At the Speed of Fright (I Mean, Light)

The pace at which our world is evolving is one of those things that has become so common, we don’t always take the time to think about its impact.  Phones that are used to watch broadcast media, cars that don’t need gas or a driver to operate, personal “assistants” that can place orders on command, rockets that can essentially land themselves, mapping applications that make logistics a snap; these are phenomenal developments.  While these technologies and many others have made our lives easier, they have also presented significant challenges to the business community.  Consider the following:

  • Business model blow up.  The manner in which companies make money has changed dramatically in many cases, which cuts to the very heart of business; this is easily illustrated by the retail industry.  While stores used to be the primary shopping option, consumers now have access to a range of methods, including online, rapid delivery, subscription models, and mass media e-tailers.  Consumers have, in fact, come to demand these options, leaving companies to struggle to meet the pace of change, with many finding themselves in a too little, too late situation, unable to survive.  This disruption scenario is true in almost any industry.
  • Strategy break down.  In order to migrate a company through significant change, a key requirement is having a strategy that is proactive, comprehensive, and relevant.  These attributes are driven by having a thorough and timely understanding of the changes that are occurring in the external environment, including industry trends, technologies, and marketplace developments.  Too often, business leaders focus primarily on what’s occurring inside of their company, with a “they need us” mentality when it comes to customers.  This mindset is one that greatly jeopardizes the future of a company.
  • Resource reckoning.  New business models utilize resources differently; examples include the need for fewer people, different skillsets, roles that are held by technology, and utilizing strategic partnerships.  Each of these bring changes in workflow design, systems, processes, and costs (remember that costs directly impact pricing!).  Companies that do not proactively pursue the need to change how they work tend to get left behind at the worst of times, when more savvy competitors have implemented these methods, making it impossible for others to catch up and compete; which leads to this last point.
  • Financial shortfall.  Integral to a successful business is the ability to generate at least good financial performance (strong results are, of course, better), thereby creating the fuel to invest, grow, and sustain over the long term. When a company does not have the right business model, it isn’t in a position to build the appropriate strategies to utilize resources well and be competitive over the long term, which leads to poor financial results; it’s all connected.  Companies in this situation lack market relevance and are, too often, left without a future.  Think about what this means to a business leader who is depending on the transition of their company to someone else, as the basis to fund their retirement.

The reality is that many of the advancements that we live with today represent technologies that much of society could not have imagined even five years ago.  What will the next five years bring?  The next 10 years?  As technological advancement continues to accelerate, even the next two to three years will be highly significant.  Is your company ready to face this challenge?

Remember that challenge also brings opportunity, but only for those who are well positioned to approach it.  Learn more about the profound impact of disruption in the external environment, as well as how to take control and benefit from it by reading Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb.  The future of any company is based on its ability to continue to be relevant to the marketplace over the long term.  In today’s world, this is anything but a given.

MEDIA: Appearance on SET for Success (680 CJOB Radio)

Pleased to have appeared on SET for Success on 680 CJOB with Richard Lannon discussing my new book, Defusing the Family Business Time BombSince many business leaders expect that their company will be sold at some point in time, often to fund their retirement, it is critical to understand the many challenges that could stand in the way of this goal, some of which might be surprising.  Business leaders tend to not fully appreciate potential problem areas, failing to realize just how high the likelihood is that their company will be impacted, putting their future plans at significant risk in the process.  Some hold the view that they “have it all figured out” or “don’t need to address those issues”, bringing a false sense of security and trouble at the worst possible time.  These scenarios are, unfortunately, all too familiar in the case of family business.

While it is typical for many family businesses to experience the “aches and pains” that are associated with members of a company having longstanding, personal relationships with one another (think conflict, role uncertainty, and the strife that comes with life developments such as divorce, illness, and death), there are other challenges that are just as important.  The world in which we live includes a number of external factors that make these days like no other, including:

  • Demographic factors: aging Baby Boomer business owners have a limited number of potential successors.  Do they know it?
  • Disruption of key industries: new and complex business models and rapid digital/technological advancement could reduce expected valuations and make transition to new owners either irrelevant or much more costly.  Is the company of relevance to customers, now and in the future?
  • Dramatic change in the global economy: making strategic planning difficult, increasing competition, and escalating the cost of doing business, thereby shrinking profit margins.  Can the company compete on a profitable basis?
  • Uncertain tax rules: new and complex tax changes, restrictions to family income sprinkling, and a clawback of the small business deduction all impact profitability, investment opportunities, and access to capital. This challenge could be especially difficult for young entrepreneurs or successors who want to scale up the business for the future.  Is the company getting the right advice?

