Managing

Q My CFO is retiring in 18 months. She has been with us for more than 40 years and also acts as our comptroller and office manager. Passing on her formidable knowledge is vital to the success of our business, but she seems reluctant to share it. What do you recommend?

Name Withheld

Your CFO probably doesn't expect to keep managing your books from a retirement villa in Fort Lauderdale, but by now her job has likely become a big part of her identity. After shepherding your business through decades of financial planning, balance sheet audits, and intraoffice squabbles, she will undergo a drastic life change by relinquishing that role. Your CFO may fear becoming irrelevant. She might also lack confidence in her replacement.

You won't know what's holding her back until you ask. Talk to her about her retirement--and open with the good stuff. Mention the tremendous contributions she has made to the company. Then let her know that passing on her expertise is part of the job--and critical to the future of the business. "Her motivation to transfer that knowledge then becomes a sense of ownership in the company's success," says Shelly Funderburg of Right Management, a Philadelphia-based HR consultancy that helps businesses with succession planning.

And remember, goodbye doesn't mean forever. If it works for her--and for you, of course--there are ways to sustain the relationship. You could suggest she stay on as a consultant, join your advisory board, or do some work from home. William C. Byham says that while researching his book 70: The New 50, he found that many older workers prefer a phased retirement that lets them continue to work--just in a lesser capacity.

Also consider that your many-hatted manager may be reluctant to share her expertise because there's just so much of it. She may not know where to start. If that's the case, schedule some chunks of time in which you and her successor can ask questions about how she does what she does (and does so darned well). Ask about the routine stuff, of course, but also about how she has handled crises or finessed sticky situations. After all, being asked for insight is more flattering than being asked for straight facts. And document everything so you can pass it on to her successor's successor as well.

Finally, emphasize that gleaning all the gold from her storehouse of experience can't be done in a single conversation. Undoubtedly you will have to keep badgering her with questions, even after she leaves. "Sorry about that," you can say mock-regretfully. "I hope you don't mind if we keep in touch."

Real Estate

QI am looking to open a satellite office for one to four employees in New York City. Do you have any cost-saving tips?

Ryan Buchanan
CEO
Eroi
Portland, Oregon

New York City real estate isn't exactly synonymous with cost savings. Despite signs that Manhattan's commercial real estate market may be softening, space is scarce, and rent is steep. In September, the average asking price in Midtown was $84.33 per square foot per year for direct rentals and $72.73 per square foot per year for sublets, according to real estate firm CB Richard Ellis. Even the lesser figure translates into more than $2,400 a month for a teensy 400-square-foot office. What's more, locking into a lease is risky, given that you can't gauge how quickly (or slowly) your satellite office will grow.

Luckily, during the past few years, a cottage industry of so-called business suites has sprouted up to serve entrepreneurs in your predicament. These plug-and-play offices come with furniture, high-speed Internet access, telephone lines, conference rooms, kitchens, copiers, fax machines, and shared receptionists--everything but the inspirational posters and novelty mugs. Most offer short-term leases ranging from one to 12 months, so your square footage can ebb and flow along with your employee count. And because office suite operators live to serve you, they often make better landlords than, say, a company looking to sublet an unused office or spacious broom closet.

Of course, you can still spend a pretty penny if you're dressing to impress. Companies moving to New York to get closer to potential clients, for instance, might want to spring for a posh executive suite run by a company such as Regus or Bevmax Office Centers. Depending on location, a private Regus office with four workstations will cost from $4,000 to $9,000 a month, not including long distance phone service. For that amount, you can welcome customers to a tony address (think Park Avenue) and awe them with fine art on the walls and sleek furniture.

If prestige isn't paramount, companies such as Micro Office Solutions and Sunshine Suites offer more affordable digs. Micro Office, which has locations in Manhattan's Flatiron District, Midtown West, and Chelsea, rents furnished cubicles starting at just $495 a month and private offices with enough space for one or two people for $1,200 to $5,000 a month. The rental price includes a shared receptionist and use of a conference room (phone and Internet service cost an extra $110 a month). The space is more Dunder-Mifflin than Donald Trump, but if you're operating on a Scranton budget, it may be just the ticket.

Resources

For tips on creating employee succession plans, read Building Tomorrow's Talent, by Doris Sims and Matthew Gay. Visit nyc.gov/smallbiz to get pointers on opening an office in New York City and links to commercial real estate listings.