At the Speed of Fright (I Mean, Light)

This article was published by CMC Canada.

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.

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!

The Succession Conundrum: Business leaders, the weak link to successors, and the companies who try to finance them (Part 2)

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

If succession planning is a challenge for business leaders, potential successors might describe the process as mysterious.  While a business leader or founder has typically been at the helm of a company for some time (if not a prolonged period of time, in many cases), potential successors are often just trying to find a way to get to the table.  One day, the founder is keen to “step back” from the company, while the next day, “retirement” seems vague and far in the future.  For someone wanting to aspire to a leadership (and ownership) role, this type of situation can be a difficult to deal with on an ongoing basis.

Whether a potential successor is a longstanding “2-IC” (2nd in Command), management team group, or family member, their vantage point might provide relatively little information in terms of how the company actually operates, the business leader’s true expectations around succession, and what it would actually take for a transaction to occur.  Add in the mixed messages that can be so common with the issue of succession and it might be enough to cause a potential successor to scramble for the door, vowing to create an opportunity all their own (and on their own terms).

This reality should be sufficient to get the attention of business leaders who are contemplating succession, if not outright relying on it as a means to monetize their ownership position.  Given that a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (1) found that the top barrier to succession planning is finding a buyer/suitable successor (56%), those seeking to exit their business should recognize that finding (and keeping) a potential successor is not to be taken lightly.  Unfortunately, too many potential successors find just the opposite to be the case.

The Successor Perspective

Something that many potential successors have in common is that they are keen; to implement their ideas, take the company in a new direction, and just “get started”.  Many have a reasonable expectation that succession will occur at some point in time, either by virtue of previous conversations on the topic, or perhaps, in the case of a family business, where succession is “expected”.  Call it an informal succession plan.

As a result, potential successors want to better understand how and when a transaction might occur.

This is particularly true in the case of individuals who have invested a number of years working in a company, learning how it operates and directly contributing to building its wealth.  They reach a certain age or point in their careers when they truly need to know: (i) if a succession opportunity actually exists; (ii) when it would occur; and (iii) what the financial implications would be, particularly in terms of the cost to undertake the transaction.  In the absence of this information, a successor’s next best alternative is to move on to other opportunities, and given the effort they have invested in building the company (often, to the direct benefit of a shareholder group in which they are not included), this is understandable.

The Opportunity

Identifying a qualified and willing successor is only the beginning of the succession process, as there is often still plenty of learning to do in order to fully assume and conduct the leadership role.  But even before this can happen, the parties need to be able to arrive at an agreeable value and the successor has to have the ability to pay, either by way of their own funds or through securing financing (in the absence of either of these options, it often comes down to the departing business leader to agree to be paid over time).  Since the  Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey found that valuing the business (54%) and securing financing for the successor (48%) are the second and third highest reported barriers to succession planning, all involved in the process need to take note.

For potential successors to chart their course, there are a number of things that can be done on a proactive basis to better understand the particulars of the opportunity, as well as getting a plan into place.  Seeking advice from those who have undertaken or financed business transactions can help to bring context to the situation, in terms of its appeal and how to help move the process forward.  Here’s how:

Look in the mirror. The truth is, not everyone is cut out for a leadership role. Leading a company, in terms of both the role and ownership aspects, can be significantly different from the experiences of a potential successor thus far, including the scope of responsibility, level of risk, and degree of commitment.  As an example, in the event of insufficient cash flow, owners typically bear the responsibility to inject additional funds or decrease their own compensation to cover shortfalls.  This type of uncertainty might fall outside of a potential successor’s risk tolerance level.

Potential successors need to take a hard look at all aspects of assuming a leadership role, objectively balancing both the risks and rewards of ownership.  Advisors can help by providing independent feedback or helping successors to undertake a self assessment to better understand the types of roles in which they fit best, before proceeding any further.

