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Updated: July 27, 2020

CNC Software Inc.’s father-to-daughter transition required ‘proper thought and execution’

Photo | Contributed CEO Meghan West with her dad Mark Summers (left) and uncle Brian Summers.


Category | Succession Planning — Tolland-based CNC Software Inc.

When Meghan Summers West was 12 years old and wanted a cat, her father asked her to put together a business plan.

Not only was he grooming his eldest daughter for the day she’d take over the family business. He was preparing her for life. The lesson?

“If your decisions are well thought out, rather than just spur-of-the-moment, the outcome is generally better,” said Mark Summers, who founded Tolland-based CNC Software Inc. with his brothers, Jack and Brian, in 1983.

That turned out to be sage advice as Summers, 62, prepared to hand over the reins at CNC, developer of Mastercam CAD/CAM software, which it touts as the world’s most widely used computer-aided design and manufacturing software.

When West, 36, took over as president and CEO of the family enterprise in 2015, the transition was more than a dozen years in the making — the result of careful and methodical planning.

West says she knew since age 5 that she wanted to run the company — a dream reinforced at 14 when she accompanied her father on a business trip to Japan. But father and daughter also knew that without proper thought and execution, the change could be fraught with emotion and conflict.

In succession planning seminars, they’d often heard the grim statistics: Only half of family businesses survive more than five years after a transition from first to second generation.

“Dad always managed my expectations and made it clear that nothing was going to be handed to me,” said West.

After West earned a business degree from what is now Bentley University, Summers recalls telling his daughter to “go get a job somewhere, get some experience.”

“You can’t just show up completely green and expect to have any credibility,” he advised her. “Without credibility, you aren’t going to have any support. And without support, your business is going to end up one of those statistics.”

So West moved to Hawaii for a job as a development associate at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu, where she also completed her MBA.

She returned to CNC in 2009 ready to get her feet wet, starting in a marketing job and climbing the ladder to operations manager in 2011. Four years later, she was leading the company’s 200 employees.

“I was lucky enough to have this incredible company with amazing people, and I did build a relationship with them in a way that they felt safe with the transition,” West said.

Both father and daughter have deemed the transfer a success.

And the cat she asked for? That venture had a happy outcome too.

“The business plan was successful and that cat ended up hanging around for 19 years,” said Summers, laughing. “His name was Buddy.”

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