Take a moment and think about each of these significant developments.  Any of these areas is a lot to deal with on its own, but when combined, these factors have the potential to stop a company in its tracks, making succession or sale of the business unattainable.  Consider what the impact of this discovery could mean to a business leader, their retirement, the future of the company, and the family.

This book helps business leaders to understand the areas that need to be addressed, now, including practical guidelines for facilitating important conversations with key advisors.  Doing so not only helps to improve how a company operates today, but can also address the issues of tomorrow, including succession, sale of business, strategic partnerships, and seeking investment capital.  These areas are also of key relevance to entrepreneurs and potential successors, who face unique challenges of their own.

You can listen to our conversation hereContact us to learn more about how we can help; your company, family, and peace of mind will be better for it.

Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb: 4 Important Threats to Understand, Now!

This article was published by CMC-Canada in the Winter, 2019 edition of Consult


The Top 4 Threats to your Family Business in 2019
Many of us are familiar with family business leaders in our community; perhaps, you were raised in this environment or are managing a company yourself.  Family businesses represent a considerable segment of the Canadian economy and have the potential to be unstoppable; where everyone works together to move forward with common purpose.  Family businesses, however, can also be plagued with the conflict and strife that tend to be associated with relationships that are close, personal, and longstanding; this reflects the other side of the coin.  By their very nature, family businesses can be tricky.

There is something more, however, that business leaders need to be concerned about; something that could impact the future of both their company and their family’s wealth, and it is simply this: Family businesses are facing the most explosive challenge in a generation.  The reason?  Seldom have so many potential threats been evident in our external environment, many of which make headlines on a daily basis.  Consider the following:

  • Demographic factors.  Experienced advisors know that the majority of aging business owners do not have a succession plan and research has supported this finding over the years.  They also do not fully appreciate the reality that there are a limited number of potential successors, in terms of those who have the necessary skills, interest, and capital to take over a company.  This fact alone has the potential to halt business transition in its tracks.
  • Disruption of key industries.  The manner in which we live has, and continues, to change.  Consumers and companies procure goods and services differently than in the past, resulting in the need for new and complex business models, many of which are supported by rapid digital and technological advancement.  Companies that do not keep up with marketplace expectations not only face declining demand, but also the risk of obsolescence, in terms of transition to someone else.  This can be a sobering and disappointing reality for many business leaders.
  • Significant change in the global economy.  The daily headlines in our world are often characterized by widespread change, including in areas such as trade, tariffs, political alliances, and business requirements.  This ongoing evolution brings uncertainty, with the potential to significantly impact a company’s planning efforts, financial results, and valuation upon transition.
  • Uncertain financial times.  Recent tax changes in a number of areas have generated many questions from family business leaders, impacting areas such as income distribution and investment opportunities.  When coupled with increasing interest rates, accessing the capital that is so integral to business growth and transition strategies could become increasingly difficult, a challenge that especially impacts young entrepreneurs and potential successors.

Any one of these developments can have a significant impact, but when combined, it could create a situation that is impossible for an unprepared company to overcome.  When these areas are considered in the context of typical family business problems, the stage is set for unprecedented challenge; one that impacts families, companies, and Canada’s business community as a whole.

The reality, however, is that many business leaders are unaware of the degree to which these factors have developed, often as a result of not spending a sufficient amount of time to fully understand the external environment, including industry and market trends and developments.  Since this is clearly a critical time for business leaders and their families, Evelyn Jacks and I decided to write our latest book, Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb.  This isn’t just another “family business book”; rather, it brings a common-sense approach to addressing the many challenges that are associated with building a company that has the potential to be sold to someone else in the future, all during highly uncertain times.

Here’s a final thought: As business leaders in great numbers face retirement, it is only the well managed and strategically positioned companies that will have relevance in the future, enabling them to be transitioned to someone else for a “good to great” level of value.  This stark reality is something that must be recognized by both founders and successors alike.

Escaping the Demographic Trap

Many family business leaders have the expectation that their company will eventually be passed to the next generation and maybe even to the one after that.  Perhaps this is why they established the company in the first place: to provide for the family’s financial needs over the long term, building wealth and security in the process.  Having possession and control of this type of “economic engine” brings with it the power of options and the benefits that are associated with not having to rely on others to earn an income.  Achieving longevity isn’t so easy, however, as research indicates that successful passage of a company to future generations is not typical.

