Telling the truth about SME life today

Exits: You need to think about what defines you

As you may expect by and large there is a massive sense of elation on deal completion and particularly so when the money hits the account. Years of hard work are now being rewarded and the vendor often sees months of holiday and other R and R on the horizon.

The question of how long such positive feelings last depends on multiple factors. Age of the vendor, whether the vendor is staying in post after for completion, health and well-being of the vendor and of course just how much the consideration is.

But by and large one common theme I am aware of is a type of vendor remorse, not related to value or even loss of control, but rather related to loss of personal identity.

For years the vendor in question has in many cases been the controlling shareholder director, he or she often feeling closer to the business than their own family. Ask anyone of this nature hello who are you then or words to that effect and they will inevitably, describe their role in their organisation and then their organisation. For instance oh I am Bob Smith the MD and owner of Then will proceed to describe their business.

Try answering that question post exit

My own husband for some time past his deal closure answered “Oh I am Mike I USED TO BE etc. etc. … “

It was years later when he had actually taken up a post and a NED role, at that he dropped the I used to be .

Of course you could argue that it isn’t quite that sad, and that could indeed be a valid point, but sad or not, I have seen this reaction countless times and as such would be far better dealt with if recognised as a problem before the transaction proceeds, and so allow the person in question to attempt some pre-emptive action. Even if such a person may well be in denial about this even being an issue.

I have yet to meet an entrepreneur for whom a lotus eating life has any real longevity, and even taking on social enterprise roles may not prove sufficiently challenging and rewarding.

When I sold my first business I foresaw months of holidays and play time ahead. Within less than two months I had got to the stage of wondering how I would fill my days and more importantly, to what purpose.

Needless to say I was heavily involved in a new enterprise in less than 6 months. For me it’s not that I haven’t got a life outside my work, but rather that I am lucky in that for the most part, I love my work and it is my life.

Retirement for me will never be an option and although I love my down time and definitely don’t stint on holidays and breaks, I also have what I think is a brilliant relationship with my family, we have plenty of fun parties and family holidays by and large. I can’t wait to get back to business.

For my children retirement age is likely to be 75 at least. As life expectancy increases and 70 is the new 50 etc. keeping active and busy will probably be a given in any case.

Life enrichments are of course personal and changeable as we age, but if like many entrepreneurs your business is your life, then don’t expect that feeling to evaporate when you exit.

Jo Haigh is head of FDS corporate finance services and the author of The Keys to the Boardroom – How to Get There and How to Stay There.


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