Assess the situation objectively. Due to the inherent uncertainty that often clouds the succession process, potential successors need to be able to get to the heart of the situation, to first understand whether or not an opportunity actually exists.  This uncertainty is a relatively common frustration, and the reality is that succession is only going to happen if a business leader is committed to undertaking the process.

Advisors can help potential successors to see the situation for what it is, as well as suggest approaches to further discussions with the business leader or how succession could occur.  In addition, successors might need to take action to put the situation in context, by identifying other possible succession opportunities as a comparison.  Although business leaders might not like this very much, the reality is that there are situations where succession simply will not occur, no matter how much a founder might indicate otherwise.

Communicate.  Given that succession can be a sensitive topic, it’s not uncommon for the parties to have difficulty having meaningful conversations around the issue; this can be particularly true in family businesses.  Since succession represents a complex business transaction with numerous details to be considered and negotiated, it won’t just magically happen.  Given the sensitivities, these conversations tend to get deferred and delayed, making succession seem less likely as each day passes.

Starting the succession dialogue between the parties is critical, to map out an agreeable approach, but to also identify situations where an arrangement might not be possible, allowing both sides to pursue other opportunities.  Advisors can help to start the conversation in a non-confrontation manner, in an attempt to find common ground, where it exists, and cover off areas that need to be addressed.  This approach can also help to fill in knowledge and experience gaps that are common in the case of potential successors.

Financial implications. Discussing money is often tough, not just because of the calculations and various financing structures, but simply because the parties might find it difficult on a personal level.  In the case of family businesses, parents might be sensitive to the financial situation of their children, while the next generation might be concerned about not “offering enough” as compensation for all of the work that has been put in to building the company.  Couple this with a founder’s understandable desire to receive fair compensation to finance the retirement they have been dreaming of and negotiations can stall.

Potential successors often do not have a lot of experience in this area, and financial partners can be helpful in terms of transferring knowledge and suggesting approaches that could meet the needs of all parties.  Regardless, those who are serious about taking on a leadership and ownership role at some point in the future need to ensure that their professional development program includes business financing, sooner rather than later.

Although it’s true that good successors are in short supply, all potential successors need to take a hard look at not only what is required of them, but also whether or not the opportunity at hand is viable.  In times of investment (and that’s what succession is), bringing a professional approach to the table is a must to ensure that the right deal gets done.

Source:

Passing on the Business to the Next Generation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2012

The Succession Conundrum: Business leaders, the weak link to successors, and the companies who try to finance them (Part 1)

Published by the Canadian Venture Capital Association in Private Capital

Business succession planning is tricky; part old, part new, part money, part emotion; it’s no wonder that so many business leaders put it off.  The reality is that an abundance of Canada’s small to medium sized businesses (more than half, according to a survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business) don’t have a succession plan at all.  Since companies in this category are responsible for generating approximately one half of the Canadian economy, there is undoubtedly cause for concern.

Consider some of the key survey findings (1):

  • 51% of business leaders surveyed indicated that they don’t have a business succession plan.  Of the 49% that have a plan, only 9% have a formal, written plan
  • Approximately 48% of business leaders plan to exit their company within the next five years
  • 48% plan to exit their business by selling to buyers unrelated to their family, while approximately 37% plan to sell or transfer the business to family members
  • The top barriers to succession planning include finding a buyer/suitable successor (56%), valuing the business (54%), and securing financing for the successor (48%)

Those who have even a moderate interest in the issue of business succession likely realize that various surveys and sources of information have yielded similar results.  Delving beneath the surface, however, reveals interesting implications for business leaders, their potential successors, and those who seek to finance the transition, some of which should be sufficient to kick-start those seeking an exit anytime soon into action.

The Business Leader Perspective

Since over 85% of business leaders surveyed identified retirement as their reason for exit, it stands to reason that many have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into building their company.  As a result, a transfer of ownership represents the primary opportunity to monetize value that has appreciated over what could be a lengthy period of time.  Although this increase might be significant as compared to that of inception, business leaders are often dissatisfied with the offers they receive, which reinforces the need for thorough, early, and practical succession planning to maximize value wherever possible.

