President's perspective - Succession Planning

By Carol Kwan on Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Does your company have a plan if something were to happen to the owner or key employees? What about a plan in the event of a key employee retiring?

It’s not something that most of us care to think about, rather like life insurance. But within the past couple of years, I’ve had up close and personal encounters with businesses dealing with the unthinkable. The first was when my good friend, Gregory Severino, died suddenly while scuba diving. He was the only Certified Arborist at his employer’s company, which had numerous contracts that required the work to be supervised by a Certified Arborist. Another Certified Arborist and I stepped in to cover the projects for the company on a subcontractor basis until they could hire an experienced Certified Arborist or have one of their current employees pass the certification exam. More recently, I took over a construction monitoring project from another Certified Arborist who was the president and owner of a sizable landscaping and tree care company in Hawaii when he was diagnosed with cancer. He and I had spoken a few years earlier about his searching for a buyer for his company, and he’d had a few leads, but unfortunately nothing had panned out. After the diagnosis, one of his relatives shut down the company as he underwent treatment. Because there were no potential successors to lead the company, the company’s employees, many of them family members, had to look for new employment opportunities.

While sudden events can catch companies by surprise, some succession issues are more predictable. Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000/day in the U.S.A. According to a recent ISA survey shared with WCISA, 18% of the respondents from our Chapter expect to be retired in 10 years. That’s almost 1 in 5 people! 44% of our Chapter respondents were 55 and older. These figures raise concerns about succession planning. Who will be our leaders of the future? What do we need to do now to ensure that WCISA will continue to exist in both the short and long term?

In July 2015, our WCISA Board, committee chairs, and staff participated in a strategic planning retreat, and succession planning was included in our 5-year Strategic Plan under Governance. We knew it was important then and we continue to prioritize it as we oversee the business of our Chapter.

But just recognizing succession planning as important is not enough. How does one grow the leaders of tomorrow? In my opinion, it starts with looking at who is involved in the organization from a demographics perspective. Every generation seems to shake their heads about the upcoming generation, but those younger generations are our future. We need to be sharing our experience and providing guidance as new volunteers learn the ropes of our organization, while we are also benefiting from their energy, enthusiasm, and different perspectives. And let’s face it – there are things that youngsters are good at that some of us “oldsters” may find challenging, particularly when it comes to technology and social media.

For WCISA, committees are an integral part of our organization. The Board, from a strategic level, charts the course for the organization, but the committee chairs and staff also participate in the strategic planning process. Each group brings its own perspectives regarding the organization to the table, and our final strategic plan represents a blending of those perspectives into an overall strategic plan for our organization. Our strategic plan also includes goals and objectives for how to get to where we want to be, and our committees are the ones who lead the charge, with the support of our staff, in meeting those goals and objectives. While the committee chairs are the ones who interface directly with the Board, our many volunteer committee members help make things happen. These include many long-time volunteers, but also new faces. We’re fortunate to have so many dedicated professionals, from diverse backgrounds and geographic areas, willing to devote their time and talent to our organization. Each year in our member survey, we ask if people are willing to volunteer and, if so, in what capacity. We’ve been distributing lists of potential volunteers to our various committee chairs, who will be contacting those who expressed interest in serving. If you indicated that you are interested in volunteering and haven’t heard from anyone on behalf of WCISA by mid-October, please contact either Rose Epperson,, or me,, so that we can follow up.

Speaking of volunteers, I am hoping to find someone from Arizona and from Nevada who would be willing to regularly contribute to the Western Arborist so that we can have better geographic representation in our Chapter’s magazine. Back in 2003/2004, when I changed careers to become an arborist and started my company, I had lots of time on my hands because business was slow. I would read the Western Arborist from cover to cover and the more that I did so, the more irritated that I became because there was never anything from Hawaii in it. Finally, I contacted our editor, Bruce Hagen, to complain about the situation. Bruce replied that he’d been trying to find someone to write about Hawaii for many years, but no one had stepped up to do so. He then asked if I’d be willing to submit something. I agreed, and after a couple of articles, Bruce asked if I’d be willing to write a regular column, Hawaii Happenings, which I’ve been writing since 2005. Being the local contributor for a State doesn’t necessarily mean that you must write the articles yourself. Sometimes I find good articles published by our extension agents or PhDs at the University of Hawaii, and I request permission from the authors for the articles to be reprinted in the Western Arborist. I’ve yet to have anyone refuse permission. Generally, there’s minor editing that’s needed to make them suitable for a broader audience, but that’s it. I send the text and photos for the articles to Bruce and Linda Hagen, check the layout prior to the article going to print (autocorrect doesn’t like Hawaiian words or botanical names) and that’s it. If you are interested in fulfilling a similar role for Arizona or Nevada, please contact Bruce Hagen at

As for the future of our Chapter, I am confident that, with the high quality and dedication of our volunteers and staff, and with the focus of our Board on succession planning, WCISA will continue to grow and thrive for many years to come.

A hui hou kakou!

Carol Kwan