We occasionally hear business owners say something like, “My exit strategy is to hire a great management team to run the company, so I can step back and just collect a check.” Hiring quality leaders for your business is always desirable. Yet, this tactic on its own will not produce a successful and happy exit for these five reasons:
- Even with highly capable leaders running your company, you still own the company. A significant portion—perhaps the majority—of your wealth remains locked inside the business. At some point you likely will want to access some or all of your capital tied up in the business. This requires an exit strategy.
- Hiring excellent leaders may allow you to step out of the day-to-day operations of the company, freeing up a large portion of your time — but only a portion. Total absentee ownership is a fantasy. You will need to continue supervising the team’s performance, reviewing business plans and budgets, and approving major decisions. Reducing your involvement in day-to-day operations may help you pursue other interests, but you remain closely tied to your company.
- In the real world, things change. At some point the management team that you hired to run the company will change, pulling you back into the company’s operations. If a key leader retires, dies, or quits, you will need to identify and hire a replacement. You might also have to temporarily fill in for the missing leader until the replacement has been hired and trained. Or, if a key leader has subpar job performance, you have to do the work of supervising that person more closely and perhaps terminating him or her. In our experience, losing just one key leader from a carefully-built team makes it frustratingly clear to the owner that you have not exited from the company.
- As long as you own the company, your risks remain unchanged. Many owners seek to reduce personal and financial risks as part of their exit planning. Even with an excellent leadership team in place, the business’s risks are still your risks. You still have to personally guarantee the business debts where required. If the business gets into financial, tax, human resources, or legal difficulties you are still impacted. Any significant capital expenditures are still your decision and risk. Your personal financial net worth remains highly concentrated within the company. Letting a management team run your company typically does little to reduce your personal and financial risk.
- Even with a highly capable team running your company for you, at some point you will still need a plan for determining what ultimately happens to your ownership interest in the company. You have only punted the issue. Even if you do nothing until your death, your ownership in your company will still either pass to your heirs, be sold, or be shut down. You still have important goals and objectives to plan and execute.
Hiring a competent leadership team is never a bad idea. A quality team not only drives business success but also creates exit planning flexibility and opens up additional paths for your exit. It allows you to delay exit if you wish. Moreover, a quality team usually increases company value at sale or, if passing the business to your children, provides for a smoother transition. Competent leadership teams help business owners achieve successful exits.
However, hiring the team and sitting back to collect a check is not an exit strategy. You are still an owner with all of the responsibilities, burdens, and challenges that ownership entails. Therefore, you still need an exit plan beyond a highly skilled management team.