Case Detail

Case Summary

ATF, Inc.: Fasteners and Family

Case Number: 5-113-004, Year Published: 2016

HBS Number: KEL957

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Authors: John Ward; Brent C. Stern; Carol Adler Zsolnay; Sachin Waikar

Key Concepts

Family business; Leadership; Management styles; Small and medium-sized enterprises; Succession planning; Servant leadership


The ATF case is a succinct opportunity to explore the many special features of leadership succession for a family business. In 2009 the company was passing the baton to the oldest of three sons in the second-generation family business.

ATF produced metal and plastic fasteners for, primarily, the automotive industry. ATF had grown into a company with more than $50 million in annual revenues. The company had grown in large part through alliances with other family businesses around the world. First-generation patriarch Don Surber had led the company since he acquired it in 1982. Don was known for his charismatic leadership style and his focus on driving value through a network approach.

The case traces the career paths of all three sons and looks at the succession through the eyes of the oldest son, Jason Surber. The elements, constituents, and challenges of succession are evident. The fundamental insight is that business leadership succession is far more than just passing the business leadership baton. It also requires attention to the family, the board, the whole system of external stakeholders, and the future of ownership.

The epilogue in this note covers the period from 2009 to 2012 by describing what Jason did to earn credibility, to incorporate his brothers, and to define his personal leadership philosophy and style. The epilogue thus provides students with an opportunity to consider and define their own personal philosophy of management leadership and their own style. They will see the art of melding styles from the past with their own for the future.

Learning Objectives

After reading and analyzing the case, students will be able to identify the elements of a well-formulated succession process; consider the classic challenges of succession in a family business; recognize that succession is much more than the event of passing the baton of business leadership; it is best seen as an evolving process over time; and define their personal philosophy of management/leadership, a lifelong work in progress.

Number of Pages: 8

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Family Business, Management

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: United States

Industry: Automotive parts supply

Organization Name: Accurate Threaded Fasteners (ATF)

Decision Maker Position: President

Decision Maker Gender: Male

Year of Case: 2012