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Unlocking the Wealth Trapped Inside Your Business

Did you know only about 20% of all privately held companies offered for sale each year actually sell? And only around 30% of all family businesses in the U.S. successfully transition from their first to second generation. Maybe worse, 75% of all business owners who do sell their companies “profoundly regret” the decision one year after selling.

Throughout my career, I have worked around the world with organizations big and small – ranging from multi-billion-dollar Fortune 500s to government agencies to privately held family businesses and startups. Of all my experiences, I cherish the most those projects that have had the greatest impact on the people I worked with. So, when I learned these statistics on privately held businesses completing a sale, I knew I wanted to help business owners maximize the value of their businesses and ultimately exit on their terms. This is especially true for the countless Baby Boomers who will transition out of their businesses over the next 10 years – a movement that represents roughly 4.5 million businesses and $10 trillion of wealth being transferred!

Many business exits fail because of a lack of knowledge and planning. Two-thirds of business owners are not familiar with their options for exiting. Almost 80% have no written transition plan or advisory team in place to help them. Nearly half of all business owners have not done any planning, and 93% have no formal “life after” plan. Compound that with the fact that 50% of all business exits are involuntary, forced by dramatic external factors such as death, disability, divorce, disagreement, and distress. Owners need to plan for how they will walk away from their businesses, not only in a perfect scenario but also in a worst-case situation. A properly planned and executed exit can handsomely reward the business owner for the time, effort, headaches, and heartaches that come from building a business. It also benefits the many employees who work in the business and all the customers they serve. The following, then, is a proven three-phase approach for unlocking the wealth trapped inside your business

  1. Discovery – When discussing future plans with owners, I like to ask one particular question. “When it comes time for you to step away from the business, what do you want your legacy to be?” This gives us direction, especially for owners nearer to their exits. It becomes the driving factor behind the actions they will take in the months/years ahead and serves as the “lighthouse” to accomplish their true goals.

    Other critical areas to explore include the owner’s readiness to exit. “What are you going to do when you exit the business?” and “Do you have enough money to do what you want to do?” are two more great questions to consider in this process. With the support of their financial planners, owners often realize they do not have enough savings to reach their goals with so much of their wealth tied up in their businesses. For this reason, we clearly need to consider the value of the business and identify specific areas that can be improved to increase business value and enhance the business’ readiness for the exit.

  2. Preparation – With the Discovery complete and a preliminary assessment of personal, financial, and business gaps available, we can now develop and prioritize our near- and long-term plans to have the greatest impact on the business and ultimately the owner’s exit.

    During this next phase, owners need to begin by replacing the personal purpose the business has served with other passions and interests. To get to the root of why owners do what they do, I ask the “Five Whys.” Ask yourself what you want to do and what do you hope to accomplish. Then ask, “Why are you doing this?” Ask again, “Why?” Repeat this process five times, and you will better understand your underlying reasons and true motivations. Some of us are family-centered, money-centered, work-centered, possession-centered, or self-centered. Whatever your inspiration, learning what motivates you and where you find passion helps drive your personal plan and often accelerates the exit process.

    Along with this personal plan, owners need to be financially prepared for their exits. Owners need to have confidence they will be financially secure and that they will achieve their personal objectives without continuing income from the business. This requires experts in estate planning, advanced tax planning, and insurance. This critical work also requires preparing the business by de-risking any areas of concern and generating greater value though targeted enhancement efforts. Shore up any concerns with compliance, regulatory, health, safety, and quality, and establish any necessary governance or communication processes to solidify the business. Ensure that systems and processes are optimized and consider opportunities to expand through enhanced go-to-market and customer engagement strategies. While these efforts may require a lot of work, they will produce a very positive effect on your company’s culture, with employees who feel empowered and inspired to perform.

  3. Decision – The Preparation phase can continue for three years or more, all guided by more practical and tangible 90-day action plans and should deliver dramatically greater value before the exit. When the owner is more educated and the business is more ready, it is time for the owner to decide, “Should I continue to build and grow the business? Or is it time for me to exit?”

    The answer to these questions may be impacted by market conditions as much as personal reasons. When an owner decides to keep the business, we simply move into another phase of Preparation to create greater value. When we’ve already picked the low hanging fruit, this can require significant investment in the business and changes in culture and staff. When an owner decides to sell, we then begin considering various options and the best course of action for the owner and their family. Owners need to weigh the pros and cons of each option to determine the best path forward.