The current environment in which we live is characterized by a number of important realities that impact long term business survival: many companies are led by aging business leaders, most do not have a formal succession plan, and the next generation is getting restless.  Couple this with a backdrop of significant disruption, in terms of technological, economic, political, and social factors and it’s easy to recognize that these days are like no other.

Let’s briefly consider what the current demographic environment means, in the context of family businesses:

  • Business leaders are remaining engaged with their companies for a longer period of time, as traditional retirement has become less of a rite of passage and people are more inclined to lead an active life that includes work.  The other side of this trend includes realities such as needing to work longer to support lifestyle expenditures and indecision around how a company should be transitioned (and family squabbling doesn’t help).
  • Potential successors are seeing little advancement in terms of succession, resulting in the decision to consider other options, beyond that of the family business.  As successors themselves get older, this is understandable, however, it can blindside a founder, leaving them to wonder how their “succession plan” could have gotten away.  This could have serious implications for the future of a company, leaving the business leader to revisit the issue of succession entirely or little in the way of viable transition options.
  • The number of potential successors is limited, in that the next leader is only a realistic option if they have the necessary skills, interest, and capital to undertake a transaction.  This group is further reduced by family members who have moved on to pursue other opportunities, in a demographic group that is already smaller than the generations ahead of it.

When it comes to demographics, you can run, but you can’t hide.  At some point in time, all companies will require new leadership if they are to continue to operate, and the extent to which this can be done successfully is largely dependent on one thing: thoughtful and formal transition planning.  As simple as it might sound, research has shown that the vast majority of business leaders do not do this.

Learn more about the implications of demographics and how you can avoid the “trap” by reading Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb.   Use promo code familybusiness to save on the price of multiple copies, and pay no taxes and shipping costs on all purchases of our book, through January 27, 2019!  The future of your company and family’s income stream will thank you for it.

BOOK RELEASE: Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb

I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new book, Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb!  This isn’t just another family business book.  Why?  Because family businesses are facing the most explosive challenge in a generation.

The reason?  While it is quite normal for a typical family business to be inundated with challenge and change, seldom have so many potential threats been evident:

  • Demographic factors.  The majority of aging Baby Boomer business owners do not have a succession plan and don’t appreciate the reality that there are a limited number of potential successors.
  • Disruption of key industries.  New, complex business models and rapid digital/technological advancement have the potential to reduce valuations and make transition to new ownership either irrelevant or much more costly.
  • Dramatic change in the global economy.  Makes strategic planning difficult, increases competition, and could escalate the cost of doing business, thereby shrinking profit margins.
  • Uncertain financial times.  Complex tax changes, restrictions to family income sprinkling, and a new clawback of the small business deduction all impact profitability, investment opportunities, and access to capital. This challenge could be especially difficult for young entrepreneurs or successors.
  • Typical family business problems.  The conflict, apathy, sudden or emerging illness, or control issues can affect relationships, decision-making and, ultimately, the health of both entities: the family and the company.

Business leaders are under siege, but do they know it?  These issues are significant and very much present in the current business environment, with additional evolution and challenges occurring with each day that passes.

Whether you are a long-time business owner getting ready to transition out or a new entrant to the “gig economy”, poised to grow and expand, you will appreciate this book for its contemporary and practical advice. It brings a common-sense approach to the challenges associated with building a company that has the potential to be sold to someone else in the future. This from two experienced authors and business leaders who have helped the owners, executives, investors, and professional advisors with whom they work to prepare for the most explosive challenge in a generation: the retirement of the Baby Boomers and transition of their companies to a new guard, who face pitfalls and opportunities of their own.

Join me and Evelyn Jacks on this important journey for your business and your family.  Order your copy here!

EVENTS: Coming to a City Near You!

Just about to hit the road on my speaking tour, as part of the Knowledge Bureau CE Summits! This series focuses on year end planning for investors and small businesses, designed for advisors who work with these important clients. I’m looking forward to speaking about challenges that family businesses face in two sessions: The Family Business Time Bomb: Transition, Improve, or Wind up? and a case study discussion, Embracing Disruption and Risk in Succession Planning (yes, you can!).

