Inside the Mind of a CEO

Of course it’s in a CEO’s DNA to think big, challenge the status quo, set stretch goals and inspire teams to perform to their full potential. So, why did this recent CNN Business article on How power changes the CEO brain catch my attention?  Because my wife pointed it out to me

Seriously, according to this article, neuroscience researchers have found that those who feel powerful become:

  1. more goal-oriented and think more abstractly
  2. more optimistic about risky decisions
  3. less likely to see the world from others’ perspective

I would add, from 30+ years of working closely with founder-CEO’s as a business executive and valuation and M&A advisor, that most successful founder-CEO’s are also surprisingly humble and know how and when to throttle back that power. These traits help them assemble extraordinarily dedicated groups of managers, employees, clients and investors.  Helpful when it’s their time to sell!

CLICK HERE for more insight on how power affects the brain of a CEO.

Exit Planning: Meaning and purpose drives sustainable business growth

Several years ago I had the opportunity to work on an acquisition assignment for Mitsubishi Electric, one of the multinational business units of the Mitsubishi group of companies. While doing research to better understand my client’s organization, I found an inspiring article that quoted Tachi Kiuchi, Mitsubishi Electric’s managing director at that time…

“Are the needs of the corporation and the world in conflict? In the long run, they can’t be. Today, 600 million of the Earth’s inhabitants enjoy the material benefits of industrialism. Soon, 2.5 billion more–China, India, the former Soviet republics–will join us. The final 3 billion people will follow. To accommodate all those people in terms of resources today, we would need three planets.

So how can the needs of the world be met in the future? The truth is, we can’t build a sustainable economy. We can only grow one. That’s a lesson I learned from the rain forest. The vitality of nature comes from its capacity to cultivate more advanced forms of life and then support them for billions of years on finite resources and a fixed flow of energy from the sun. That happens through a constant process of feedback and adaptation. In the global economy, the problem is, we are blocking feedback. As companies extend their reach, they become less tied to the communities they serve. Ecological and social costs and benefits never appear on our balance sheets. Feedback only exists in the form of direct financial returns. If there is not adequate feedback, there’s no adaptation. No adaptation, no innovation. It becomes hard to respond effectively to change. We become vulnerable.

People talk about businesses needing to be responsible as if it’s something new we need to do on top of everything else. But the whole essence of business should be responsibility. My philosophy is, we don’t run companies to earn profits. We earn profits to run companies. Our companies need meaning and purpose if they’re to fit into the world, or why should they live at all?”

Tachi Kiuchi went on to serve as CEO and Chairman of Mitsubishi Electric America and is currently Chairman of Future 500. As Managing Director of Mitsubishi Electric, he broke with Japanese corporate norms to champion a “living systems” approach to business that included rapid adaptation, financial transparency, openness, cultural diversity, executive positions for women, and environmental sustainability. Read the January 2004 article in Fast Company.

Every CEO and business owner looking to create a valuable and marketable enterprise would do well to contemplate its fundamental meaning and purpose within the communities it serves, and decide how well positioned the company is to deliver sustainable long-term growth.

Al Statz is an M&A advisor and the founder of California-based Exit Strategies Group, which is celebrating its 15th year in business. Contact Al at 707-781-8580, via Email, or connect with Al on LinkedIn.

Six Reasons NOT to Skim

Pulling unreported cash receipts out of a business is indefensible and unwise under any circumstances, but particularly if the owner expects to exit in the next 3-5 years.

All of us during our childhood were offered the parental edict: “Don’t do it, you are only hurting yourself.” So “why”, you may ask . . . now that you are a grown adult, “should I not skim?”

Many reasons immediately come to mind and I am certain that we could all come up with many more, but in the interests of brevity, I’ll keep it to six reasons.

  1. Skimming is against the law. Tax evasion is a felony.
  2. Management of your business becomes more challenging. Skimming requires you to underreport revenues which means your cost of sales percentage rises. Cost containment and inventory control are more difficult to assess.
  3. Loss of Employee, Partner and Spousal Trust. You set a bad example and create a fertile ground for others to steal. Worse yet, a disgruntled employee or retaliatory ex-spouse or partner could report you.
  4. Bank Loans are difficult to secure, for you and potential buyers.
  5. The value of your business declines.
  6. The marketabilty of your Business is severely compromised. You cannot expect potential buyers to trust you, let alone make a “leap of faith” and pay a premium for your business on the merits of unreported, unverifiable income.

Hopefully this doesn’t apply to you. But, if it does, what’s the solution? I refer you back to your childhood: Don’t Do It.

