In this post, I outline the successful transition of our family business, Rooney’s Hire Service, to the third generation and why it worked so well despite considerable challenges.
The first transition to the next generation started when my dad—who was extremely hard working but also a functioning alcoholic by this time—needed help to manage a massive order for Malawi’s Independence Day celebrations. As dad's health deteriorated, my older brother Pat, who already had a full-time job as a chartered accountant, was brought in to help manage the event. From then on, Pat helped on a part-time basis to keep things stable.
When dad unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack at the relatively youthful age of 56, I was still at senior school. Pat continued to help navigate the business with the existing staff through some choppy waters for the next 3 years. At that time, he was an accountant working for Turner Williams. The firm was located in Linquinda House, the tallest building in Salisbury, adjacent to the Rooney’s office, which itself was situated in a modest property with an old house serving as the front office. During lunch, Pat would come downstairs to keep an eye on Rooney’s.
Not long after that, brother Rory—two years my senior, and a teacher at the time—joined the family business as manager under Pat’s supervision. He was a breath of fresh air, using his charm, excellent people skills, common sense, and relentless work ethic to consistently grow the business over the next 35 years. He also initiated the opening of a subsidiary in Zambia.
Rory’s sons, Niall and Michael (Niall’s older brother), then joined the business. Later, Michael took the opportunity to run a newly acquired car hire franchise representing Europcar for Zimbabwe. Michael has very successfully grown this complementary business over the past 10 years. Niall and his wife, Belinda—an expert in event planning—have brought another layer of creativity and sophistication to events at Rooney’s Hire Service.
Today, the company continues to enjoy solid revenues, despite Zimbabwe’s running into some very tough economic times in recent years, with further pressure caused by COVID-19.
As anyone who has ever been involved in such a business knows, transitioning a family business to the next generation can easily go off the rails without several key pieces in place. If one were to analyse why Rooney’s has managed to grow for over three generations, these six factors jump out as the key things they seem to have gotten right:
In looking at the success Rooney’s has enjoyed for over 65 years, I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes from the former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, Jan Carlzon, who famously said:
“We don’t aim to be 1000% better at any one thing, but 1% better at 1000 little things.”
This quote applies so well to Rooney’s today. They pay great attention to all the small details. In a service industry, it’s truly the little things that make a big difference.
Niall Rooney, who today has taken over the running of Rooney’s from his father, Rory, puts it well when he says:
“Dad had full confidence in the next generation and did not interfere or try to micromanage daily operations. He has always been there for advice and as a sounding board, but also gave us all the space we needed to run the business and change aspects that required changing due to an ever-evolving environment.
My father never applied pressure to any of us to take over the business—he allowed us to decide if we wanted to move into the family business. It is so important that the next generations want to be involved voluntarily in the business and not pressured.
Over the years, my father taught me so much more about running a business. In my early years at Rooney’s, he taught me it was much more than tents—to him, it was about relationships with family, employees, our customers, and the community in general. With this understanding, taking over the business was a lot less intimidating for me, and it gave me the confidence, support, and trust that I needed from everyone around me.”
Writing these two posts about Rooney’s, past and present, has given me the opportunity to reflect on the man who started it all—my father. Living with an alcoholic parent was never easy for the family, especially not for my mother. That having been said, my dad deserves a lot of credit for his vision, guts, kindness, and continuous hard work in starting a successful business that has stood the test of time. One of my favourite quotes, “Nobody is perfect, but a team can be,” describes to a T the Rooney’s successful transition from one generation to the next.
Click here to return to Part 1, Introducing My Dad, the Entrepreneur.
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