    This topic alone could fill an entire article, so I will conclude here with just a few options for transitioning the business “Inside” or “Outside.” Inside, an owner might transfer the business 1) to the next generation, 2) through a management buyout, 3) by a sale to existing partners, or 4) by a sale to employees through an ESOP. Outside, an owner can 1) sell the business to a Third Party, 2) recapitalize the business, or 3) conduct an orderly liquidation.

It is critical that we help business owners unlock the wealth in their businesses. If for no other reason, we need to ensure our economy is not negatively impacted should these companies fail to continue producing the goods, services, and jobs so many of us rely on. Exit planning, then, is simply good strategy. With the right plan in place, the timing of the exit matters less, and the business owner maintains control over the terms for transferring the business to others, whenever that time may be.

Are you struggling to determine what the sweat equity in your business is worth? Confused about how to create even greater value in the business, or when to position the business for sale? Give me a call at 310.589.4600 or email me directly for some additional thoughts on how best to start your business exit planning. You can also visit the Performance Improvement page of our website for more information on how we regularly enable business leaders to address their greatest business challenges and increase the value of their businesses

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Making Better Data-driven Decisions to Drive Business Performance


At the turn of the century, we couldn’t get enough data. By 2010, we had a multitude of data. Now, we’re swimming in more data than we can possibly use.

Gartner recently noted that organizations use only a fraction of the analytic potential they possess. As organizations further embrace this idea of business intelligence and data analytics though, leaders are realizing that it’s more about the process of fact-based problem solving than it is about the data itself. Data is just the oil that helps business run smoothly. Leaders need to build engines based on powerful critical thinking capabilities, not just big data repositories, to deliver better results.

Traditionally, managers tracked and reported against key performance indicators. While some lessons may have been gleaned from this rearward-looking approach, it left companies largely blind to what laid ahead. So, how do leaders take a more proactive forward-looking approach to where they want to take their businesses? How do leaders better allocate their precious resources? What are their expected outcomes, and how do they know their actions will produce those desired results? These are critical questions to address. Determining what data is required to provide these insights is secondary to defining these problems and opportunities.

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Posted in Performance Improvement, Problem-Solving, Strategic Planning Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Our Human Capital Matters So Much in 2021

In 2020, many business leaders recognized that it wasn’t our unique products or market niches that sustained us. It was our people. It was those leaders and team members who, despite incredible obstacles, stepped up and delivered great value for our companies and the clients/customers we serve. Last July, we wrote about the importance of supporting our employees as they do what they can to support us and our businesses. As we look ahead to 2021 and beyond, how can we further these efforts to support our most important resource – our human capital?

Even the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) – the entity that regulates reporting requirements for all publicly-traded companies – now recognizes the critical importance of an organization’s workforce.  The SEC recently determined that key human capital measures and objectives beyond traditional financial statements must be disclosed in order to more accurately describe the overall health of a company. To this end, all public companies now need to disclose the key human capital measures and objectives that enable them to manage their businesses when they file.

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What Your Employees Really Want Right Now!

The last few months have presented unthinkable challenges for many. Layoffs and furloughs. Work from home, and for many now back to work. A very strong voice to create equity and greater inclusion for our diverse workforce. This is not an easy time to be a leader as organizations try to prioritize and more clearly demonstrate their focus on their employees.

So, what do your employees really want from you right now? For starters, they don’t want to be called “employees”. That’s a transactional term that literally means someone is hired and paid for their work. That’s it! Is that what you want from your team members? Some companies have moved towards calling their employees “associates” for this very reason, suggesting more of a partnership and two-way relationship. That still feels very impersonal and cold to me though, so I would offer calling your team members “team members” is most effective.

For the most part, your team members want to be your partners in influencing how the business runs. They want to be treated fairly in line with the real value they bring to your organization and especially to the clients and customers you serve. Even though some may just be there for a transactional paycheck, everyone benefits from a more holistic and human connection with you beyond just being your employee and you being their employer.

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Posted in Employee Performance, Organizational Performance, Peak Performance, Performance Management Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Safe at Home or Back to Work?

Now that social distancing restrictions are easing in many communities, countless business leaders are celebrating that they can finally bring their team members back to the office and get back to work. This is a complex business decision, though, with pros and cons either way. More than that, this decision can significantly impact your people and your organization’s performance long-term if you don’t plan ahead and prepare properly!

While there may be valid reasons why some people and some companies will return to their offices, and perhaps sooner than others, there are several important implications to consider determining the best path forward. First and foremost, what’s driving this decision? In one case, the CEO of a major corporation said that returning to their corporate offices across the US was critical to the Company’s culture. Really? What was this Company’s culture like before the pandemic if returning to the office is this CEO’s solution to cultivating a positive and productive climate for everyone?