  1. Stop Skimming
  2. Clean up your books.
  3. Effectively manage your business, using reliable financial records.
  4. Redeem your credibility with your staff, your partners and your bank.
  5. Add value to your business as an ongoing entity or as a potential sale. The amount you no longer skim can easily be worth 2 – 5 times its selling value, or more, depending on the degree of skimming and the size and nature of your business.

In summary, each of us at some point makes a life defining decision … “Do I want to eat better or sleep better?”  You make the call.  As it relates to preparing a business to sell, you can do both.

Don Ross is a seasoned business broker with Exit Strategies Group. He can be reached at 707-778-0210 or donross@exitstrategiesgroup.com. 

Goethe on Exit Planning

Early this morning at my Rotary meeting I heard a quote that struck a chord with me. Our speaker, Stephan Stubbins, recounted the story of how he co-founded a successful theater company that helped save one of our local state parks. Once Stephan and his partners quit their jobs and fully committed themselves to starting a theater company, things started to happen for them.

The quote he shared is by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ( 1749 – 1832) the prolific German writer, scientist and statesman …

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

We’ve all seen how the act of truly committing one’s self to an idea or goal, sets events into motion, some planned and some fortuitous. Committing to an exit plan works that way too.

Thanks for the reminder Stephan! Click here for information on Transcendence Theater Company

Do Your Business Emails Convey Professionalism?

Normally we blog about M&A or Business Valuation issues, but this week I want to address email effectiveness, a subject important to all business people considering the tsunami of email messages most of us receive each day (an estimated 121).

I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review that succinctly focused on important do’s and don’ts regarding business emails, including:

  1. Do keep emails brief, clear and to the point to capture attention and interest
  2. Don’t cc the world – consider the true relevance of your message to each recipient
  3. Do be sure your message shines through and is easily understood
  4. If you are asking for a response, say so upfront

Click here for the full article.

And, of course, Email isn’t always the most appropriate form of communication. Before you fire off that next Email, consider whether a phone call or in person conversation might be more effective!

Contact Jim Leonhard, CVA MBA at 916-800-2716 or jhleonhard@exitstrategiesgroup.com.

Buried in the Corporate Archives …

A lot of our valuation work is done for the purpose of internal share transfers of private businesses, or buy-sell transactions. In doing this work, we often see that owners have overlooked or neglected to keep important documents up to date. One such document is the buy-sell agreement, which articulates important legal, tax, valuation and financing issues that are important to ensuring smooth share transfers and business continuity.

I recently evaluated a holding company with a fair market value of approximately $40 million dollars. Two shareholders each owned a 50% interest in the company, a C Corporation, and one wanted to sell their stake to the other. The client said during our initial conversations that there was no buy-sell agreement in place, so we proceeded with developing a Fair Market Value opinion of a 50% interest. Just to be safe I requested a copy of “any agreements governing  or restricting the sale of shares”, as I always do.

Guess what? Just as I was wrapping up the valuation, the client came across a type-written copy of the corporate buy-sell agreement executed in 1982. The owners and officers had been unaware of its existence. Hence, it hadn’t been updated and they certainly weren’t aware of its terms and provisions. As I reviewed the agreement, I found that it prescribed that any transfer of company shares would be at book value. In this case, book value was less than $1 million dollars.

TAKE NOTE: A buy-sell agreement is a legally enforceable contract. In the 2011 New Jersey Appellate Court case of Estate of Cohen v. Booth Computers, the partnership (buy-sell) agreement stated that value would be “net book value, plus $50,000, on the most recent financial statement.” When Cohen passed away this formula generated a value of $178k. Cohen’s heirs had the business appraised for $11.5 million. The Court upheld the $178k value based on the terms of the partnership agreement!

For my client, this was a nightmare waiting to happen. In my case, imagine what would have happened had my clients not had a great relationship — the seller could have received less than $1 million for a $40-million-dollar asset! Fortunately, the owners were committed to a fair deal and they agreed to set aside the buy-sell agreement.

To assure that your company shares will transfer for an appropriate price when your buy-sell agreement is triggered or to put a buy-sell agreement in place, contact a business appraiser who is experienced in valuing company shares for buy-sell transactions. When you bring in a seasoned business valuation expert early on to interpret the pricing mechanism and other terms of your existing buy-sell agreement, they can recommend changes that will ensure that the agreement operates as the shareholders intended. And the sooner the better. It’s an easy discussion while the shareholders interests are still aligned. Later on, when shareholders becomes buyers and sellers, their interests diverge and making any changes to these agreements become far more difficult in most cases.