While it’s typical for a family business to be inundated with challenges and change, seldom have so many potential threats been evident: demographic factors, disruption of key industries, dramatic change in the global economy, and uncertain financial times.  It’s no longer sufficient for leaders to focus their efforts primarily on addressing typical “family business” problems.  Doing so puts the very future of the company and the family’s finances at risk and makes successful transition less likely.

Business owners need to take action now, in order to defuse the ticking time bomb that puts the family’s opportunity for future wealth creation at risk.  Advisors can play a key role in this regard, but only if they bring the value and expertise that business leaders are seeking. Key areas of assistance include the ability to:

  • Work with clients to build value;
  • Develop goals and implement strategies, in terms of business modeling, track record, competitive advantage, and other growth related factors; and
  • Initiate transition planning in a manner that addresses the “time bomb” factors that business owners are facing.

In order to get there, professional service providers need to understand the advisory skillset that business leaders are seeking.  Doing so provides the foundation for differentiation in the marketplace, as well as building a robust advisory firm over the long term.  It’s up to you to ensure that your firm doesn’t get left behind.

Join us for this valuable session by registering here.  See you on the road!

EVENTS: Speaking at the Business Builder Retreat

Pleased to announce that I will be speaking at the Business Builder Retreat in Quebec City this November, with tips to rethink your strategic plan, given the unique challenges and opportunities associated with the “new economy”.  Business leaders are facing the most robust macro-level dynamics in a generation, in terms of technological advancement, industry disruption, economic change, and financial uncertainty: are you ready?

The Business Builder Retreat is designed for growth oriented business leaders.  Experience a unique educational event designed especially for business owners on an exponential growth path. Explore topics critical to your leadership development, with a network of business owners from across Canada who understand the challenges you meet daily, competing in a world awash with unprecedented change. The focus is equally on healthy living priorities and the strategic business decisions required to prepare your company, and the stakeholders around it, for opportunities in today’s new economy. Take 24 important hours to refresh and refocus and get more of the personal and business results that you seek.

Details and registration are here.  See you at the Retreat!

MEDIA: Appearance on SET for Success (680 CJOB Radio)

Pleased to have appeared on SET for Success on 680 CJOB with Richard Lannon to discuss some important areas that business leaders need to address to successfully grow and develop their companies.  Being a market leader is a goal for many, but in order to realize a company’s full potential, it’s critical to identify what that means for your business and then develop and successfully implement the plan.  This process is one that is fraught with challenges, but having the right assistance could made success much more likely, to the benefit of your company.

As a business advisor, my approach is to bring a holistic perspective, recognizing that all functional areas within a company are related and impact one another.  For a company to grow on a sustainable basis, all functional areas must be operating well, to provide the foundation for building capacity and sound operations.  Those who do this well are in a position to become market leaders, representing the choice of investors, strategic partners, high calibre employees, and customers.  Those who take a piecemeal approach tend to end up frustrated, wondering why their results are not better.

When companies are growing (or planning to do so), they must also recognize that capital is an important component; this is something that business leaders tend to discover too late.  As a former venture capitalist still active in the industry, the vast majority of business plans that I see are not investor ready; this is the case at least 95% of the time.  Investor readiness involves understanding the expectations of financial partners and investors, which differ significantly from where business leaders tend to focus their efforts.

Advisors could be helpful in a range of areas, including assisting companies with investor readiness and developing strategies for growth and implementation.  As important as planning is, the most significant failures could occur during the implementation process, which is another lesson that business leaders tend to learn too late.  If the objective is to generate sustainable growth and build value in a company so it could be transitioned to someone else in the future, market leaders would not attempt to do so without sound advice.

You can listen to our conversation hereContact us to learn more about taking the next steps in growth for your company.

Lifting Off to a Whole New Level of Teamwork

In honour of today’s historic Falcon Heavy launch, here’s a new spin on lessons learned from Canada’s Astronaut.  I was fortunate to meet him not that long ago and his perspective was inspiring and highly relevant to the business world.


I recently attended the Canadian Venture Capital Association’s annual conference, of which I have been a longstanding member.  Although there was a lot of great information to utilize and reflect upon, I found the comments of Colonel Chris Hadfield, “Canada’s Astronaut”, to be particularly insightful.

