It all started roughly 38 years ago, when John Tiefenthaler needed a job to take part in a high school vocational program.
Tiefenthaler, then 18, visited the local Holstein, Iowa, meat locker. Uncertain how to act, he clumsily introduced himself and assumed that somebody would call him later. When no one did, he eventually admitted to the teacher that he still lacked a place to work.
“He says, ‘Let me go talk to the owner. I know him,’” Tiefenthaler recalled. “The next day, he comes back and says, ‘Go there tomorrow. You’ve got a job.’”
“I’ve been here ever since.”
Tiefenthaler Quality Meats now has 20 employees and a string of state and national awards for producing quality bacon, beef, jerky, and hot dogs. And now, Tiefenthaler is preparing to leave.
With help from CIRAS, Tiefenthaler and his wife, Shelly, have finalized plans to step down from their roles at the company on January 1, 2023, and pass control to their children, Austin Tiefenthaler and Jordan Bremer.
Preparing for the looming handoff involved walking through all the obvious technical and legal aspects of a succession. But it also required some fundamental discussion about the minute, day-to-day details of John and Shelly’s jobs at the company.
For Jordan, the process was reassuring.
“They’ve helped other people go through this, so you know that what they’re saying is true,” she said of CIRAS. “They’re helping us put our best foot forward.”
“The biggest thing is that for us not to be here, somebody has to be able to do all of the jobs we do,” John said. “Some of the jobs we do, the kids don’t see. So they’re starting to get their minds wrapped around that.”
The three-year handoff horizon will give Austin and Jordan time to master the backroom business and strategic aspects of the company—and to ensure that others are ready to take over for work that the younger generation is doing now.
The family can do that, Tiefenthaler said, largely because CIRAS helped them work through all the possible pitfalls. “If we’re aware of them, we can check them off before we get there.”
The long handoff also gives Tiefenthaler a chance to practice letting go. CIRAS experts warned him, he said, that older leaders sometime have difficulty stepping aside. He thinks he can do it.
“But we’ll see,” Tiefenthaler said. “Can you swim the English Channel? You don’t really know until you start swimming.
> For more information, contact Brenda Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-570-5282.
A version of this article was published in the Winter 2020 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.