Case spotlight: Stuck in the Middle with You: Succession Planning, Multigenerational Involvement and Crisis Management at Cluck Foods Ltd

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This case was featured in the November 2022 issue of Connect.

Who - the protagonist

John, part owner of his family’s business, Cluck Foods Ltd.

What?

Cluck Foods was started as a stall selling fresh poultry and meats in an indoor local market in West Cork in 1955 by Sean Long.

Sean’s daughter Josie and her husband Pat took on the business, with cooked produce becoming a key part of the business from 1965, after Josie’s brother Paul, when on a visitor visa, witnessed how cooked chickens were sold everywhere in America.

In the present day, Josie and Pat’s son John runs Cluck Foods. John sells to both domestic (in-person and online) and wholesale customers but his biggest achievement was the opening of a new €5 million cooking facility in 2019, a 2,500 square foot premises which allowed for the production of cooked products to increase tenfold, from four cooks a day to 15.

Chicken

Why?

John was entering his 31st year in the family business, and was surely considered the natural successor of Cluck Foods, yet nothing official was underway.

Despite being in their 80s, Pat and Josie were still very much involved in the business, while John’s daughters Julie and Anna had become more involved during the pandemic.

John called a family meeting to propose that it was the right time to replace his parents’ as leaseholder; three months before the lease was up for renewal of the market stall.

Where?

Cluck Foods served domestic customers via its market stall and delivery service in the West Cork area.

On the wholesale side of the business, John sold to takeaways, restaurants, hotels and supermarkets both locally and across Ireland.

When?

It was February 2022 when John met with his family to discuss the future of Cluck Foods.

Key quote

“Their ideas (Julie and Anna) will cross the line a lot faster than mine, we all mellow a small bit, there is no harm in that because we can all hash around the ideas together, and then decide the route to get them over the line. The girls put it to the Vatican (the senior generation) as they have a better chance of approval.”
John on the decision-making process.

What next?

Much to John’s surprise at the family meeting, Josie strongly voiced her concerns about John managing everything on his own, with the business having changed and expanded a great deal in recent years.

John always viewed the market stall and dealing with customers as the hub of Cluck Foods, but Josie saw the cooking facility and the wholesale side of the business as his priority to claw back the revenue that was lost during the pandemic.

Julie and Anna then put themselves forward to take over the market stall; believing their food business and marketing qualifications made them the perfect duo to do so.

John was stunned and now unsure whether he was actually the best person to lead the family business post-COVID, or whether someone else would be better suited? John had two weeks to devise the right plan for Cluck Foods, and balance the views of his family and his own.

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Spotting an opportunity

Linda said: “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was working at home and following a number of family businesses on social media who were posting about their experiences to the pandemic. Without being opportunistic, as a researcher I really felt that there was a benefit of recording these experiences. As a qualitative researcher, I was aware that the depth to data in exploring how family businesses were responding to the pandemic would be very rich. I also felt this was a chance to record ‘history’ in the making. 

“The case is based on one of the businesses which participated in the wider research project. The case details how the business navigated the pandemic but also highlights key challenges for family businesses such as succession planning and managing multi-generational involvement in the family business.”

Balancing act

Linda continued: “A key challenge in writing the case study was balancing the descriptive (what was going on in the business) with the narrative – the story I was telling. 

“The original plan for the case was to detail how Cluck Foods responded to the pandemic and was to be written in 2021. However, I broke my ankle during the process, which required surgery, so time passed and the focus of the case changed as the business had moved on from the pandemic. 

“A key highlight in writing the case was interviewing the matriarch of the family business, a lady in her 80s who still worked in the business every day and is quite influential.”

unicycle

Stimulation in the classroom

Linda commented: “My experiences of teaching the case have led me to conclude that the case stimulates student engagement and discussion. The first two questions for discussion are very much based on the case and students ‘warm up’ with these. The role play of the family meeting is the highlight and can be quite entertaining.”

She added: “Students enjoy the case and tend to identify with members of the next generation in the case. Question three, which requires students to act in the role of the consultant and advise the owners of the business on how to move forward, is a double-edged sword, as ownership succession has not occurred. So, a key challenge for students is who to pitch their ideas to.”

Case writing tips

She explained: “My top tip is to begin writing as soon as you can.

“The case writing workshop run by The Case Centre really helped to tease out the idea for the case, and in writing the introduction and setting the hook. Keep the momentum going as it's likely to take a few drafts before it's ready for review. 

“Also, I found it more rewarding to base the case study on real life events. The case uses a pseudonym and aspects are exaggerated, but the characters are based on real life people which make it easier to bring them to life.”

Enjoyable experience

Linda concluded: “This was the first teaching case I wrote and I really enjoyed it. And it's great to teach something you wrote and get some ideas for the next draft.”

