Succession Stories: Rasmussen Diamonds

Two years ago, Bill Sustachek survived the “widow-maker” of a heart attack.

His wife and business partner, Kathy, also had a health scare.

“I told her, ‘There’s a lot more to life than working our tails off. Let’s spend some time with our nine grandchildren.”

The Sustacheks have five children, four of whom have worked at Rasmussen Diamonds, or are currently working there.

Fifth child Kori is the one who wanted nothing to do with it, and it’s her husband, Joel Hassler, who became CEO on Sept. 14, 2011.

Since Hassler was named president last year, his job hasn’t changed all that much. But he does feel the new pressure of paying the bills, responding to late-night alarms and setting the course to keep a 111-year-old business growing into the future. Bill is still around — he drops in on Tuesdays and Thursdays to help out with appraisals. In fact, both he and Kathy still work in the store, but not as owners.

“It’s nice having them here still,” Hassler says. “Customers see it. After 35 years, you grow accustomed to seeing a particular person over and over and over again.”

Bill says he likes being able to come in without worrying about the numbers. “That’s his worry. I’ve gotten out of Joel’s way and let him do his thing and that has worked very well for us.”

The business came into the family in 1977. Bill’s father, Cal, had been Frank Rasmussen’s watchmaker. “My dad would come to pick up watches from Frank, and Frank would say, ‘Hey, Cal, want to buy a jewelry store?’” Cal did. They hired Bill to be the manager from the very beginning. In 1988, he and Kathy bought out his parents.

“This is the house that Bill built,” Sustachek says. “This business was built on the heart and soul of Kathy and me, on our love for our customers and our wanting to be there for our customers and our community. Joel got that message right away. It’s been seamless. Customers feel the exact same warmth that they did in the past.”

Hassler knew he wanted to succeed the Sustacheks after just a couple of years in the business. He took GIA classes and got his GG and certified gemologist appraisal credentials all within a year. “I knew there was definitely something different here, something worth buying,” Hassler says.

Attorneys and an accountant helped with the transition. Hassler also got advice from a Plexus group. “Five of the 12 stores are in similar situations. It was completely invaluable.”

Now he finds himself in the position of managing in-laws. “That’s what made the whole transition as challenging as it was and as smooth as it was. It’s all tied together. I wasn’t buying something from somebody who was going to walk away and we’d never see each other again. They watch my kids, we play golf, it’s still family. It had to work and had to be right for everybody involved.

“It’s a process, not an event. No matter how great you get along there are going to be difficult times. It’s getting along so great that gets you through the difficult times.”


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