Business 4th generation CEO reveals how to prevent dysfunction in...

4th generation CEO reveals how to prevent dysfunction in your company


If you’ve watched the Roys battle it out for control of global media and entertainment conglomerate Waystar Royco on Successiondo you know how messy the dynamics of a family business can get when there is a change in leadership.

The fictional drama plays out on a multi-billion dollar scale, but the truth is that any company – large or small, family owned or not – is vulnerable to dysfunction and chaos if a leadership change is not handled properly.

Moreover, dysfunction in the workplace is not only uncomfortable for those involved. It’s also bad for business, according to a study led by Rutgers University studywhich found that such “counterproductive behavior” lowers productivity and profitability and increases revenue.

Julie Charlestein, the fourth-generation CEO of Premier Dental Products Company, a family-owned manufacturer and distributor of dental products, knows firsthand what it takes to make a smooth leadership transition that keeps the workplace running as it should.

Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From HBO’s ‘Succession’

Although Charlestein wasn’t always sure she would follow in her family’s footsteps, a part-time job at Premier Dental after college inspired her to attend business school, and she eventually joined the company in 2002 as a product manager.

Over the next 15 years, Charlestein’s work at the company evolved as she went on to lead the product management team, was involved in business development, and became the president before assuming the role of CEO.

Charlesstein admits there is some truth to it Succession‘s drama, thanks to the “unique dynamics” within family businesses. But her years of experience with Premier Dental gave her important insights and ensured she was well positioned to succeed as the next generation leader.

Related: ‘Succession:’ 5 lessons the Roy family could learn sat down with Charlestein to learn about the four things all companies and new leaders should keep in mind for a successful changing of the guard.

1. Provide a rock-solid succession plan

A surefire way to make a leadership change less tumultuous? Don’t forget about succession planning, the strategy companies often use to transfer leadership roles to other employees.

Of course, there is a lot that goes into creating an effective succession plan, but Charlestein lists communication, clarity and legal process as some of the non-negotiables.

“There has to be that communication and very specific clarity about the roles and expectations,” she says, “and then a very solid legal team to be able to translate that into governance and documentation. [so] that it is sustainable.”

Related: Succession Planning: How To Ensure Your Business Will Thrive Without You

2. Don’t make too many changes too quickly

When Charlestein became CEO, she had lots of ideas, but she knew that doing too much too soon could backfire.

“I knew what needed to be done and what needed to be changed and how we needed to evolve,” she explains, “but I was well aware that I couldn’t do that right away.”

Charlestein says it’s in her nature to get things done quickly, “very specifically, with focused goals.” But getting the process done on time was essential, especially when it came to organizational changes, which she calls “one of the most challenging” aspects of the role.

Related: What keeps organizational change from taking hold, and how to change that

3. Maintain respect at all times

Charlestein’s considered approach to change went hand in hand with another critical leadership principle: showing the people within the company the respect they deserve.

“It’s a tough balance between not being bold and being firm,” Charlestein says of making changes. “So I try to think of it as firm but respectful. That’s probably the most [incoming leaders] are confronted.”

In fact, Charlestein says her grandmother often distilled her own advice down to that one powerful word: “respect.” “[It’s] respect for the legacy, for the institution, for the family and for the future you will help create,” she added.

Related: 4 Ways to Instantly Earn the Respect of Those You Lead (and How to Keep It)

4. Remember who you are and what your business is all about

Charlestein’s grandfather, Morton, had many sayings that the family affectionately refer to as “mortonisms,” one of which continues to guide the way Charlestein does business today: “Remember who you are.”

That’s very, very important in terms of [not only] who you are, but how you belong [the] family, how you fit into the dynamic, what your family is all about and what the business is all about,” says Charlestein.

Succession can offer a nice lesson in how not to address leadership changes within an organization.

But take it from a true fourth-generation CEO: Having a plan, giving time to change, respecting those you work with, and remembering who you and your company are will help you—and those who come after you— up for maximum success.

Related: Here’s what the science says you should do to be more successful

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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