What’s your exit strategy?
We are in a time when Baby Boomer entrepreneurs are preparing for their final acts. For better or worse, this coincides with unprecedented economic volatility and strategic uncertainty. And, we face fundamental social problems that need new, dynamic, entrepreneurial solutions. It’s not an easy time to be planning our exit strategy, but time won’t wait. Getting positioned for your exit will confront you with questions about your personal, professional and civic legacies.
Everyone of us has a limited time on this earth to figure out who we are, create a purpose that’s meaningful, find people we love and make a life that matters to us and maybe makes a difference. Everyone of us, everyone we know is going to die. Some of us will die soon. Some of us will die later. There is nothing we can do about that, but there is a lot we can do about the quality of our living and about the legacy we leave to others when we are gone.
You are an entrepreneur, which means you decided at some point to create and lead a business; to create something of value to you, to the people you work with, for your family and for the community in which you live. You wake up each day leaning into this project. Anyone who goes through the effort, often the struggle of starting and running a company knows the highs and lows of it. There are moments of elation and moments of terror and sometimes long periods of grinding uncertainty.
There are rewards for all this effort, of course. You achieve some material success. You are respected. You get the satisfaction of facing challenges and overcoming them. But you may want more than this. You may want more health and vitality. You may want more time. You may want more freedom. You may have a sense that there is more to you than what your business asks you to be.
Each of us has deeply held values. We work hard and commit to bringing these values to life through our actions in the world. This gives our lives meaning – to take what we hold dear and put it in motion. You could ask, does it matter? When we are dead, we’re dead – beyond caring. We won’t know or care what people say about us, whether we are still loved, whether our companies endure or whether our contributions will be remembered. The world will go on without us. But for most of us, it matters a great deal. You and I are living into the future we are creating, whether consciously or unconsciously every moment, every day. Either we are living our purpose or we are driven by our fears.
The question of what we leave behind is one of both meaning and strategy. If you are going to leave behind a viable business that continues to create value, you will need a strategy that others can lead and execute. You will also need people who want to lead it. The business will need to generate economic value and be resilient to the changes taking place in the global economy. You will need to understand what you uniquely provide to the business and start developing other people to replace you. If you don’t, there won’t be much value when you go.
To prepare for your exit, think about these things:
- How much of what makes me great do I get to live every day?
- Does my business have a strategy that can survive me?
- What’s my next act?
In our communities, there are desperate problems: school systems that don’t work, poverty, crime, hunger, homelessness, unemployment and environmental problems. Around the world, however there are models of social innovation that are working. People are being lifted out of poverty. Schools are being turned around. Neighborhoods are being rejuvenated. It’s possible to make profound and sustained changes. And, it takes leadership. ..the kind that you provide. And it takes, collaboration…the kind that you promote in your business. And it takes funding…the kind that you know how to raise.