Cover Story: After Eddie
Professionally, Lynda Swann will never be another Eddie Smith. Then again, she won’t have to be.
The support system her father fostered and nurtured during his 50-plus years running the women’s hosiery and apparel catalog National Wholesale Co. runs so seamlessly that Swann handles her role as president with relative ease.
Perhaps the toughest thing she encounters each day, while sitting in the same office her late father occupied for so many years until his 2007 passing at age 89, is recognizing she’s the top executive. Try telling her that she “replaced” Eddie Smith and Swann quickly clarifies that she and several of her VPs succeeded him in ensemble fashion.
Succession planning is obviously never an easy thing. It’s sort of like choosing your own grave site or writing your will. Not fun stuff. But for Smith, who founded, owned and operated National Wholesale from 1952 until 2005 (shortly after he suffered a stroke and later developed cancer), succession planning was essentially ongoing. Aside from the legalities Smith attended to — to ensure his company would wind up in his family’s hands once he was gone — he didn’t necessarily put together a specific succession plan because it was in place all along.
More than a decade ago, Smith attended to the necessary estate planning. “The reason many businesses don’t survive is because they lack this,” Swann says. “Dad actually used to have ‘planning-to-die’ meetings, and they weren’t fun. Now I’m holding the same meetings. If you don’t do this, there are obvious tax consequences, and [your successors] can be forced to sell.”
But for Swann, life after Eddie Smith entailed “a lifetime of preparation, focused on our philosophies and how we operate the business,” she says. “I grew up with that since I was 4. My dad was larger than life to me.”