“Retirement timing is always a tricky thing. I think it’s different for everyone. How you say goodbye to the thing you have really focussed on that much is a tough one. I’ve always intended to leave in good shape, to exit on a high note”. – Damian Woetzel
Business owners will inevitably move on from their business, yet the data shows that succession planning is typically last on their list of priorities. Business leaders are usually focused on building the business, and don’t like to think about the day they will leave it behind. But the reality is that planning for the sale or succession of your business is one of the most important decisions you can consider, and that proper succession planning will deliver the optimum results for you, your employees and the new owner.
To understand basis for succession planning, take yourself forward in time and imagine what you want to put on the table for potential buyers. You want to show them:
- A successful business with a steady sales growth over the last 3 years
- A stable management team which has demonstrated their management skills over many years
- A stable cash flow over the last 3 years, and a strong financial position
- A predictable future income for the business, ideally supported by long term contracts
- No legal disputes
- A stable and engaged work force
- A very presentable premises with well-maintained assets
- A managed business that does not rely on the current owner for its success.
When a business can tick all these boxes, a succession plan can be implemented quickly, but unfortunately this is not often the case. This timing can make an enormous difference in what you take away from the closing table.
Succession planning should ideally start more than five years ahead of the business sale, with more detailed planning over the three years before the planned exit. If your circumstances allow you proper time to plan, you will be able to turn your attention to critical issues that need to be addressed before the sale. Depending on the business these types of issues might be:
- The owner is heavily involved in operations. When they leave, production, sales or other areas will struggle.
- The product portfolio is at the end of its life cycle or under threat of cheaper Asian imports.
- Other key members of the management team will also leave once the owner leaves, and the business depends heavily on single individuals because of their knowledge or skills.
- The company has no sales plan and a very unstable sales history
Within a reasonable timeframe, most issues are fixable – although one of our Gibsons Consultants fondly remembers a client who stated “I am 73 years old and want to get out of the business by the end of the year”. Succession planning in this environment is obviously challenging and reduces the options on the table. In succession planning, timing is everything!