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The Welsh Wire: Transitioning Leadership in a Family-Owned Business ft. Marlee D’Arco of Safety Services, Inc.

Marlee D'Arco, President & CEO of Safety Services, Inc.
Marlee D’Arco, President & CEO of Safety Services, Inc.

This month on The Welsh Wire, Sheri interviews Marlee D’Arco, President and CEO of Safety Services, Inc. in Kalamazoo, about her journey into leadership of her family’s business.

The third generation to lead the family-owned and operated safety equipment supplier, D’Arco was originally brought onboard to assist in potentially selling the company as the original family members approached retirement. Ultimately, her circumstances ended up positioning her to take over and move the firm forward.

“I fell in love with it because, as many small business owners can relate, there is never a dull day. I am a person who is bored very easily, so I welcome a challenge,” D’Arco says.

One of those challenges was the perception that she had appeared out-of-nowhere to take over the company.

“They didn’t see me around regularly, so I think people were naturally suspicious, defensive, or cautious because they weren’t sure where I was coming from,” she explains.

D’Arco addressed that challenge by emphasizing that she was there to learn, understand, and examine how things could be improved. “Cultural change is hard; leadership change is hard. Setting new expectations, raising the bar, changing the objectives—these are all things that are very difficult for people to process and grab onto, particularly if they’ve been in your organization for a long period of time and if there’s a lot of generational variation in your organization.”

“We have quite a bit of that, and I think that you have to just remove your own personal feelings and ego from the situation and not make it personal at all. Make it about the objective and give people the opportunity to come to the table. Some will come more quickly than others, and some will walk away. That’s okay.”

Listen to Sheri’s full interview with Marlee D’Arco about leadership transitions in family-owned businesses.

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