take over.” I started as a salesperson then assistant manager and then manager and, and a lot of the times, I think the hardest part of working for family is that your family is your boss, right. You are working FOR your family. And a lot of the decisions that are made are based on what is best for the business. Not necessarily, what is best for your ego and pride.

When I talk to a lot of other guys and gals in the business, they feel the same way.  You will bump heads. There are your ideas and there are their ideas, and you know, I am not going to lie, it is tough. (I do not think my dad would lie about it either!).  There can be significant frustration. I know we bumped heads a little bit because I had a certain way of, “Hey, this is what I think we should do.” I am very grateful that my parents allowed me some slack to make decisions and enough slack to make some mistakes in the rental industry. Like when decision-making is, “what are we doing with this customer? how do we handle this?” This provided learning lessons for me, a bit of re-education. And it was a humbling experience, but I needed that to become a stronger general manager for our business. You must go through some of those learning aspects and not all the customers have the best intentions for your equipment. And it was good. It was a learning lesson at 27.

Regarding taking over running the business, I think my parents discussed it but never really discussed it with me.  To be honest, I had an idea of how fast I wanted to go. And they had an idea of how fast I NEEDED to go. To be honest, we never really talked about it. I must base decision making off of my life experiences; I had a different perception than what my parents had and their life experiences.  The way my grandfather ran the business was different from how my dad ran the business is different than how I run the business. There is no wrong way about it because we are still in business. We have been successful for so long. I think it just kind of shows that as times change, and people change, and your employees change, and the generational mindset changes with your employees, if your business continues to grow you are responding well to that.

We do communicate more about our plan for things. I do have a lot of say in what we do in our business, but I respect my family, and we have a board meeting every week. We have a board of directors meeting and we sit down and talk about what we are going to do each week and what our plans are, and kind of discuss the things that we are knocking off our list and the things that we are working on, the goals that we have that take care of. So right now, I run the day-to-day operations. A lot of the backend stuff, a lot of the financing, the money is handled by my father.   He will tell us what we must spend.  He does not necessarily get so much involved on what we need to purchase. That is me right now.  When it comes to the human resources aspect, that is my mom, Jessica Shipley. She handles a lot of that, so to be honest, I am grateful to have that team. We have created a solid team. I think that I would be even more stressed if I had to handle the payroll and the human resources side, or my dad’s structuring the loans that we need for the next time we buy stuff. So, all those things are very helpful to me. I’ve cross-trained with them so, if I had to separate to do payroll, I could, and, if I needed to talk to the banks I could, but my dad’s still really like controlling the money aspects of things. I could see why, this is his retirement future!

Regarding my strengths, I would say my biggest strengths are in my management skills when it comes down to employees. I feel confident in my ability to lead a team and to communicate my needs to my team. Understanding who is on my team, and trying to really try to elevate people, is essential. And I have learned a long time ago that if I micromanage, then people are going to constantly wait around for me to come in and tell them how to do their job. What I have learned that really works well for me is that I train people up to a point and I allow them to make some mistakes. The goal is not to allow them to make mistakes, but, you know, I want my salespeople, I want my mechanics, I want everyone who works for me to be assertive. I do not want them to have to wait around to get an order to do something. So, it’s the guy that’s cleaning machines, I want them to be assertive and be like, I’m done with what I have to do, but now I’m going to move on to something else because I know this just needs to get taken care of. Or if he notices, Hey, there’s oil leaking here that should not be, that should be, I am going to go tell the mechanic, right? I do not want anyone on my team to say, that is not my job.  I want someone to be assertive and say, well, I am noticing this. How can I be helpful to those around me, and my management team?  I allow them to make decisions. If a customer’s upset, do not sit there and argue with them for over a hundred dollars, cause it is wasting that counterperson’s time and most likely wasting the customer’s time.

They’re going to be upset, you know? And, uh, before, you know, we used to have this stance where it was like fight everything. And then I remember, my dad would come in and he would be like, nah, it is not worth it. And it took me a while to understand that it was not worth it. You know, if you are bringing in a lot of money every day, I started to learn from him, there is a cost of doing business. And it’s funny because there are sometimes where he’ll get frustrated over something the customer does or maybe a vendor does and I’ll have to remind him, it’s the cost of doing business. It is very true. There must be some wiggle room and I I have always told my employees, I mentally set aside money every year, just for all the mess ups that are going to happen, I would rather give it to them through, bonuses or, a better month or doing something for it.  I would rather give it back to my employees in gratitude. If I am going to spend, X amount of money each year on the dumb stuff that happens around my work or where we mess up, I would rather than give it to my employees and them hearing that I think helps motivate them to want to be better employees. You know? I think my strength is herding cats, getting all these individuals going the same direction.

I love my peer group – BRO BAG (now renamed THE NBK Group). Yeah. I am constantly picking other owner’s brains. I am in a really good, peer group, you know, probably the best group, out of all the peer groups, Although, I would say I have never experienced any other peer groups, but I’m just going to go ahead and say, mine is the best, which is the BRO BAG, ha-ha. It is filled with other rental operators that are just taking over their family businesses and their stories about the transition and the similar struggles. There is nothing like having people, I don’t want to say validated, but you know, they have empathy for the same experiences, and we get to kind of feed off each other and be, okay, how do you handle this situation? And what is your experience with it? And you know, what I really love about my peer group is that no one’s telling each other what they got to do.

Everyone’s thinking is different, but when you get to hear other people’s experiences and we kind of get to take and learn from other people what they went through and it is so beneficial to, to reach out to my friends, because they are my friends now, and say, Hey, what do you do about this? Have you ever run across this? It is so awesome. And I appreciate that.

Regarding the future and legally and financially taking over the business, it has been talked about, but a plan has not really come about just yet. You know, it is something that I dream of. It is something that is still on the table. I have a younger brother and I think still there is a lot more discussion that must happen.  I think the dream that my parents had was that my brother and I run this together side-by-side and, in my eyes, I see many challenges with that. And I know there are other rental operators out there that have siblings and yet they are the only one running the business and their siblings are less involved in it. I know they are experiencing some of the things that I am going through right now. My brother currently is not involved with the business. He is working for another company. And to be honest at, at his age, I had the same thing. So there is something to be said for that. Especially if you grow up with a family business. Working for other people and having a different boss, getting paid by someone else who has their own rules, who has their own policies, that have their own organizational charts and all these other things like that is, you know, working for other people is so important. It really puts a good perspective on yourself, on where you fit in and being a part of something and being a worker bee. I am really grateful for having the opportunity to work for another company, to be honest.

Today, I am currently the ARA of California president. I was really lucky to get chosen and appointed by my peers.  For them to think of me as a leader out front leading the charge, I don’t take that lightly. You know, when my peers elected me to become the president, it was an honor. There are a lot of people in California, a lot of talented people in California. There are a lot of people being of service in the ARA of California. It is an awesome experience. I really challenge everyone to be involved with an association of their own one because, I personally get so much out of it.  

Regarding the community of rental companies, I feel like I should be paying for this experience. You know, that just between like the networking side of meeting all these new people, and then on top of that, the resources, like when you fully tap into the ARA and what it has provided, it is like the resource amount is just, wow, there is so many resources. From the state side to the national side, getting to know other rental operators, it is a wonderful experience. I think if someone has opportunity and they have the bandwidth to do it, I think they should do it. Absolutely. – Alberto Pianelli

This was transcribed from a Peer Talk Podcast –

Episode 19: Alberto Pianelli – Continuation Planning

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