Why Do Family Business Owners Often Die at their Desk?
I was speaking to a friend who owns a successful manufacturing business and asked him when he plans to sell his business”. His response echoed something that I’m hearing more and more from business owners in my audience. “I can’t afford to sell – if I sell and take the proceeds and invest in this market, I couldn’t replace half my current salary”.
Of course the danger with this logic is that if unforeseen risk visits the business and it fails, my friend will neither have his salary nor the equity that he’s accumulated in the business over the past 20 years.
Misaligned financial interests of family members
But here’s the real problem. My friend, like so many, has other shareholders, namely other family shareholders who aren’t working in the business who want the sale proceeds now! His family dinners can best be described as a food fight waiting to happen. What to do?
What we do know is that doing nothing is a plan. Do nothing long enough and we know that a business owner will die at his desk. But where does the stock in the company go? Will it go to his or hers estate, to minority shareholders?
What usually unfolds is chaos especially when family is often left out of the planning loop. Financial advisors are doing a much better job these days of getting business owners to play the “what if” game. In fact there is a brand new breed of advisor brandishing a tough to acquire professional designation known as the Certified Business Exit Consultant — CBEC. I delivered a keynote to a recent convention of CBECs in Boston and they’re a rather impressive group of professionals committed to exit planning excellence.
The best advisors never stop reminding clients about the risks of business ownership
Asset allocation has forever been the first principal of sound investing. As investors near retirement, advisors constantly rebalance portfolios away from equity to income. The business owner who allows their high salary to cloud their thinking about the dangers to their equity in their business don’t need to travel Las Vegas to gamble – they’re already there!! Extraordinary advisors will keep this risk in focus for their business owner clients and work on divestiture strategies and timelines that meet the financial needs of both business owners today, their retirement tomorrow and the needs of surviving family.
Savvy advisors remind business owners that the sale process seldom unfolds quickly and even after the sale of a business, the new owners may either insist or welcome the seller to continue working and drawing a salary. It took our family 5 years to find the right buyer for our business and another 4 years to receive the full sale proceeds – that’s almost a decade from start to finish. Business owners in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s often completely underestimate just how long and emotionally draining it is to exit their business.
A high salary can obscure your exit
You can and likely will draw a salary for many more years while actively pursuing your exit strategy. So get cracking by understanding that your high salary may be clouding your exit planning judgment and carrying with it extra risk. Risk is like stress: when you think you don’t have any, you almost always have too much. And too much a good thing is almost always fatal.
What will you do today to put your exit plan in motion?