Stephen Shortt | Succession Planning and Strategies for Running a Successful Family Business

Stephen Shortt is the Managing Director of ETC Consult, a leading provider of scientifically-validated career guidance, psychometric assessments, psychometric selection, and training services to the Irish market. He is an entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and facilitator. He is also the CEO of Career Fit and Successful Succession, developed to help the next generation of leaders run family businesses.

As a succession planning consultant, Stephen works with family business owners and empowers them through training and education to achieve a better future both professionally and personally. He has a new podcast called the Killer Family Business Podcast, where he interviews family business owners. Previously, Stephen was the President of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Ireland Chapter and the Global Chair of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, which supports young, emerging entrepreneurs in over 50 countries around the world.

Stephen Shortt, a succession planning consultant and the Managing Director of ETC Consult, joins John Corcoran in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast to talk about tips and strategies for running a successful family business. They discuss the importance of succession planning, how to get kids involved in a family business, and the resources that help Stephen manage his businesses.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Stephen Shortt’s experience growing up in an entrepreneurial family
  • What prevents people from joining a family business? 
  • Stephen talks about joining his family’s business, taking over its leadership, and his family’s involvement in managing the company 
  • The resources Stephen uses to run his businesses
  • Should kids join a family business?
  • What drove Stephen to sell his language school? 
  • Stephen explains what ETC Consult does
  • The people Stephen acknowledges for their support

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of this show. If you’re new to listening to this program, go check out our archives because there are lots of great episodes there with smart CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of companies and organizations ranging from we just interviewed the co-founder at Quicken, CEO Quicken, Netflix, Kinkos, YPO, EO, and Activision Blizzard. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25 where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here today, Stephen Shortt, is an entrepreneur. He’s a keynote speaker, he’s a facilitator. He’s got a new podcast coming out called the Killer Family Business Podcast. And he’ll be interviewing family business owners, that’s his expertise is working with family business owners, but his personal ‘Why’ is helping people to aspire to a better future to envision it, empower them through training and education to achieve that better future for themselves through their career and personally. And he also has got a company called ETC Consult, a program called Career Fit, that they’ve developed to help people as well, also has a program called The Next Entrepreneur Academy, which is for young entrepreneurs. We’ll talk about that as well. And he just finished out as president two years during COVID as President of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization chapter in Ireland. 

And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. You go to our website to learn more about it at All right, Stephen, a pleasure to have you here. And for those of you who haven’t heard Stephen before, I also interviewed him on our sister podcast, Rising Entrepreneurs show, where we talked a little bit more that was a series focused on Global Leadership Conference through Entrepreneurs Organization that we both rat and you were actually emceeing a big chunk of it there as well. But let’s start at the beginning of your story. You grew up in entrepreneurial family, your parents had started businesses, and what was that like for you growing up in in a family where you had parents that were running businesses and dealing with the ups and downs that you do naturally when you have a business?

Stephen Shortt 2:48

Um, well, first of all, thanks for having me back on. Delighted to be here. Um, yeah, so growing up in, essentially, in two family businesses, it was I don’t think it ever dawned on me as a child, that my parents were entrepreneurial. I just presume that everybody’s parents have jobs, and everybody works. And everybody’s parents are working until 10 o’clock at night. And everybody’s parents are making deals with people in the Middle East and in Latin America, and in Russia, and all these countries to bring in students because we had an English language school. That yeah, it was completely normal for the boardroom table to be the kitchen table, and we’d have conversations and we’d have dinner and then halfway through dinner, my parents would be talking about a client who needed to pay something or something that came up. And so it never really struck me as odd until I used to as a teenager would be going to my friend’s houses. And the parents be kind of relaxing in the evenings or would be going to the pub or going out to play golf. And do they not? Like work? What do they do? And that’s when I realized that people can also have normal jobs.

John Corcoran 3:58

Hmm, yeah. So was it an option for you when you were growing up? Like, did you did you ever make a conscious choice? Like I would go down this path or this path? Or was it just kind of baked in like, naturally, you’d go work for yourself? How did that work?

Stephen Shortt 4:12

Um, well, I started my first entrepreneurial venture when I was about eight, eight years old, nine years old. I drew comic books, so I drew strip comic books. Because we had the office at home I had access to a photocopier, so I was able to photocopy the comics and I would sell them in school now. I probably I sold them for five cents each, like the comic books, but it probably cost about one euro 50 to photograph. Yeah. So yeah, so thankfully, my grasp of economics has improved since then, but I mean, I’ve always been doing stuff. I’ve always been trying to get out there, set up something, do something for myself. And actually one of the very first EO conferences that I was at Speaker said that he was very bad at managing people. And he himself was unmanageable. So he became an entrepreneur. And that really resonated. I’ve tried working for other people, it just hasn’t worked. So I think it was always in my blood to try and do new things and build things, to be tinkering with stuff, and not to always be going with the status quo.

John Corcoran 5:25

Now, many second generation entrepreneurs that I’ve interviewed on this show will say that, when they were in high school, when they’re a kid, they saw their parents working so hard, and they knew that they didn’t want to go into the family business. And in many cases, they do anyways. It doesn’t sound like that was the case for you? It doesn’t sound like it scared you off at all.

