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Feb 15, 201809:12 AMExit Stage Right

with Martha Sullivan

Don't find yourself saying 'I wish I had known …'

(page 1 of 2)

“I wish I had known …” is a phrase I hear quite often.

For example, as a part of my board role with the South Central Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, I recently went to its national Leadership Summit in New Orleans. Time and time again, people shared stories of how they “wished they had known” about the care and support, information, and resources available to them through the Association when they were faced with the disease. It would’ve helped them to understand the warning signs, how to advocate for a proper diagnosis, or learn how to best communicate with and support a person living with Alzheimer’s. Awareness of the Association would have helped them find resources for respite or support for the caregiver. Answers to the multitude of questions that wash over a person entangled in the insidious disease could have been quickly delivered through the 24/7 helpline (1-800-272-3800).

Many business owners also tell me “I wish I had known” after they have been through the wringer of selling their business. Perhaps they walked that journey by themselves, trying to do it all on their own. Maybe they had asked for advice and support but the advisor wasn’t experienced or knowledgeable about the complexities of the transition. Lastly, maybe they were trying to sell the business before it was “ready” to be sold. That is, there was work to be done to make the business attractive to a buyer, but the company was taken to market prematurely on a misdiagnosis of readiness.

Then there’s the whole issue of keeping it all a secret. In the world of Alzheimer’s, struggles with the disease are often hidden — born out of fear, the stigma of mental illness, and the loss of control over one’s life. Fear similarly drives secrecy in business. What if the employees find out? Competitors? Customers? What if I make the wrong move?

These fears are extremely valid and understandable. Care needs to be taken before opening your mouth and blurting out “I’m selling the business” or “I can’t remember squat.” The consequences could be serious. However, not talking to anyone could have equally if not more serious consequences.

There is a happy balance to be had:

  • Don’t go solo and try to shoulder it all on your own. It will cost you more than you saved, mentally, emotionally, and potentially financially.
  • Research resources. Ask around. Ask again.
  • Remember that you are not the first person to step into this ring. Others have boxed their way through this match. Find them.
  • Talk to that trusted friend, colleague, and/or specialist. Talk about what’s going on. Demonstrate courage and ask them to help you, even if it’s just a little.
  • When the time is right, share your experience with others. It’s an easy way to pay it forward.

These seemingly obvious steps are admittedly hard at times. Having experienced the impact of Alzheimer’s personally, I witnessed it in family and myself. Working with business owners in transition, we see the fatigue in their faces and relief when we check in on how they are doing.


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About This Blog

Spending half her career as an advisor to privately-held and family businesses and the other half in CFO/COO roles, Martha Sullivan is a partner and the succession planning practice leader in the business transition strategies group at Honkamp, Krueger & Co., P.C. She and her team have extensive experience assisting business owners achieve their personal, business, and transition goals. “Don’t think of the 'exit' from your business like it’s a four-letter word. Make it your next adventure!”



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