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posted: 6/18/2017 1:00 AM

Is vacation a good time to plan business’ transition?

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Even with back-to-school dates earlier than ever in many communities, there's still time to get a few weeks away with the family.

Besides, a couple of weeks might give you an opportunity to test your business' ability -- and the ability of the person you may be thinking about as your replacement -- to get along without you.

Right, Barry Goodman? (Goodman, managing director of Birkdale Transition Partners LLC, Chicago, is a leading transition expert.)

Uh, Barry?

"Yes and no," Goodman responds somewhat reluctantly.

While his reluctance certainly doesn't mean business owners can't take vacations, Goodman's transition concerns go well beyond a brief getaway.

"A vacation can be a good time to see whether the business can run without the owner there," Goodman says. Behind the answer, however, you can almost hear Goodman's concern that the two-week vacation isn't a good time for transition planning.

In an e-book he wrote last year, "Is That All My Company Is Worth?" Goodman notes a survey by the Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Project that said 63 percent of business owners plan to transfer their ownership in the next 10 years.

Then he references a 2013 survey by the Exit Planning Institute, PNC Bank and Kent State University that says more than 80 percent of owners either have no transition plan or have not documented or communicated a plan.

Maybe that moves the vacation test into an at-least-better-than-nothing category. If you're one of the small business owners who is past age 65 -- one-third of all owners, according to Goodman -- or over 55 (60 percent of owners) some type of transition planning should be on your schedule.

There's the succession issue, of course. Is the goal is to keep the business in the family? If so, will the first born take over? The oldest son? The best educated child? The one who has worked in the same industry but learned at a different company?

Will you sell the business? If that's the best answer, will the buyer be inside, a member of the management team? Is an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) the answer? Might it be better to look outside the company, especially at a competitor seeking a strategic acquisition?

Value tends to be the biggest issue, in part because the owner's guesstimate of a business' value so often is far above the marketplace value.

Goodman's approach folds a basic SWOT analysis (the business' strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) into transition planning, but there is a companion assessment of how well prepared the owner is -- both financially and emotionally. The analysis is not just dollars, but the owner's response to waking up one morning and seeing a different name on the company door.

Like other good planners, Goodman brings everything together in a way that will maximize the business' selling value.

The process, though, can take months -- or longer. It's definitely not a two-week exercise.

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