In a recent article, “Six Reasons the Tidal Wave of Business Transitions Has NOT Happened,” Wayne Rivers of The Family Business Institute in Raleigh NC suggests why the huge predicted transfer of closely held business ownership and management has not occurred. He writes of delayed retirement, lack of specific vision for retirement, and inability to sell the businesses as key factors. The result is that the outcomes anticipated have been put on hold–but it’s still a question of when and not if.
We concur with Mr. Rivers’ assessment that most businesses are not ready for sale. Some do not generate enough top line revenues; others do not create enough earnings/profits. As we have mentioned in prior posts, a critical part of any business–be it a family-owned one or professional services firm, or any of a myriad of other combinations–is the executive acumen of the team leading the business. If too many decisions are made by to few people, the business is flat out worth less money. Since the person/people selling are planning an exit, what executive prowess exists prior to the sale either will not persist in the near term or soon thereafter. Any buyer studying this phenomenon would have to be wary of buying a controlling position or entire company under these conditions. The buyers, in most cases, do NOT want to manage the company; they want a qualified team in place who can manage it well on their behalf.
When privately held business owners recognize this major hurdle, they can begin to devise a way to leap over it. Often, the advice of a consultant or coach can help in multiple ways. First, by preparing the management team to grow in their authority and decision-making. (The team must, of course, be committed to stay as well.) Secondly, the senior and retiring leaders can be coached to build a new future for themselves that is challenging and rewarding. Finally, a plan can be developed that takes into consideration how to prepare the various stakeholders for the transition to come.
For those who prepare their business systematically for sale, there is better news on the horizon. Private equity groups have money to invest, are paying more than they have in four years, and are looking for opportunities to build a segment presence through roll-ups or narrowly focused portfolios. According to a mergermarket.com report last year, 19% of deals were in industrials and chemicals, 18% in services, and 15% in technology, media and telecommunications in the twelve month lookback period.
In the same mergermarket report, private equity executives said that inadequate management reporting was a top problem 47% of the time and management capability limitations 33% of the time. Shore up your management methods! Prepare to ride the tidal wave of interest in buying private companies as an outcome of the hard work you perform to get your leadership team up to speed to lead without you.