This Houston tech leader explains the challenges and opportunities that succession planning includes. Photo via Getty Images

Family-owned businesses have unique challenges when it comes to succession. The biggest obstacle is that family members leading the organizations think they know their own children or heirs’ capabilities better than they actually do. The current slate of executives can see the most obvious strengths to some degree, but they often miss the entirety of each family member’s gifts. They may also fail to see what work gives each heir the most passion and job fulfillment.

The second challenge is the emotional connection to family members, which can make hiring or promoting decisions stressful. This can also lead to difficulty with honesty when it comes to family members. On the other hand, some business owners are too tough on the next generation taking over. In either case, finding the right balance between effective work relationships and objective decision-making can be difficult. Then there is the challenge of openness, willingness and objectivity to make the tough calls. One example of this is if the internal family talent has gaps, the executives need to be willing to recruit or promote key talent to fill the gaps to be the most effective team. When a family-owned business refuses this, this can be detrimental and create a problematic future. Like it or not, while family businesses can be exceptionally rewarding, they are still businesses at their core and must adapt effectively to be competitive or to survive future challenges.

Lastly, there is a competitive factor when it comes to succession in family-owned businesses. Most family members that are engaged in the business and in a leadership capacity tend to be highly competitive by nature. Adding to the sibling rivalry that they have faced throughout their life. So, with succession, how does the family keep these competitive forces in check while being aligned in a positive way?

The best way to overcome these challenges is to understand each person's leadership character traits and risks for ineffective behaviors or derailment. Additionally, learning about someone’s drivers, reward needs, or intrinsic motivation can help paint the big picture. When using these objective measures, the family leadership team can get an accurate reading of the talent of each family member as well as get a clear look at the leadership bench strength. There are validated assessment tools that can help business owners understand these characteristics such as in-depth character, risk and motivational measures geared toward leadership development, training and executive coaching.

For example, Jennifer was the CEO of a large residential and commercial real estate company. She was exemplary in the business, built strong relationships and was a go-getter in sales and marketing. Throughout her tenure, she hired top talent and had a natural executive presence. Her husband, George, was the CFO who had the typical high level, brilliant financial smarts and measured everything to the nth degree. Their family-owned business soared to become number one in the region competing with national franchises. As time went on, they planned to transition the business to their two sons. They saw John, one of their sons, as the heir for the CEO position because he excelled in fostering relationships and operations. Therefore, they also assumed he would just pick up on the marketing and sales that Jennifer was great at. This left the other son, Ray, as the new CFO because he was financially brilliant.

However, what Jennifer and George missed was that there were holes and gaps in each of the sons’ skill sets that didn’t quite align with the positions they were to succeed. With a thorough assessment through the CDR 3-D Suite and individual coaching and discussions, the mismatch became evident In fact, one of the sons said he would leave the company if forced to do the parent’s job role. The other son had similar comments. After investing in these helpful tools they re-created the executive roles to “fit” the sons’ profiles and needs. This required adding another key executive to lead marketing and sales for John since he excelled in operations leadership, financial management and relationship building. Ray took on some financial responsibilities but his primary role was business development. He focused on big ideas and business growth. A deep dive into his characteristics and drivers demonstrated how If he were to work with numbers routinely, he would be miserable which in turn would affect the business as a whole.

The lesson learned is that executives cannot necessarily force their children or family into the same boxes or job descriptions they have held. Sometimes, there needs to be a shift or redesign of the job description and scope of responsibility to best fit the incoming executives. The next generation will share some of the same strengths, but will also have different skills and weaknesses. Many will likely be motivated by different aspects of the work and if business owners are not able to identify these inherent capabilities and needs, succession can be unsuccessful.

In terms of conflict or tippy-toeing around difficult conversations, using data can help family-owned business executives and their family members get a clear and objective understanding of their respective talents and needs. The initial work goes a long way and keeps discussions productive and on track. Good data supports productive decisions so that everyone is in a win-win position. When approaching succession this way, generations will be placed in roles that best fit their personality and what they want to be doing. Without this type of data, it is easy to misalign roles which causes problematic performance and conflict and fosters a stressful work environment. When leaders are stressed, inherent risk factor behaviors manifest regularly, which damages performance and relationships. Bottom line, identifying these characteristics before planning succession and using objective assessments provide the data and the blueprint for family-owned businesses to design successful executive teams.

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Nancy Parsons is the president and CEO at CDR Companies.

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Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

Houston named best city in Texas and No. 11 in U.S. in prestigious report

best in tx

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.