FREE TRAINING: 3 Keys to Sell Your Business with Confidence

Quasi-Shameless, Yet Highly Relevant Plug

You are dead wrong if you think I’m gonna be laying in a hospital bed two months after I retire. Hell, I’m not gonna sell or retire.” Two months ago, John (not his real name) retained me to sell his electronics distribution business. He was one of those instinctively-good business owners, he just seemed to do a lot of things right.  Look no further than his financial statement for proof, annual revenue of $8 million with profit margins in the low 20% range. Growing at a steady rate, his business was likely to sell for $7 to $8 million.

I remember what John said when he first called me, “I’ve been doing this for 3 years, my family is set, I don’t have to work anymore, it’s time for me to back out.” I remember how he sounded so sure of himself, so confident, so ready to get it done.

But something happened that caused him to change his mind. Over lunch, John told me the story. He said his brother was a senior-level executive in one of Nashville’s well-known companies, and he had retired at the end of the year. About 75 days after he retired, the brother had a massive stroke and had been in the hospital and rehab for 30 days. “I’m telling you,” John said, “my brother’s retirement is what caused this. Our Dad told us that work was a privilege from God so that we could help others, and I now know I shouldn’t sell my company.

I didn’t know what to say (which doesn’t happen to me very often). In one sense, I really admired John’s thinking, indeed, I agree that work is a privilege. On the other hand, John isn’t getting any younger, and how long he can keep the company growing and strong is uncertain.  I always tell business owners to “sell before you have to”, but that obviously was not what John wanted to hear.

Of course, it’s unlikely that retirement is what caused John’s brother’s stroke, but there was no way to convince John of that. I am seeing increasing examples of the “sell before you have to” message not resonating. A lot of baby boomer business owners want to keep working. Fear of retirement is a very real thing, even when the business owner can afford to retire. But I am not in the business of changing minds; I’ll never try to scare a business owner into selling. When I meet someone like John who, for whatever motivation, doesn’t want to stop working, I encourage them to focus their work time on making their company sellable. That way, when the time comes to sell, whatever the catalyst, they will be ready. Though it sounds self serving to say this, I’ll say it because it’s true …if a business owner reads my book “Home Run, A Pro’s Guide to Selling a Business” and follows my seven principles of irresistibility, they will have much more control over the timing and results of when and why they sell.


JIM CUMBEE is President of Tennessee Valley Group, Inc. a retainer-based business brokerage and transition mediation firm in Franklin, TN. Cumbee is an attorney and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Jim is the author of Home Run, A Pro’s Guide to Selling a Business. . He has a wide range of corporate and entrepreneurial experiences that make him one of the most sought-after business transition advisors in the state of Tennessee. The names and fact patterns above have been changed to preserve the parties’ identities.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim is an attorney (non-resident status with the Missouri Bar) and though he no longer practices law, he has read and negotiated enough legal documents to fill a cargo tanker. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and knows how Wall Street and private equity operates. Jim is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed general civil mediator with tons of experience helping business owners (large and small) work through sensitive problems to achieve winning results. He is the author of "Home Run, A Pro's Guide to Selling Your Business, Seven Principles to Make Your Company Irresistible."

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