Interview with a Business Owner in Transition

Posted by Maria Milanetti & filed under Family and Independent Business.

At MarchFifteen, we want to help you protect the future of your business and support you through succession and ownership transition. In past blog posts we’ve talked about the work we do in relation to succession planning in general. We want to go beyond that, and share with you an actual case we worked on with a client. In this blog post, we interview a client whom we assisted through ownership transition, to get a clear picture of what the experience is like from their perspective and the value it brought to them – in their words.

Interview with a Business Owner in Transition – Ed and Simon

 Q: What was helpful about the family business advising process for your business Ed?

Ed: The process for me was all about trust, as I didn’t necessarily understand the whole process I would be going through.  I was, however, willing to trust my accountant Lloyd who had recommended MarchFifteen to me. He has never steered me wrong, and he actually came to our first meeting with me.

What I liked about your services, at MarchFifteen, is that you have no bias – you are totally independent and neutral. You are not selling anything or steering the business owner in any direction, but rather concerned with what was in my best interest, and I could feel that in our conversation.

What worked still goes back to the thought process – I can let go – I am financially independent and will be just fine for the rest of my life. I am free – I don’t have to worry about my personal future.  That happened because we met. It was one of the outcomes of our meetings.  Understanding I have a life to live, and that I could plan it. The disciplined part of it is physically possible to do. I just had to step back and let you, Maria, ask the questions and assist us. You never directed us, but always supported and helped us.

I think people don’t understand that once you are financially independent you don’t have anything to prove.

And there is a sense of freedom that comes from understanding that everything will be okay if you plan a transition.

Some of my general thoughts on my personal journey are this:

  • If anything came out of this process, getting my son to be independent was the best upshot
  • My son had his reservations for a while
  • It was a huge revelation when my son started his own business next – it made him understand the standards he had
  • Some of the old man rubbed off on him, he knows what is right and what is wrong – is willing to take risks and see what happens
  • I loved it and, Maria, we wouldn’t have been able to do that without you…


Q: Ed, one of the reasons we are doing this feature is you let us know it was hard to understand what we did before you used our services, but you somehow trusted that we could help more and more as we went along?  Can you speak about this?

Ed: We felt we had a good connection to start, with a trusted advisor from MarchFifteen, which was you, Maria.  The business tool you used with us – Personal Directions® – allowed us to have a foundational conversation. It helped us to understand our two personalities and what was working for us and what really was not – on both sides. It gave a shape to why it wasn’t working out well for my son to be my employee or for me to be his boss.

There was one point when I said in fact “Maria, I think I am a great father, but I don’t think I am a great boss”  – and this was a conversation I had only had with my wife previous to this point.

And then we did not transition instantly. Simon and I gave it a “college try” as you called it for at least another 8 months – you, Maria, talked to him and he spoke to another mentor too.  We all made it safe for my son leave the business if that is what he wanted to do.

The mentor provided context. He said “I believe your son can be successful” – but what he didn’t say was that he couldn’t be successful in his present business situation. Simon couldn’t do it while reporting to me, his father, in sales.  My son’s true gifts and interests were on the technical side.

When discussing this for the article I also uncovered that my son was more like my own father – hands-on and technical. Really more like my brother too.  This process opened him up, by giving him a group of different influencers – the circle widened for Phil. You need to teach people to open up to others. Some people need to open up, and to be a good businessman, and a happier person, you need to open up as well.


Q: What was surprising to you about how the process worked?

Ed: I think that once the relationship was developed, I was surprised at how quickly I started to understand how to transition. Once the goal became evident and clear all the roadblocks disappeared, and it just keeps getting better.

Once you realize what you want to do – on the financial side for instance – it gives you the incentive to try and organize your financial picture for the next 20 years. This gives you the confidence. This process was like that on the personal side. [The confidence] starts the process and the first dominoes are put in place, and the others soon follow once you have a handle on the path forward.

By completing this transition, on the financial side, I have a full financial plan now. I am in a good place. I have confidence in knowing that I have enough money to last and that the estate is going to be set up – I may even be doing a little philanthropy associated with a hospital Foundation, which did not come up in my initial profile and which I had not considered until now. What I realize now is that I can also plan this next chapter and will not be sitting and watching TV as I feared I would.  I will still be doing interesting things.


Q: What were the major obstacles that you were facing in your family business?

Ed: Winding down, succession, ensuring Simon had a future, the process of moving ahead and of advancing the other person working in my business. Again, it is a process over time, standing back and looking at the clients, not being as available to them as you transition the business.

Stepping outside the traditional business style and saying I don’t have to do this any longer was another obstacle.  You don’t know what to do or where to go next. Once you go through this process, you become good at the next steps.


Q: Ed, how have things started to resolve themselves with the help of a MarchFifteen advisor?

Ed: Let’s see: banking, moving houses, downsizing, and preparing for the next stage in life were all resolved. I might not have done the move, but it was evident to me once I “cleared the deck” of other things. Getting Simon into his own business and having that work for him, with another 6-8 months of coaching, was a huge obstacle that you helped him overcome as well.


Two books Ed recommends on retirement (thank you Ed!):

How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free  by:Ernie Zelinski

Victory Lap Retirement by: Mike Drak and Jonathan Chevreau

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