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“I was always interested in business strategy issues” Alan L. Wurtzel
Alan L. Wurtzel Alan L. Wurtzel
Former CEO, Circuit City

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  • Listen to the entire interview
  • "Why Richmond?"
  • "First Job?"
  • "Early interest in Dad's business?"
  • "Best advice Dad ever gave you?"
  • "Like the Business Product?"
  • "Did Your Dad Secretly Lure You In?"
  • "Key Decision to Join Circuit City?"
  • "Family (Father-Son) Dynamics"
  • "When to Get Out / Transition ?"
Holleman Business Succession Forum
Interview with
Alan L. Wurtzel
Former CEO, Circuit City

Introduction:

Alan Wurtzel had no interest or ambition to lead the family business. with $13,000 and one TV store in Richmond, VA. Alan eventually joined the company in 1966. He became CEO in 1973, and led Circuit City to become a "Good to Great" company (one of eleven companies that Jim Collins chose to feature in his 2001 book with the same title). With an enviable culture of service, innovation, and, of course, earnings and profits, it became the leading specialty retailer of consumer electronics and appliances in the country.

In early 2009, having shed over $5 Billion in stock market value in the previous two years, a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge ordered the company to liquidate. How did Succession Planning play a role in the company's ultimate demise, and in its early success? This interview not only takes the listener through the humble roots of the company and Alan's background and role, but through multiple generations of leadership decisions that were instrumental in both the success and failure of the company. Alan's keen eye and business mind, in concert with his legal training and ability to collaborate, helped continue a tradition of success his father had begun. His thoughts and feelings, and the results of those decisions are what the listener will hear and gain from. This interview focuses on decisions effecting succession and the emotion and thinking behind them that Alan experienced in his life with Circuit City. With touching thoughts on real and important family business dynamics, you will go inside both the family home and Circuit City board room to learn Alan's core beliefs on what habits must be followed in order to realize business success. This interview is a complement, but by no means a replacement for reading Alan's book, "Good to Great to Gone" (copyright 2012, Diversion Books). A delight and an inspiration, the listener will undoubtedly enjoy hearing and learning from Alan L. Wurtzel, former CEO of Circuit City.

This interview focuses on decisions effecting succession and the emotion and thinking behind them that Alan experienced in his life with Circuit City. With touching thoughts on real and important family business dynamics, you will go inside both the family home and Circuit City board room to learn Alan's core beliefs on what habits must be followed in order to realize business succession success.

This interview is a complement, but by no means a replacement for reading Alan's book, "Good to Great to Gone" (copyright 2012, Diversion Books). A delight and an inspiration, the listener will undoubtedly enjoy hearing and learning from Alan L. Wurtzel, former CEO of Circuit City.


Notable Discussion Topics:

Among other topics, Alan discusses the following issues with Vernon Holleman III, CLU:

  • Importance of early life exposure of a family business
  • Father - Son Dynamics
  • Importance of interest in the business product itself for Successor - yes/no?
  • Law versus Business
  • Independent Success Prior to Joining a Family Business
  • Board Governance as a Critical Component of Succession Planning
  • Timing an Exit
  • Training a Successor


Background:

Good to Great to Gone By Alan Wurtzel
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From 1973 to 1986, Mr. Wurtzel was CEO of Circuit City Stores. For the decade of the 80's and beyond, it was among the best performing companies on the New York Stock Exchange. That accomplishment is recognized and analyzed in Jim Collins' best-selling book, "Good to Great." Since retiring from Circuit City in 1986, Mr. Wurtzel has served as a Director of Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., and Office Depot, and was on the board of five privately held companies in which he was also an investor. Mr. Wurtzel has concentrated a lot of his non-business activities on higher education and K-12 education reform. He is a Trustee of Oberlin College and has been Chair of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), a Visitor at Virginia Commonwealth University (1985 to 1992), and a member of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (1999 to 2003). At the K-12 level, he was a member of the Virginia Board of Education in the years it adopted the current Standards of Learning and actively participated in their formulation. In the not-for-profit area, Mr. Wurtzel is a trustee of The Phillips Collection and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Mr. Wurtzel received a B.A. from Oberlin College and a J.D. from Yale Law School. He is married to the playwright, Irene Rosenberg Wurtzel, and has three grown children.