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WILLOUGHBY: Keeping it in the family — Aden follows father’s lead

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 10.40.40 AMAs baby boomers continue to retire and transition family-owned businesses, there will be many families trying to navigate the challenges of generational business transfers. One of the real challenges of being a second-generation business leader is standing in the shadow of your parent who founded the company. As I have worked with business owners through this transition, there are some important dynamics that have to be considered. One of those challenges is transitioning leadership with the employees in the business. Often, long-time employees have worked for years for the founder, and now they are asked to follow the second generation. I am always interested in studying organizations that have successfully made this generational transition and addressed these type challenges.

Dr. Brannon Aden, managing partner and medical director of Mississippi Vision Correction Center, PLLC and Eye Surgical Center of Mississippi, PLLC, has successfully made this transition with her father, Dr. William Aden, who founded the ophthalmology practice in Jackson in 1974. Aden graduated from Washington & Lee University where she double majored in English and biology. She went on to complete her medical school education and training at Tulane University and Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Upon completing her training, Aden returned to Jackson in 2000 to join her father in practice. Within 18 months, they hired an associate, and shortly thereafter decided to build a new clinic and surgical facility. Aden shared, “While my father had built a very successful practice primarily devoted to cataract surgery, I knew that we would have to embark on a path of continual change to remain ahead of the curve in technology and what we could offer patients here in Jackson.”

They opened their new facility in 2005, and have now tripled the size of their business and employee over 30 full- and part-time employees. Aden candidly noted, “Perhaps most challenging was the fact that I had known many of the employees who are still a part of our team to this day since I was a teenager. I knew I had a very tall order in making the transition from being the ‘boss’ daughter’ to being the ‘boss.’

Aden continued, “I never felt that I could gain their respect without earning it each and every day. I try to lead by example, and I try demonstrating with that example that everyone is an essential part of the organization and that we all work toward the same goal: Providing the best possible care and experience for our patients.”

Often the best lessons in leadership are observing those who you don’t want to model. Aden said that she knew from some of her training as a physician that she did not want to be one of those doctors that yelled and screamed and demanded what they wanted from people. Those type doctors lead by intimidation and blame everyone else for problems. Instead, she modeled her leadership style after her father who she says, “embodies the kind of compassion, fairness and good care that I truly respect.”

Aden shared that her core leadership philosophy is that, “If I can take care of patients to the best of my ability while always being focused on their needs first, then everything else will take care of itself.” She tries to instill this same principle in her employees so that everyone in the organization reflects that same commitment. As a part of her commitment to excellence, Aden also devotes a fair amount of her time traveling the country giving presentations and lectures in her field of specialty. Dr. Aden and her father certainly present a great example of how to “hand the baton” from one generation to the next and how to take an organization to the next level building on the solid foundations of the founder.


» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.


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