Bruce Heberle

Thinking Out Loud: Changing Chairs

February 13, 2021

I have been thinking a lot about the hierarchy of families. The key to generational success in any family, if you think in business terms, is taking the time to plan for it.

Bruce Heberle
Bruce Heberle

When we age, the family patriarchs influence becomes more consultative as we develop our own goals in life. In a business, a succession plan is important for the continued success of that company. The founder of a family-owned company may sometimes be reluctant to step aside even if he knows it might be the best thing for the business. There needs to be a plan for future success which should include a succession plan – a pathway to achieve the transfer of power and adequate planning to provide the training necessary to implement the succession plan.

Growing up in a large family most things were thought to be community property, some you knew were not, including Dad’s chair. My Dad considered himself CEO of our family. We knew it, he knew it. We ate breakfast, dinner and supper at 8:00, noon and 6:00 because that is what Dad wanted. We watched what he wanted to watch on TV. Dad was a hands-on father showing us the value of hard work and how to have fun, including taking us hunting and fishing. Since we lived on a working farm, he showed us how to farm the right way. When the day was complete, he enjoyed resting in a comfortable chair. Much like an owner of a company, he dispelled advice, guidance, and strong opinions from that chair to his children and the community he served. His 3-position, white Naugahyde, recliner had a direct view of the floor console television and was the centerpiece of the room. That chair allowed him easy access to the remote, his Prince Albert tobacco, his numerous pipes, the daily and weekly papers, his conservation monthly and his True Detective magazines.

While it was an unwritten rule, everyone knew that no one sat in Dad’s chair when he was home. My girlfriend (now my wife of 43 years) was sitting in his chair the first time they met. She is a quick learner and bounced out of his chair when she got “the look.” I remember the day before our wedding she, on the couch and Dad in his chair, were having a conversation about the upcoming event. She said: “Just think in 24 hours I will be your daughter-in-law.” Dad, with the paper open in front of him, looked over the top and said: “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives.” They both cracked up (Dad especially) with his ornery laugh and twinkling blue eyes.

Every decade and a half or so, much like a business, the chair needed to be replaced. As depression babies, neither he nor Mom ever threw anything away. Nothing ever had only one use, including the old chair; consequently Dad had a succession plan for that old chair to prolong its useful life.

After he retired, the only hunting Dad enjoyed was deer. Dad hunted our farm and created an ideal plot to hunt deer by clearing land along the tree line. With cedar trees on three sides, dad had a perfect vision for the future use of his old chair. The edge of the grass field was the perfect place to put up a deer stand! Dad was excited about his idea, to build a deer stand in the middle of the huge brush pile and he spent the resources necessary to achieve his goal for success. With not one carpentry skill to his name, the stuff he created was effective but primitive in looks. I always teased him about his carpentry skills and would make snarky comments like: “Are you kidding me?”

Undeterred, he built a roof out of two pieces of tin nailed on top of four old fence posts. The sides and roof beams of the deer stand consisted of a few mismatched boards nailed horizontally to the posts that doubled for gun rests. These resting boards were set up for right-handed shooters and thus it was up to me to alter their location since I shoot left-handed.

Finally, he installed his old, white recliner on the dirt floor to finish the perfect deer stand. When deer season arrived, he brought along an assortment of True Detective magazine, his Winchester Model 12 shotgun, slugs and some liquid refreshments. Driving his Ford Ferguson tractor right up to the brush pile, he was ready for whatever came his way. Proud as punch of his creation, I can say it was not anything to look at, but it did serve its purpose. You could find Dad up there every deer season reading, taking a nap or simply enjoying the natural beauty of the land he had admired since he was a little boy.

If you think about it, Dad had a succession plan for that old rocker. He took the time to plan out the perfect spot to keep it involved in his life. He had a vision for what was needed to be successful and then the rest of us were given training on how best to position ourselves while using it. I bet Dad had that stand for close to 20 years and harvested many deer during that time. I hunted there myself because the stand provided consistent results, the location was perfect, and the site required little exertion to reach.

Dad died in 2003 and the farm was recently sold. I sometimes wonder if the stand and recliner are still there waiting for the next generation of hunters to appreciate its history? I find it amazing that a chair, whether in the living room or in a deer stand, could conjure up so many positive memories. I will always picture Dad just sitting in that old white, Naugahyde chair content with the world.

See you next month.