Exiting Your Business

Project Managing Our Exit Strategy

It was James Shand, our Financial Director who in 2016 helped my husband Peter and I examine the options available for the sale of the business. Having handled the finances of many company sales, he was aware of the fact that preparing your business for sale is not an overnight job. The more thought you put into it the more successful it’s likely to be, he advised. As a design and manufacturing business, we have several projects going on at any one time, and for every project, we use a project change-frame model developed by consultant Lindsay McKenna. I considered it logical to use this to implement the most significant change the business would ever see. The usual project management rules of time, quality and cost apply, but equally important are stakeholders and the project team.
Preparation - BFG process

Preparation

Stage 1

A great deal of emphasis is placed on the preparation phase. It was during this time that we considered our four options for the sale:

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Passing the company on to family

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A management buyout

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A trade sale

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Employee Ownership

Neither of our children were involved in the Company, and they had in any case chosen other paths. A Management Buyout would have left our managers at the mercy of Venture Capitalists – and we didn’t like the idea of any ‘dragons’ getting their hands on our Company. We were approached by a competitor interested in acquisition, but a Trade Sale would have involved surrendering our legacy to others who would probably not value it. And there was a high chance a trade purchaser would take our intellectual property for capitalisation elsewhere and dispense with our people. So, by process of elimination, we came to Employee Ownership.

It was clear to us that LEGACY was a key driver in our exit planning, in addition to EMPLOYMENT SECURITY for our people. Employee ownership was the only model that allowed us to leave a meaningful legacy while providing employment security and some income for the next phase of our lives.

Once we had decided upon Employee Ownership the preparation phase started in earnest.

The Next Step

The next step was to find out more about employee ownership. This was achieved by attending the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) annual conference. It was here I learnt of the pitfalls of not preparing well, and of the benefits of employee ownership that come with successful implementation. I listened to examples of where the news of the sale to employees was met with suspicion, worry and confusion. I was therefore determined to do everything in my power to ensure that the transition would ‘land’ well. For this to happen I had to form a project team.  At this point, there were 3 members in the team – James Shand (our FD) covering the financial aspects, Peter (my husband and the founder of the business) as a key stakeholder and myself (the Managing Director) as project leader.

The EOA conference gave us access to consultants and advisors specialising in the organisational and legal aspects of employee ownership. We met several firms and decided to appoint Jeremy Gadd Associates to advise on organisational aspects and Postlethwaite Solicitors to advise on legal aspects; they were simply the right fit for us.

Now the team was formed we wrote the project contract which included the following elements:

  • Vision and goal
  • Risks and opportunities
  • Critical success factors
  • Milestones and completion dates
  • Conditions for completion
The project contract provides rigour to the whole process and forces you to think through the myriad aspects of the business sale using a logical structure. It helps you bring clarity to what’s really important to you and what success will look like; for example, our critical success factors were:
  • The forming and implementation of a clear, well-structured governance and sale framework
  • Employees who understand the rights, roles and, responsibilities of employee ownership and live the values.
  • Fully engaged leadership team and managers.
  • A sustainable ownership model that maintains long-term sustainable profitability

GET IN TOUCH

Contact me to talk it over on [email protected] or 07855 700591