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Posted in company culture, corona virus, virus Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Recalibrating & Managing Performance During a Crisis

Several of our clients are quickly realizing they can’t expect that same level of “Superstar” performance from their employees right now. Parents might be working from home with their younger children who regularly require their attention. Other team members who live in smaller apartments may not have ideal office space, not to mention other roommates who are also working from home in that confined space. And this doesn’t even speak to everyone’s increased anxiety and our understandable distractions from constantly looking for and listening to news reports, community updates, and the like as the Coronavirus crisis continues.

Separate from these individual situations and concerns, most organizations are also now rethinking their strategic goals for the year. They aren’t likely to achieve what they planned for and budgeted at the beginning of the year, so many are recalibrating around a new set of more realistic and practical objectives, or completely different strategic goals altogether.

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Reinvention & Resilience in Times of Crisis

When things are fine, we rarely think about innovation or doing things differently. “We’ve always done it this way,” “it works,” and “business as usual” are the norm during normal times. I don’t define fine as “fine” though. Quite frankly, I define it as “not good enough” but recognize we don’t always have the energy or ability to prioritize doing something about it. That’s why I’m a firm believer that breakdowns often serve as our best access to achieving powerful breakthrough results. It’s these – sometimes devastating – setbacks that have us stop and rethink everything.

During these difficult times, I feel the depression and anxiety of what seems like complete failure about to take over. It’s this 2-minute pity party though that drives me to assess my current situation and muster up the strength and courage to persevere. I need that time to step back and reflect, to regroup and recalibrate around what matters most. It’s only when that 2-minute pity party lasts 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months or more that we’ve allowed it to go too far.

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Some Best Practices for Making Remote Work WORK!

On January 17, 1994, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocked Los Angeles and the surrounding area. The “Northridge quake” killed more than 60, injured over 9,000, and caused widespread damage including crumbling complete sections of many of the region’s freeways. In the weeks and months ahead, more than 100,000 workers throughout the region began working remotely either from home or telecommuting centers that popped up across the Southland since their company offices were no longer accessible.  Twenty-six years later, I once again find myself considering and sharing best practices for remote work.

These are unprecedented times in our world – and clearly on a much grander, global scale than a local earthquake. While most organizations have instituted voluntary remote work scenarios to prioritize health over performance the last several days, our government agencies here in the US and many countries abroad are now mandating increased levels of isolation and even greater reduction of elective activity. That means that nearly all organizations will have to adopt a similar mindset and approach with remote work to deal with the recent Coronavirus outbreak.

So how do you manage employee performance when your employees are all working from home, instead of in the office with you? What can/should you expect from them during this very stressful and trying time? The following are some best practices you might consider to maintain higher levels of performance while your team members are working remotely.

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Posted in Remote Work Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seven Strategies for Success with Family Businesses

I support a lot of family businesses and regularly hear from my clients how they pride themselves on creating positive work environments for their employees where they treat everyone like family. That’s quite admirable, and I’m sure those employees very much appreciate it. The question though is what to do with all the employees who actually are family!

Family businesses by their very nature are complex organizations. It’s not just about managing and operating a sustainable business with a family business. It’s about the leadership and governance practices required to keep any family drama and unproductive relationships away from work. In multi-generation family businesses, we’re talking 20, 40, 60 and even 100 or more years of history running the company. On the personal side, that’s generations of family members living together and growing up together who need to work together to operate that same business. That can create a lot of added stress and anxiety – something that many family business leaders are poorly equipped to handle – on an otherwise viable business. Read more ›

Posted in Baby Boomers, Family, Family Business, Family Counseling, family relationships, Legacy, Succession Planning, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Building High-Performing Teams to Deliver Superior Business Results

In today’s Information Age and increasingly complex work environment, very few people work alone. Nearly all of us work in teams of some form and rely on others to deliver our intended results. How many of us have the pleasure and privilege of working with World Champion teams though? Unfortunately, more of us than not are probably members of teams that more closely resemble the Bad News Bears with team members who just don’t seem to click or maybe can’t succeed in any position on the field.

So how do we turn our everyday teams into World Champion teams? High-performing teams must have a shared focus and commitment to achieving superior results. Simply wanting it doesn’t make it happen though. It takes much more than a team’s collective desire to be high-performing. If you want to deliver superior business results, the following are three key principles for building high-performing teams. Read more ›

Posted in Accountability, Achievement, Team Performance, Teamwork, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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