Stop Meddling After the Exit!

August 28, 2018Exit Strategies, Insights

The transaction is complete and you have officially sold your business. Congratulations! You are in the top 20% of all business owners. Now, you can embrace your next chapter in life while the business continues to thrive under its new owner(s), whether they be the next generation in your family, a key employee, or an outside buyer. Hallelujah!

But wait—“What are they doing?…That’s not how it worked when I was in charge. I told them to how to do it and they changed it as soon as I left! What’s going on here? They still owe me money and they are going to screw it up.”

It’s frustrating to have these thoughts. It’s a problem if you’ve said them out loud. Too often, owners remain too involved after the sale. Perhaps it’s a lack of trust, or part of the natural struggle with letting go. Either way, it’s meddling and we counsel our clients against it every day.

Your adult children do not want you to tell them how to raise their child the same way you did. A new property owner does not want you to tell them how to leave the building alone because it has always worked in the past. The change is going to be fine—it may be different, but it will be fine. 

The Transition

After the business sale, there is a natural transition period during which the previous owner must actively phase out of the business operations in order to enable the new owner to assume full control. During this time, sellers tend to take change personally, as if the buyer is deliberately going against the very fabric of the business. But in reality, a buyer is always going to change the company in some form. The sooner you recognize and accept this, the smoother the transition will go and the happier you will be.


When Meddling Means Undermining

It’s important to objectively assist the buyer during the transition. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. When a seller meddles, they are typically contesting or trying to override inevitable change. The seller always loved so-and-so in accounting, but the buyer finds that person to be unproductive and moves to replace them. A vendor is used to being paid a certain way, and the new owner tells them that’s going to change. The seller who chooses to involve themselves in these types of issues creates a power struggle. This is particularly prevalent in family businesses, where the parents don’t fully trust the kids to take over.

Don’t worry, it’s normal—but try to fight the urge. In football terms, move from being a player or coach to the owner’s box off the field. You have been doing the same thing for 30 years and it’s not going to be easy to change. That’s ok.

Remember the reason you sold your business: You decided you were ready to exit. If you don’t want things to change then don’t sell your business. Otherwise, keep yourself from undermining your buyer’s goals after the sale.


If You Must…

I understand that you might need some time to adapt to the idea of leaving your business in someone else’s hands. If you disagree with the buyer so much so that you feel the need to bring it to their attention, at least keep the talks behind closed doors. Complement in public, criticize in private. Leave your ego at the door and do your best to control your emotions. Otherwise, you run the risk of “fighting in front of the kids.” When this happens, employees can use the two sides against each other, just like when kids toggle between Mom and Dad until they get what they want. Trust, respect and communicate with your buyer. Help them succeed and you will feel better, I promise.


But Really, It’s Time

Just because I gave a sliver of last-ditch advice on bringing gripes to your buyer behind closed doors, doesn’t mean I encourage it. At the end of the day, it is in everyone’s best interests for you to remove yourself from the business and let the buyer run it their way. Your success with the business will always be yours. The business itself, however, now needs to be theirs.

Ready to let go? See how Exit Consulting Group can help.