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Jun 4, 201912:45 PMExit Stage Right

with Martha Sullivan

The terrifying taboo you should stare down and conquer

(page 1 of 2)

You, as a business professional and/or business owner, undoubtedly have business advisors who you work and talk with about a wide variety of topics — taxes, contracts, investment allocations, wealth planning, and so on. These conversations are informative and helpful in guiding your decision-making and other actions. Sometimes, the discussion dives deeply into various areas of your life and family. Your advisors are your go-to resources and support systems.

For all the topics you and your advisor discuss, how many of them cut right to the chase relative to your emotions surrounding the matrix that makes up our lives — that overlap of our family, business, business ownership, and, most importantly, you? When do you talk about how to best take care of yourself as a person, with emotions, aspirations, and needs? Regardless of your or your advisors’ gender, chances are that conversations do not stray into these personal and emotional territories very often. When they do stray, one or the other person often yanks on the leash to bring the stray back to the path. It’s as if we all, advisors, owners, and professionals alike, have this code that we follow about what we do and do not talk about in polite, professional company — sex, politics, religion, and all things emotional.

From my perspective, this attitude needs to change and change quickly. Let’s face it — business ownership is a very lonely road to walk. As owners, we carry a weighty load in terms of pressure, sensitive knowledge, and challenging dynamics that may or may not have an outlet for discussion. We have worries that we keep to ourselves. We are the leader. Showing cracks in the armor is dangerous territory. Talk about emotions or about what’s really going through our minds? Are you kidding?

A few weeks back, I was at a presentation at the Wisconsin Chapter of the Exit Planning Institute, where a panel of private equity fund managers was discussing what advisors should prioritize as topics or ways to help their business-owning clients. What is the “one thing we as advisors can do to prepare companies for an exit?” The normal response to this question surrounds managing the value expectation, largely because owners usually have overly optimistic ideas as to how the market values the business. However, that wasn’t the response.

On this day, the panel — comprised of four different private-equity guys — was unanimous:

  • “Help business owners prepare for their life after owning the business.”
  • “It’s emotional and life-changing for them.”
  • “They aren’t prepared for this, what to do or who to be — who they ‘are.’”
  • “Fear creeps in and many often sabotage their own transaction because of it.”

Amen! Hallelujah! I was both stunned and happy to hear this response from the panel. We aren’t talking about this transformative change in our lives in meaningful or constructive ways. We live in denial — kind of like in the old days where if we didn’t talk about sex, maybe nobody would get pregnant.

The reality is that human lives are being impacted here. It’s not merely a transaction, which is often what gets all the attention. Advisors need to broaden their view and care for their whole client — the person, their family, and their future. To effectively advise a business owner in transitioning their company to its next owner, we must talk and explore the personal and emotional aspects impacting the owner and his or her family.


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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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