THE CASE 

The case

Who - the protagonist

John, part owner of his family’s business, Cluck Foods Ltd.

What?

Cluck Foods was started as a stall selling fresh poultry and meats in an indoor local market in West Cork in 1955 by Sean Long.

Sean’s daughter Josie and her husband Pat took on the business, with cooked produce becoming a key part of the business from 1965, after Josie’s brother Paul, when on a visitor visa, witnessed how cooked chickens were sold everywhere in America.

In the present day, Josie and Pat’s son John runs Cluck Foods. John sells to both domestic (in-person and online) and wholesale customers but his biggest achievement was the opening of a new €5 million cooking facility in 2019, a 2,500 square foot premises which allowed for the production of cooked products to increase tenfold, from four cooks a day to 15.

Chicken

Why?

John was entering his 31st year in the family business, and was surely considered the natural successor of Cluck Foods, yet nothing official was underway.

Despite being in their 80s, Pat and Josie were still very much involved in the business, while John’s daughters Julie and Anna had become more involved during the pandemic.

John called a family meeting to propose that it was the right time to replace his parents’ as leaseholder; three months before the lease was up for renewal of the market stall.

Where?

Cluck Foods served domestic customers via its market stall and delivery service in the West Cork area.

On the wholesale side of the business, John sold to takeaways, restaurants, hotels and supermarkets both locally and across Ireland.

When?

It was February 2022 when John met with his family to discuss the future of Cluck Foods.

Key quote

“Their ideas (Julie and Anna) will cross the line a lot faster than mine, we all mellow a small bit, there is no harm in that because we can all hash around the ideas together, and then decide the route to get them over the line. The girls put it to the Vatican (the senior generation) as they have a better chance of approval.”
John on the decision-making process.

What next?

Much to John’s surprise at the family meeting, Josie strongly voiced her concerns about John managing everything on his own, with the business having changed and expanded a great deal in recent years.

John always viewed the market stall and dealing with customers as the hub of Cluck Foods, but Josie saw the cooking facility and the wholesale side of the business as his priority to claw back the revenue that was lost during the pandemic.

Julie and Anna then put themselves forward to take over the market stall; believing their food business and marketing qualifications made them the perfect duo to do so.

John was stunned and now unsure whether he was actually the best person to lead the family business post-COVID, or whether someone else would be better suited? John had two weeks to devise the right plan for Cluck Foods, and balance the views of his family and his own.

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Author perspective

Spotting an opportunity

Linda said: “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was working at home and following a number of family businesses on social media who were posting about their experiences to the pandemic. Without being opportunistic, as a researcher I really felt that there was a benefit of recording these experiences. As a qualitative researcher, I was aware that the depth to data in exploring how family businesses were responding to the pandemic would be very rich. I also felt this was a chance to record ‘history’ in the making. 

“The case is based on one of the businesses which participated in the wider research project. The case details how the business navigated the pandemic but also highlights key challenges for family businesses such as succession planning and managing multi-generational involvement in the family business.”

Balancing act

Linda continued: “A key challenge in writing the case study was balancing the descriptive (what was going on in the business) with the narrative – the story I was telling. 

“The original plan for the case was to detail how Cluck Foods responded to the pandemic and was to be written in 2021. However, I broke my ankle during the process, which required surgery, so time passed and the focus of the case changed as the business had moved on from the pandemic. 

“A key highlight in writing the case was interviewing the matriarch of the family business, a lady in her 80s who still worked in the business every day and is quite influential.”

unicycle

Stimulation in the classroom

Linda commented: “My experiences of teaching the case have led me to conclude that the case stimulates student engagement and discussion. The first two questions for discussion are very much based on the case and students ‘warm up’ with these. The role play of the family meeting is the highlight and can be quite entertaining.”

She added: “Students enjoy the case and tend to identify with members of the next generation in the case. Question three, which requires students to act in the role of the consultant and advise the owners of the business on how to move forward, is a double-edged sword, as ownership succession has not occurred. So, a key challenge for students is who to pitch their ideas to.”

Case writing tips

She explained: “My top tip is to begin writing as soon as you can.

“The case writing workshop run by The Case Centre really helped to tease out the idea for the case, and in writing the introduction and setting the hook. Keep the momentum going as it's likely to take a few drafts before it's ready for review. 

“Also, I found it more rewarding to base the case study on real life events. The case uses a pseudonym and aspects are exaggerated, but the characters are based on real life people which make it easier to bring them to life.”

Enjoyable experience

Linda concluded: “This was the first teaching case I wrote and I really enjoyed it. And it's great to teach something you wrote and get some ideas for the next draft.”

THE CASE 

The author

Read the case

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This case was written with the support of a Case Writing Scholarship awarded by The Case Centre.

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