Although paraphrased and representing just a portion of his powerfully illustrated keynote address, here are some concepts that especially resonated with me:

  • How are you going to finish and what are you going to do next?  When considering any achievement, it’s important to think about the task at hand, recognize where you need to “get to”, and what it will take to finish strong.  The power of the words “finish” and “strong” is not lost on those who excel, but is often not well achieved (or fully understood) by others.
  • What does success look like and are you prepared to achieve it?  Visualizing successful outcomes and practicing the skills that are required in order to get there can greatly reduce the risk of failure.  Be clear on what it will take to cross the finish line, visualize it, and practice every step.
  • What does failure look like and how can it be avoided?  Visualizing failure requires a thorough understanding of it and getting to this point often isn’t easy.  Ask yourself if you have enough knowledge in order to resolve it, should failure loom.  Having said that, “the beauty of failure is that it is deep in learning”; such a powerful concept.
  • Teams need special attention. Words and communication alone are not enough.  Having a shared vision of what success looks like, watching for changes in actual behavior (not just talk!), and celebrating success often can help to bring a team together to achieve great things.

These areas are fundamental for individuals who strive for success and are essential, in the case of teams.  How true this is when considering the pioneers of space, who often only have each other to rely upon, including identifying and resolving problems.  Although astronauts train extensively to address challenges, it doesn’t mean that trouble arrives with advance notice.

Considering life and death, mission critical situations should make everyday teamwork seem much more attainable; but why is it often so difficult?  Perhaps the answer is found by reflecting on one final thought: Impossible things happen; do something unprecedented.

I’m ready to board, are you?

Getting to Better Budgeting: 5 ways to up your budgeting game

Published by the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association in GreenMaster (Fall, 2017).

The very thought of budgeting can conjure up feelings of an abundance of effort for little in the way of outcomes.  Ask people how successful they are when it comes to meeting (or beating) their budget and many will say “not even close”.  Suggest that a budget should be prepared before getting started with a new fiscal year or venture and the response might be “we can’t predict the future, so why bother?”.  And when all else fails, there’s always the familiar excuse of “nobody looks at those things anyway”.  These viewpoints are more common than one would expect, but actually, they are far from accurate.  Why is this the case?

The simple reason is that budgeting is a learned skill, and practice makes it better.  When considered in this context, here is what the comments above actually mean:

What They Said Translation
“Not even close”

The budget wasn’t reasonable.

We didn’t pay enough attention to the budget once it was developed.

“We can’t predict the future, so why bother?” We don’t know enough about our organization to prepare a meaningful budget.
“Nobody looks at those things anyway” We don’t understand budgets.

Experienced advisors know these misconceptions all too well, and the only way to overcome the challenges of budgeting and improve outcomes is to take action.  This means implementing a sound budgeting process, upon which an organization can build over time.  Here’s how:

  • Assign the right resources: Those who are responsible for conducting the actual budget work should have relevant experience, including a professional accounting designation.  Since budgeting is a specialized area, in the event that an organization’s staff members have not previously conducted budget work, the necessary training and education should be provided in advance.  Advisors can also be helpful in this regard.
  • Have a game plan: Developing a budget doesn’t just happen, and it’s important to have an action plan that identifies all critical activities, timing, and responsibilities.  The budget should have a standard format, including an Income Statement, Balance Sheet, Cashflow Statement, as well as supporting schedules and assumptions that provide the rationale for how amounts were developed.
  • Engage the senior team in the process: A budget shouldn’t be developed in isolation, such as by an organization’s leader or the “Accounting Department”.  This approach can result in those on the senior team taking the view that the budget “doesn’t belong to us”.  In order to avoid this scenario, all members of the senior team should be involved, by way of developing the budget assumptions that pertain to their area, as well as review of drafts and finalization.  This approach gets everyone on-side, making the budget that of the organization and its team.
  • Draft, review, and revise: Budgets don’t typically come together on the first try, so it’s important to prepare a draft version, review and critique it as a team, and revise where required.  This process might take a few drafts, but it is rich in learning for everyone involved.
  • Implement and monitor over time: A budget only means something if it is formally implemented and monitored over the full period to which it pertains.  Common mistakes include developing a budget and either not formally implementing it (so people think it doesn’t matter) or failing to compare actual performance to budget on an ongoing basis.  Either scenario leads to poor outcomes.

The good news is that the work is in getting started and these efforts can be leveraged over time, through re-use and enhancement of what has already been put into place.  Starting now creates the opportunity to get on the path to making the process easier sooner.  What’s more, the good performance that can be generated will add some distance to your game.