He chose two people he wanted to sell to who were already working in the company. They were young, they were paid well, and they were happy with what they were doing. “Look,” he told them, “I’m going to be out of here in 10 years. You’re going to own the company if you want it. Here’s what you need to do.”
It was the best of business successions; it was the worst of business successions. There is a right way to sell the business to your own managers or your own family members, and then there is a wrong way. Since you cannot live long enough to make all of life’s mistakes, then it is wise to learn from the mistakes of others.
In this spirit, consider a recent article in The New York Times titled “The Wrong Way to Sell a Business.”
Essentially, there are two types of owners when it comes to the sale or succession of their business. First, there is the one who knows they will sell the business, but procrastinates all the way up to the bitter end. This is not the owner/manager to emulate, and the article showcases a proof-positive example.
While you might think your managers are ready and willing to buy your business, they may have other ideas. Regardless, they likely will need time to acquire the capital and then structure their affairs accordingly. If nothing else, managers are not owners until they start thinking of themselves as such, and a bit of lead time can instill such a feeling.
But what about the other type of owner? Again, the article provides an example of an owner/manager who has a very decided life-goal in place and can therefore work to instill life-goals in his managers. Accordingly, if you plan for yourself, and allow your managers to plan for themselves, then you can train managers who can transition into becoming owners.
When the succession planning is successful, the transition is almost nothing more than economics. True, sometimes these transitions just do not work out, but it is rarely out of an abundance of planning or understanding. Instead, more than a few deals fall apart simply because they are all too sudden and unplanned.