What’s even more compelling is how dependent a business leader’s ability to cash out at what they consider to be an acceptable value actually is upon the ability to identify a potential successor who has the: (i) skills to lead the business; (ii) interest in doing so; and (iii) ability to secure financing.  This is a tall order, since many successor candidates might only meet one or two of these requirements.  Couple this with a lack of experience in terms of developing a business plan to take a company forward in a manner that provides the necessary level of comfort to secure enough financing to close the deal.  In the absence of third party financing, business leaders are left with the gamble of whether or not the company, under new leadership, will be able to generate a sufficient amount of cash over time to pay what could be a significant portion of the proceeds related to the transfer of ownership, a scenario that doesn’t end well far too often.

The Opportunity

Business leaders and those in the financing field both have a vested interest in terms of how Canada’s succession planning future plays out; the former wants to cash out and the latter wants to roll cash back in.  In order to avoid a time-consuming stalemate in a situation where time is of the essence, an opportunity exists to help potential successors become real successors, by providing the tools to take companies forward; the right skills, plan, and leadership ability (and a bit of extra effort to help get the deal past the goal line wouldn’t hurt!).  Here’s how:

Business leader skills. Many potential successors have played a second tier role in their careers, without having had the opportunity to ascend to the CEO level. Since the top job can be quite different from what has been the experience thus far, potential successors need a transfer of knowledge, mentoring, and practice in abundance, prior to formally assuming the CEO role.

Existing business leaders can help by creating professional development plans, delegating areas of responsibility in a meaningful way, and taking the time to provide practical mentorship.  Potential successors often complain that leaders don’t take the time to provide meaningful coaching; sadly, this is too often the case.  Doing so can be the difference between a well prepared leader and one who stumbles out of the gate.

Investor ready business planning. Many potential successors don’t have experience with developing a business plan that is sufficient to secure financing, let alone the process of raising capital.  Business leaders who have lost interest in the company, not stepped up internal planning and control processes, or haven’t had the need to seek financing for long periods of time don’t help the process, resulting in a lack of information and competitive positioning to develop a compelling business plan.

Business leaders can make sound business planning a reality by ensuring that the right systems and information are in place within the company to support successors in putting together a plan that can be financed.  Making the effort to critique existing business models, consider new markets, and understand important industry developments can help to identify opportunities for the company well into the future, all of which bodes well with financial partners, and, in turn, benefits those who are seeking to exit.

Leadership ability. Those who have spent years at the helm of a company understand the importance of leadership skills, particularly in terms of the impact to the business as a whole.  Being a good manager doesn’t ensure that a company will be well led, a reality that is too often overlooked when passing the torch.

Recognizing the value of practical leadership development programs and forums and encouraging involvement can help to groom the business leaders of tomorrow.  Starting well in advance and providing practical opportunities to put learning into practice are not only a powerful combination for success, this approach can also identify situations where an individual is not a good fit for a leadership role.  Business leaders that do not encourage this type of development are effectively “boxing themselves in”, in terms of viable succession options.

Facilitating the exit. Financial partners can work with companies approaching (or well past) the need for succession by bringing options to the table, in terms of acquisitions, mergers, successor candidates, and other types of transactions.  In the case where financial partners identify “to do” items to improve a company or go-forward plan to the point where a succession transaction could be financed, facilitating the introduction to advisors who can help makes all the difference, as the complexities of the succession and financing processes make it difficult for business leaders and potential successors to identify the right advisory resources.

The reality is that business leaders have to “help potential successors to help them”; the same is true for financial partners.  In the absence of this approach, it might be difficult to affect a successful transfer of ownership in many cases.  Seasoned business leaders know that a big part of their role is to create an environment that will make those around them successful; addressing the issue of succession really isn’t any different, in this regard.

Where does this leave potential successors?  This topic will be considered in the next installment of The Succession Conundrum.

Source:

(1)  Passing on the Business to the Next Generation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 2012