For further information on buy-sell agreement business valuation or to discuss a current need, please contact Jerry Matecun, CBA, at jerry@exitstrategiesgroup.com, or call (949) 287-8397.

What you don’t know about your business name can hurt you.

In my work as an M&A Broker and Business Valuation Expert, I’ve noticed that many business owners don’t understand how their trade names are protected. San Jose attorney David Burgess recently wrote an article addressing common fallacies in this area, which I felt compelled to pass along  …

5 FALLACIES ABOUT PROTECTING YOUR BUSINESS NAME
by David C. Burgess, Esq.

You have worked hard to choose the perfect name for your business. You want to be sure you are entitled to use the name. You also want to prevent competitors from using the same name.

This is one area where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Following are some frequent misconceptions:

Fallacy #1:  Even though my company’s name is similar to another company’s name, I spell mine differently, so I’m in the clear.

Your business name will be in violation if it is confusingly similar to the name of another business. Among the factors considered is whether the sight, sound, or meaning of the two names is similar. Starting a new beverage company and calling it Pep$i or Pepsee will not work.

Fallacy #2:  Since I got the domain name I wanted for my business, the business name is mine.

Not necessarily true. Obtaining a domain name does not defeat the rights of someone who has been previously using the name for their business. In fact, the prior user may be able to force you to give up the domain name.

Fallacy #3:  I successfully filed a fictitious business name statement (DBA), so I own all rights to the name.

There is a rebuttable presumption that the first person to file a DBA has the exclusive right to use the name. But a DBA filing has several limitations:
• DBAs are filed on a county-by-county basis, so any protection only extends to the county in which you file the DBA.
• Even if you are the first one to file a DBA in a county, another business that can prove it has previously used the same (or a confusingly similar) name in that county can stop you from using your business name.
• A county normally will accept any DBA form that is properly completed and will not reject a statement even if a DBA for the same or a similar name has been previously filed in that county. So, before filing a DBA, you should search the county records to see whether a conflicting name is already on file.

Fallacy #4:  The California Secretary of State (SOS) approved my Articles of Incorporation, so no one else can use the name of my corporation.

The SOS will accept a corporate name so long as it is not the same as or deceptively similar to the name of an existing California corporation or a foreign corporation qualified to do business in California, and the name is not misleading to the public. The SOS does not check corporate names against:
• Names of other kinds of entities on file in California, such as limited liability companies (LLCs) or limited partnerships.
• Names of corporations or other entities filed in other states.
• Federal or state trademark or service mark registrations.
• DBA filings.
Having your corporate Articles filed simply means that no other corporation can register with the California SOS using the same or a similar name. It gives you no rights to the name beyond that.

Fallacy #5:  I filed a federal trademark for my business name, so I have absolute rights to the name, at least in the United States.

Registering a trademark creates the presumption that you own the mark. Registration confers a number of other benefits, including the ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court and obtain certain kinds of damages. But rights to a business name ultimately belong to the first person to use the name, whether or not that person ever registered it as a trademark. While federal registration is advantageous, it is not definitive.

Conclusion

Choosing and protecting your business name is a complex matter. It is important to consult with a qualified professional up front to avoid inconvenient and expensive disputes later.

For further information David C. Burgess, Esq. can be contacted at dburgess@buslawgroup.com.

5 Strategies to Preserve Core Values during a Business Sale

For many owners selling their business is not a simple financial transaction, it’s personal. Owners have poured blood, sweat and tears into building a business that is not only profitable but represents their values as individuals.  Their businesses become not just their livelihood but their self-worth and connection to some of their most important relationships.  The business values and culture are reflected in the everyday interactions with clients, vendors and employees.  Often owners live in the same communities where they operate their businesses and will continue to see and interact with these people long after they sell.  When it’s time to exit, it is no wonder that sellers are so interested in making sure that the company’s culture and values are maintained after they leave.
The best businesses are more than the sum of their physical assets.  The culture and values instilled in the business can contribute far more to its success in the form of goodwill.  Understandably the new owner may want to implement their own ideas about how to improve the business, however it is in both the buyer and seller’s interest to recognize the business’ core values and work to maintain them throughout an ownership transition.
Here are five strategies to make sure that the values instilled in a business are maintained through an ownership transition:
  1. Train management to embody the business’ values -Identify those managers that are likely to stay on through a transition and work with them to understand and exemplify the business’ core values.
  2. Develop a quality manual -A quality manual describes the procedures used in the business.  It is the playbook that provides continuity to day to day operations.  At times of transition the quality manual provides a valuable reference to new and old employees about how the business should function.
  3. Create a transition plan -With successful transactions, after negotiating the sale, buyers and sellers should sit on the same side of the table and develop a plan that outlines at least when and how the transition will be announced to clients, vendors and employees.  More thorough plans include setting goals, priorities and strategies to create conditions for a smooth transition.
  4. Plan to stay around through the transition- Once sold, sellers are often anxious to leave a business and move on to new projects.  However, the seller can serve as an advisor or consultant for a predetermined period of time. This can create much-needed stability and help to maintain a consistent business culture during the transitional period.
  5. Find the ‘right’ buyer – A qualified buyer has more than just the finances to pay the asking price for the business.  They also have the skills to run the business and the emotional intelligence to understand and carry on the business’ unique culture and values that made the business successful. It can be difficult for a seller to run a business while trying to sell it.  Working with a business broker like Exit Strategies Group can be invaluable when trying to find the qualified buyer that also understands and cares about the values of the business they are buying.

