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October 8, 2018 Blog 5 min read
As the third generation leader of her family business, Tanny Crane discusses why leaders must always question the status quo — even in times of success.

Image of people walking in office building

Three things you should know about Crane Group:

  1. It was founded as a plastics company by Robert Crane in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1940s.
  2. Today it’s a private, family-owned holding and management company.
  3. That striking evolution is due to the foresight and tenacity of President and CEO Tanny Crane, along with her leadership team and other third generation family members, who decided to make a big change when others weren’t so sure a change needed to be made.

“As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ And back in the ‘80s, when I joined the business, that saying was a loud drum beat around here. Things were good. We had incredible leadership, great practices, and strong growth. But times — and the economy — were about to change, and we knew we had to change with it.”

Tanny says that her dad and uncle had done a great job managing the growth of the plastics company her grandfather built — but as the third generation of Cranes entered the business, they could see a need for more diversification.

“Change can be hard,” Tanny says. “Changing course when you’re making progress — that’s even harder. But that’s what we did because, when we stopped looking at the here and now and looked to the future of our organization, we knew we couldn’t sustain our success if we didn’t diversify.”

Throughout the 1990s, Crane Group capitalized on its success and began to acquire a number of companies within the building industry, expanding their focus to include more than plastics. Then, in 2000, Crane underwent a substantial company reorganization, shifting from a structure in which a single entity controls all of the company’s holdings to one in which the company is composed of many autonomous business units. Today, Crane Group continues to grow by diversifying its partnerships and investments. You’ll find everything from mining machine manufacturers to pet care service providers in their portfolio of businesses.

This discussion and Tanny’s advice around changing during times of success couldn’t have come at a better time for me. You see, at the time of our conversation, Plante Moran was preparing to announce one of the biggest changes in our firm’s history: joining forces with EKS&H, the largest accounting firm in Denver.

“Change can be hard,” Tanny says. But changing course when you’re making progress — that’s even harder.”

This change not only increased the size of our staff by more than 30 percent, but it took our firm outside our traditional geographic comfort zone. And much like Crane Group, our firm is strong, healthy, and continuing to grow. Many wondered “Why Denver? Why change when what you’re doing is already working?” My answer sounds a lot like Tanny’s: We can’t just look at what works for our firm today. And when we looked at where we need to be 10 years from now to keep pace with our changing profession, that meant spreading our wings and extending our reach.

For Plante Moran, this change has been fantastic. It’s resulted in better service to our clients and more opportunities for our staff ;— but it’s also meant working with new people and adapting to new processes. So how do you protect a successful organization undergoing so much change? According to Tanny, you have to protect the things that make your company great — for Crane group, that’s their culture and their people. (Again, this was all sounding very familiar to me.)

“Crane Group was founded on six core values defined by my grandfather and modeled by my dad and uncle,” Tanny explains. These values — respect, communication, family, generosity, loyalty, and community — have resulted in an incredible company culture that’s led to a great deal of success. They must continue to guide us.”

Tanny explained that these values have become a ruler by which the companies they consider acquiring are measured. She says that when they look for partners, they look just as closely at culture as they do the numbers and growth trajectory. And when they do move forward with a partnership, their core values stay front and center throughout the transition and are a tool to train and measure performance.

“When we acquire a company, we literally paste these values on the walls. They express our shared understanding of what we believe in, how we behave, and what we aspire to be as a company. We can’t ever lose sight of them,” Tanny said.

I agree with and personally relate to so much of what Tanny said. As the leader of a company that spans generations, you’re given a gift — but you can’t just accept it for what it is. You need to develop it into what it can be without altering its foundation. It’s a delicate balance, which Tanny and the leaders at Crane group have done an incredible job managing.

More from Tanny:

What else did Tanny emphasize during our conversation? Here’s a brief overview.

On listening

“Leaders need to learn the art of listening. When you’re working with your team, there should be no such thing as multi-tasking. You need to be all in. And for me, I needed to learn when to, and when not to, chime in. I found that, as a leader in the organization, if I spoke up with my opinion too soon, the group would accept what I said and the conversation would stop. I’ve learned that I need to sit back and let things play out so different ideas make it to the table.”

On women in leadership

“My advice to women is to take responsibility for your career; don’t wait for someone else to tell you when you’re ready. Get the skills you need, and speak up when you want to take on new things. Don’t be afraid to say ‘Coach, let me in!’”

Leadership personality profile:

Your leadership approach: Passion 

The leadership quality you most admire in others: Humility 

Your best piece of business advice: find what truly inspires you and then go for it!  

What you look for when you hire: Passion, humility, great listening skills 

To be an effective leader, you cannot… put yourself first.