Stephen Shortt 5:47

No, I always loved that. I mean, I, my birthday is in the summer, and the summer was the busiest time for us in the language school business. So I mean, on my 13th birthday, I was helping people do walking tours of Dublin with students. On my 16th birthday, I think I was running a one of the camps on my 18th birthday, I actually had my 18th birthday, I had students at my party. So I mean, it was like it was always ingrained in me. But actually, that point, it’s something that I talk to a lot of people about, when people say, Oh, my kids aren’t interested in joining the family business. And what I found is, if you as the entrepreneur is the current generation, if you’re coming home, and at the dinner table, it’s really the only place you can vent. And it’s the only place that you are that our employee just did something stupid, or all the suppliers are driving me nuts. All your kids ever hear is a negative side about running a business. So of course, they’re going to be looking at you gone. Why on earth would I even think about going into that it sounds horrendous. But all they’re hearing is that one side of the business, because it’s the only place you can vent. What I found then is exactly as you said, they end up going into the family business. Because when they’re 1516, they haven’t got a summer job. And the parents go, Well, you’re not lazing around the house doing nothing, you’re going to work for me. And that’s when they actually discover parts of the business that they actually really enjoy. So if we, as the current generation are able to spend a little bit more time actually sharing the positive sides of the business with our kids, it can actually help them to frame how they view the business and how they view entrepreneurship and taking over the business in a much more positive light. Because all they’re hearing at the moment is this barrage of negativity that’s

John Corcoran 7:31

affirming because I’ve tried to with my kids to kind of explain, like, this summer, we went for a month up to the mountains. And you know, because I had flexibility of working for myself, I was able to work from a remote place. Now I wasn’t stuck going into an office or anything like that. So I just tried to kind of communicate that to my kids about, you know, because daddy works for himself, we’re able to do this, we’re able to go somewhere else, and have a good time in a place and then come back. So it sounds like there wasn’t like a distinct moment when you join the family business. What about like, after college or after high school? You know, did you make a conscious decision to join the business? And if so, when you kind of like formally joined the business? What role did you step into, because I know some second generation will sometimes step into and they’ll they’ll go in multiple different positions in order to kind of learn the business how, what was the process like for you?

Stephen Shortt 8:29

So yeah, I mean, I would also I would recommend this, if you’ve got a next generation joining the business that you don’t just bring them in at a high level, unless they’ve done that somewhere else. The worst thing you can do is say, oh, yeah, my son has an Instagram account. So he’s now the VP of Marketing, like it’s just not gonna work. So I used to work summers, I used to work. Easter Halloween, like all of the holidays, I used to work in the office in between both businesses. I remember getting caught with cigarettes in school when I was 15 years old. And I was I was suspended for a week. And I went home. And the thing is, I was actually smoking at home at that stage like, like, are we? I have an exceptionally good relationship with my folks. We’re always open and honest to each other. And I was smoking and they said, Look, just smoking is fine. My mother smoked, and I smoked. So I went home and I said, I’ve been suspended for a week. I got caught with cigarettes. You said can I swear on your podcast? She said Yeah. Right. That’s it. You can work here for a week. So that’s the like best the mentality of it, look through it all hands on deck to work. When I was in college, I studied marketing, I studied technology, I study computers. And always really at that stage like when I was in my final years of school, it was always the view that I was going to join the family business but join at a low level and work my way up. Because I enjoyed the job I enjoyed the business side enjoyed the, what we did, I didn’t know at the time I hadn’t spent the time on like my why aspire and empower the things that fulfilled me, were being fulfilled by that business. And one of the reasons that we sold is it really wasn’t doing that anymore. It was in a race to the, to the industry was in a race to the bottom. But when I was in college, it was always right, I’m gonna leave college, and I’m gonna go into the family business. But what was very important for me was I had no experience of the working world outside of the family business. So I went and I interned in New York for a couple of months. When I finished college, I got myself a job in a language school out there and learned a little bit of the ropes a little bit of the industry, not from my folks, not from the into the business that I knew, because obviously, nobody in Ireland was going to hire me, nobody in the UK was going to hire me because it was too close. And they might feel that it was going to steal business or anything else. So I went to a very different markets. But then it came back to the family business, have done a couple of short courses in various things, finance, management, marketing, that kind of stuff. But I started off as the general marketing assistant, summer school manager, general driver. I actually, I remember the day that my sister and I, when we moved into the new building, we were outside polishing the letterbox and the doorknobs and everything else in the new building. So I mean,

John Corcoran 11:26

so your parents made sure that you were you’re doing your time basically within the business. Yeah, yeah. Um, my personality,

Stephen Shortt 11:33

but sometimes I would rail against that, because I wanted it to be now. Yeah, I

John Corcoran 11:38

was gonna ask, I mean, there must have been times when it’s like, jeez, like, I don’t wanna, you know, naturally like anyone who’s in a career that kind of driven, they want to get past that.

Stephen Shortt 11:48

And there are I mean, even at the time, I knew there were times when I was like, Yeah, I know, I’m, I’m, like paying my dues. I’m learning the ropes. But I know this, I know this stuff now. So let me let me step up and step up and stuff. And this is the thing about growing up in a family business, that you’ve got to earn the same, you’ve got to put in the time, you’ve got to show that you you have what it takes that you have the interest that you have the desire that you have the drive to do it the same as anybody else would. But you do have the added advantage of that you have extra coaching, you have extra support that maybe not every employee is going to get because ultimately, it’s a family business. And you’re you’re being groomed at some point to take over. Right? And