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Business Observer Thursday, Apr. 8, 2021 1 year ago

Marketing firm is methodical in transferring business from mom to daughter

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Transition takes commitment to the process from both generations.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

Company: Holly Paulus, 50, founded Fort Myers-based Nexxa Group in 2005. It’s since grown into a full-service data-driven marketing company specializing in the energy industry. 

Nexxa Group helps clients, primarily in the retail energy space, better understand their customers through data to optimize marketing efforts. Recently, Nexxa Group has been helping many clients shift their marketing efforts from exclusively traditional channels to an integrated approach, including web and digital channels, to stay in front of customers. While declining to disclose specific revenue figures, Paulus says the firm has had steady growth and "has established a significant number of clients in the energy industry over the past 15 years."

Succession plan: Paulus' daughter, Ashley Paulus, 29, has worked at the company in some capacity for more than a decade. The younger Paulus was recently promoted to vice president.

Holly’s plan is to hand off the company to Ashley within the next five years. “My future vision when I first started it was, ‘I’d love to hand this down to one of my children,’” Holly says. “And my daughter happened to be the one who had the desire to be a part of the company and really embraced it.”

Holly has been working over the past several years to position Nexxa Group as the go-to marketing place for the energy industry. Now with Ashley as VP, this year will be focused on the organizational side of things to ensure operational efficiencies in such areas as company systems and team and vendor workflow. “I don’t want operations to be anything that holds us back from our future growth,” Holly says.

Stefania Pifferi. Holly Paulus is working on a plan to eventually hand over ownership of the marketing firm she founded to her daughter, Ashley Paulus.

Final transition details, such as any kind of monetary compensation for Holly, are being worked out. Holly’s been crafting her succession plan for about five years with her attorney, Sheryl Hunter of Hunter Business Law in Tampa.

“She was really instrumental in helping me start thinking about the details of what a good succession plan would be,” Holly says. “When you’re running a small business, you’re literally running constantly. She helped open my eyes that it’s more than just handing it off; you have to have a plan in place so it’s a smooth transition.”

Challenges: The pandemic has slowed down Holly’s original transition timeline a bit. But she says that’s been a good learning experience for Ashley.

“The value that we bring is that we’re nimble, and this is part of learning the business,” she says. “You can have a great plan in place and have a timeline or date for something to happen, and something else can derail that. So you have to be able to quickly adjust and move forward.”

Holly has built a company where she says everyone is treated like family. (Right now, six of the seven employees are relatives: her father, mother, two sisters and niece all work for Nexxa Group, in addition to Ashley.) But although there’s currently just one nonrelated employee, she expects that number to grow this year. And she knows that in order to successfully hand off her business to her daughter, all of the employees, whether they’re part of her family or not, need to buy into the change.

“It’s critically important that they see Ashley as a leader and not just a family member,” Holly says. “If that level of respect doesn’t come from the employees, it will be a horrible transition. … So Ashley just really started to take a naturally active role in making sure she walks side-by-side with the team to overcome that.”

Holly admits that although she’s ready for the eventual transition, it still can be hard to think about handing over a company she built. “Your business is kind of like your baby,” she says. “I do have a little tug of war internally, but I’m good at letting go. And I know I’m letting go to someone who really has a passion not only for the employees and the company and what we stand for but also for our clients.”

What will the company look like in five years: Holly expects Ashley to be running the show by then. But Holly anticipates still being involved in some way, likely in a consulting role or on a leadership board for the company.

“I’ll still have that light involvement in the company as needed,” she says. “But I do see that trailing off. Maybe in the first few years until Ashley comes to me and says we’re good. Then I’ll be on my merry way doing other things.”

That includes focusing on a new venture to help companies understand data privacy laws. “I really envision myself not fully retiring,” she says. “I can’t sit still long enough.”

As for Nexxa Group, Holly sees nothing but good things for it under Ashley's leadership. “The company is positioned to continue to be an industry leader and influencer in energy,” she says “That really has become our focus in the past six to seven years, and we really stand out in that industry.”

 

Click the links below to hear best practices from other families working through business succession and experts who have helped others.

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