When it’s time for transition, put plan in writing

Tucked in the back of a sprawling office park along Post Road in Warwick is an architectural-design firm with a worldwide footprint. Founded 40 years ago by Robert DiLeonardo, the company today designs some of the most beautiful interior spaces in the world, under the leadership of a trio of second-generation owners. More

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A PBN SPECIAL SECTION: 2012 FAMILY OWNED BUSINESS

When it’s time for transition, put plan in writing

PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
MAKING THE TRANSITION: The DiLeonardo International leadership team, from left: Lia DiLeonardo, Robert DiLeonardo, Giana DiLeonardo and James Lehouiller. Robert DiLeonardo founded the company 40 years ago, but has since retired.
Posted 1/30/12

Tucked in the back of a sprawling office park along Post Road in Warwick is an architectural-design firm with a worldwide footprint. Founded 40 years ago by Robert DiLeonardo, the company today designs some of the most beautiful interior spaces in the world, under the leadership of a trio of second-generation owners.

Daughters Lia and Giana DiLeonardo and son-in-law James Lehouiller (he’s married to Lia) today own equal shares of DiLeonardo International, while the founder holds a 10 percent share. The owners and the 40-plus people working in Warwick collaborate with DiLeonardo teams in Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Dubai to design the interior spaces for some of the world’s finest five-star hotels.

Robert DiLeonardo did not set out to build an international design firm, but a New York City hotel project with an overseas developer led to an international contract, which led to another, and the rest is history. Likewise, his children did not set out to own dad’s company, but one thing led to another, and today they own it.

The transition from founding father to a new generation happened fairly close to textbook – if the textbook were written by William T. O’Hara, executive director of the Institute for Family Enterprise at Bryant University. O’Hara, who has studied and advised family businesses for decades, has several suggestions for any business approaching a transitional stage.

“Commandment No. 1, for every family business, like any business, is to have a constitution that guides the business,” O’Hara said. “That document should include the basic philosophy of the family business, how they want to grow, what their philosophy is, how they want to change, if they want to change.”

Though they don’t call it a “constitution,” DiLeonardo has a guiding document. It was created at the beginning of a five-year process of changing ownership, from 2001 to 2006. The DiLeonardo document outlines the roles each owner will play, how decisions will be made and more.

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