CPR Brings New President Aboard

November 24, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Twenty-one years ago when Jerry Engle decided to raise his family and grow his company in West Michigan, he didn’t plan on the two overlapping some day.

However, six months ago, Engle gave the reigns to his daughter, Jenny Fanning. She is the new president of CPR — Computer Products and Resources — with Engle continuing as CEO.

“The chances we had to sell over the past four years just didn’t seem right at the time for one reason or another,” said Engle. “When Jenny came back and began working for us, she really demonstrated her ability to lead and her dedication to the company.”

Seven years ago, Fanning made the decision to move her family from the Boston area to Grand Rapids to work at CPR. She said she had no preconceived notions or ideas about the future, but simply wanted to take a year to see what she could do.

Fanning grew up in Grand Rapids and while she loved the area, she took an opportunity to move out of state. She attended Northwestern University and then worked in human resources for General Electric. She then moved to Boston to work for an insurance agency while pursuing her MBA.

Upon completing the degree at Boston University, Fanning decided she wasn’t interested in going back to human resources and — during a visit home — had an opportunity to talk with Engle about his succession plan, something he hadn’t quite got around to setting up.

Without committing to taking over the company in the future, Fanning moved her husband and three children back home and decided, as she put it, to “tinker” for a year.

“I had the opportunity to kind of play for a year,” she said. “I was able to work in the human resources area for a little and was able to fix some of our health benefits and retirement planning, then I was able to look into warehousing logistics and see where I could save money there, and several other areas.”

And after spending a year working through several detail-oriented positions, Fanning decided she would stay on and explore other aspects of the company. During the next several years, she worked her way into nearly every department of CPR, from warehousing to technical support and computer repair. By the time she and Engle discussed succession planning again, Fanning had nearly 80 percent of the 140 member staff reporting to her.

The decision to make a change in leadership, Engle said, came not because he wanted out of the business, but merely because it was time for a change. He said it has been difficult to get others to understand this.

“It is important for our clients, our employees and the public to know that I am not leaving the business,” said Engle. “It will be a long time before I leave. But it was time to give the day-to-day operations over to Jenny, and that will allow me to spend more time with my wife, golfing, and also spend time doing what I love — spending time with the clients.”

As CEO, Engle said he will still have a presence in the office and continue to interact with employees and other operations, but his primary function will be outside the office, with clients.

Fanning said her hope for Engle is to have him out spending time with clients, not only when something is wrong, but also just to check in and see how things are doing — something she sees that he excels in.

“I would like Jerry to serve in more of a mentoring role and get involved with some new initiatives to really spread the word about the company,” said Fanning. “In addition, this will give him an opportunity to do more community work and become more involved in initiatives he wants to be involved in, as well as those he excels in.”

Fanning added that what Engle excels in is relationships, what she calls “the warm fuzzy stuff.” She said that while she is capable of the warm fuzzies, that isn’t always the first thing on her mind in a business meeting.

She said that is where their leadership styles differ. And that is an aspect of the transition that both say they may have the most difficulty in getting used to. Where Fanning excels in the detailed day-to-day activity, she said Engle enters every meeting checking to see how everyone is doing that day.

“I may walk into a meeting and begin immediately to get down to business,” said Fanning. “But when Jerry walks into a meeting, he wants to see if the employees had a good birthday or how someone’s child is doing, and he knows all of their birthdays, anniversaries, all of their names, their spouses’ names and kids’ names. He is very good at that and it will take me time to learn it.”

Fanning said the transition has been a learning process. To begin it, she said, one of the most helpful things the two did was talk to another CEO in transition to learn what went right and what went wrong.

“That step really helped Jerry let go, which was something we both worried he was going to be having a hard time doing, and something that really went very smooth,” said Fanning.

“It helped that her official start date was May 1st,” said Engle, “right at the beginning of golf season.”    

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