At Britt Land, succession planning has taken on a new importance
Britt Land Services, Calgary
Back in the 1980s, Brittney Ramsay was a toddler sitting in the back seat of her dad Ray Ramsay’s pickup truck as he drove through Alberta fields, met farmers and acquired land for the energy industry. As she came of age, Brittney says she always knew she wanted to work for Britt Land Services, the Calgary-based land brokerage her father and mother, Shelley, started in 1986. But after heading to work at the company before she was even old enough to drive, Brittney admits she found that she wasn’t exactly a natural. “I wasn’t very good at it – I wasn’t detail-oriented enough,” Brittney says. “I liked going out and talking to people.”
The theme continued. As she became an adult, Brittney went to school for communications but eventually came back to Britt Land, which acquires surface and mineral rights for the energy sector, and works with governments, stakeholders, communities and First Nations as consultants, gaining land access for clients and billing them by the hour for the service. Brittney fell into a marketing and corporate communications role in the company, but then, when she was just 23, life struck. “Our dad got really sick, all of a sudden,” she says. That was 2005. Doctors diagnosed Ray with Parkinson’s disease and told him he had to be out of Britt Land within six months. “We weren’t planning for [that],” Brittney says. “We were planning for … when I was 30, we would start the transition. So we basically needed to figure something out, stat. We had no planning in place.”
It’s no surprise that at Britt Land, succession planning has taken on a new importance. The succession plan was not in place for Ray’s departure. An interim president was brought in, then left after a year, and then Britt Land was run for the next two years by a committee of Brittney and two other senior land managers. Then, Brittney says, she got the call. “When I was 26 my dad came to me and said, ‘I think you’re ready to become the president.’” She confesses she was not ready but that her dad had confidence in her. What were the other options, really? “It was really sink or swim.” Brittney also confesses that not everyone in the industry or company itself was supportive. “There was a ton of resistance.”
So she swam. The lessons learned at Britt Land remain in place today. Succession planning is part of every senior employee’s training and development work – with the gaps in skills of those waiting in the wings always examined and addressed. “Just so it’s not such a shock for them or for the rest of the company” if a change occurs, Brittney says.
Today the company has 50 employees working out of three locations, in Grande Prairie, Fort St. John in B.C. and Calgary. Brittney is now president while Ray remains the company’s CEO. And while he has moved on from the company, he remains in the background as a resource for her to draw on. But just as the name suggests, it’s Brittney at the helm.
Are you familiar with the “bus theory?” If your key people were all on a bus and that bus crashed, what would happen to your company? Ray Ramsay built a company with his deep knowledge of land acquisition. The plan for his daughter Brittney to take over was in place, but it was only to happen several years in the future. The lesson: there always has to be a contingency for the unexpected. Your company must be able to function if you are its brain trust and you are, unfortunately, on a bus that crashes.
90% of the nearly 400,000 businesses in Alberta have fewer than 50 employees