Good Exit Planning: First and Foremost, A Valuation of the Company

With the baby boomer generation retirement rush beginning to take hold, many business owners lack sufficient information about the value of their business for retirement planning purposes and don’t foresee the deal killers that await them.  A Deal Killer is a condition that, if undetected and unresolved before the sale of a business, will kill the transaction. The purpose of pre-sale planning is to maximize sale proceeds (as well as to achieve other non-financial goals), and it includes efforts to neutralize these Deal Killers.
The most common and avoidable Deal Killers are:
  1. Owners’ long-held belief that they can automatically one day sell their businesses for enough money to satisfy their financial independence needs and wants.
  2. Owners’ failure to reconcile their need for value with the market’s perspective of value before going to market.
  3. Owners’ exclusive focus on top-line sale price.
Owners are usually optimistic about the value of their businesses. Many of them dwell on the efforts and sacrifices they made from the onset of the venture. As a former entrepreneur, I know this well; however, optimism can result in owners consistently and often dramatically overvaluing their businesses.
In addition to company valuation, owners must factor into the likely sales price such factors as deductions for IRS taxes on the sale, debts that the company owns, transaction fees (escrow) and advisor fees (legal, CPA, Broker, and etc.). Business owners who jump into the sale process blinded by sale price optimism, or without consideration of the reductions to sale price, spend considerable time, money and energy only to find their glass half empty, if not shattered altogether.
At Exit Strategies, our job is to incorporate an understanding of marketplace reality into an owner’s pre-sale planning. We know that successful exits can require years of value-building efforts, but owners who insist that their businesses are worth far more than buyers do, either don’t realize this or are unwilling to face reality.
It is critical to the ultimate success of your exit that you get help to understand likely sale price and after tax proceeds and address deal killers well before your planned departure date. For further information contact Bob Altieri.

Simple Way to Avoid Stale Thinking and it’s Ugly Cousin Group-Think

When was the last time you asked yourself “why am I doing something a particular way?” 
As a professional advisors we have habits, standards, rules and regulations that direct much of our daily activities. It’s important that we constantly reexamine our preconceptions, processes and practices to avoid stale thinking. It’s very easy to fall back into accepted dogma that might be hindering our work. This isn’t to say everyone needs to be on the absolute leading or bleeding edge of their profession. However, asking ourselves the simple question “Why” helps stimulate us to create new solutions that better serve our clients and our firm.
Asking “Why” is a necessary first step. We also need continuing education and fresh perspectives from team members.  (If you are a sole practitioner, you can invite colleagues, competitors or allied professionals, who likely face similar issues, to come together to share ideas and best practices.) To make this a productive exercise, have a shared agenda among participants to create commitment. When one person dominates the agenda, individual engagement diminishes and the session becomes less effective for everyone involved.
How much time to allocate to these sessions? That will depend on the ambition and scope of the agenda. At Exit Strategies, we typically set aside a full day away from the office to review 6 or 7 key issues, ranging from M&A best practices, valuation models, new or existing service offerings, market research, trends, systems, processes, and specific client projects. We call this meeting a “summit”. Pre-summit, we vote on topics and each team member takes at least one topic to present and lead discussion on. During the meeting, to avoid group-think, a flow of ideas is encouraged, with open debate and critical assessment. Sometimes we invite outside professionals to participate. This process produces greater clarity and better solutions, and re-energizes our team. Of course, turning ideas into reality is what matters. so we create accountability with specific and measurable action items, deadlines, and follow up.
Obviously we’re not the first ones to do this, but I hope that sharing Exit Strategies “summit” practice inspires a few more of our friends and colleagues, and current and future clients, to adopt a similar practice to avoid stale thinking and its ugly cousin group-think.  For further information contact Jerry Matecun.