Exit Strategies

How thinking ahead can maximize value in transition

Entrepreneurs live for the challenge of launching and building their business. Growing an organization that solves problems, delivers new products and creates value can be an all-consuming passion. As an entrepreneur, building is in your blood. While building may come naturally, it isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to getting value out of your business. In fact, the way you exit your business can have an even greater effect on what you get out of it, than the way you started it.

We spoke with Bob Belshe and Kevin Strain, audit partners at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, on how entrepreneurs can develop and implement exit strategies to maximize value and meet personal objectives.

Why do business owners need an exit plan?
The right exit plan can help you achieve both business and personal goals. Conversely, failing to plan for transition can create the need for difficult choices, loss of value and avoidable tax liabilities.

Successful business transitions require an understanding of the objectives and priorities of the business owner. Do you want to maximize value in a transaction? Are business continuity and legacy important? Every business is unique and every business owner has his or her own idea of success. Success requires more than just a great business. It also requires a great exit strategy.

When is the right time for exit planning?
Whether your eventual exit is one year or 20 years away, it’s never too early to think about your end game. Decisions made on day one can have huge implications down the road. Transition objectives should inform your decisions throughout the life of your business. An entrepreneur who wants to maximize value for an external sale within a five to 10 year window should make much different decisions than a business owner who wants to transfer ownership to employees. From corporate structure to investments to distributions and tax planning, the way you manage your business day to day must align with your end game.

What exit alternatives are available to business owners?
With the right planning, there are many different options for selling or transitioning a business. Initial public offerings, asset based sales, stock sales, management buyouts, employee stock option plans and private equity recapitalization can all provide different benefits in transition. While there are numerous ways to sell or transfer a business, there is usually a much smaller pool of alternatives that align with both personal and business objectives.

How can business owners develop the right exit strategy?
Planning the right exit strategy requires an understanding of your business, your personal and business objectives and knowledge of exit alternatives. The objectives of the owner will help prioritize maximizing the value of the business, facilitating retirement and financial security, controlling method and timing of exit, ensuring the survival and growth of the business, and reducing employee and family uncertainty. A good exit plan provides a solution that serves all priorities. Without an exit plan, business owners are often left to choose between value, timing and continuity.

What are common transition objectives?
Maximizing value at transition is a very common objective. In Silicon Valley, many entrepreneurs are also focused on job creation and the legacy of their organization. Having employees understand end-game strategy for management is very important as transition approaches. Communication can help eliminate uncertainty and provide security, keeping employees engaged and motivated. Business owners should not be afraid to have open conversations with their management team and employees.

What can business owners do today to plan for a successful exit?
Regardless of when you plan to sell your business, it’s never too early to plan for transition. Decisions made today such as business entity selection, ownership structure and tax strategy can have a profound impact on transition. Entrepreneurs should meet regularly with experienced advisers to develop, implement and review their exit plan.

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