Know when to let go of your business
Blood, sweat and tears; late nights and weekends spent working; sacrificed vacations and family time – indeed, a CEO’s feelings toward his or her business often mirror those of a parent has for a child.
Unfortunately, when it comes time to take the next step in life, the gravity of letting their baby go can prove overwhelming, say Kathleen Richardson-Mauro and Jane M. Johnson, two business owners who specialize in helping CEOs plan and execute their business ownership transitions.
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"Successful business owners tend to pore over every detail in order to improve the venture; but what they often overlook is the fact that, like parents to a child, they will someday have to allow that baby to move on,” says Johnson, co-author with Richardson-Mauro of a practical new guide, “Cashing Out of Your Business,” and complementary website of self-help resources, Business Transition Academy.
“As business owners, we’ve both experienced difficult transitions professionally and personally,” Richardson-Mauro says. “So many CEOs, rather than dealing with the reality of their business’ future without them, carry on as if nothing will change.”
Richardson-Mauro and Johnson, both Certified Merger & Acquisition Advisors and Business Exit Consultants, say there are a number of measures owners can take to ensure the transition is smooth and they have what they need to be happy on the other side of it.
• Change is natural; learn to accept it with regard to your business. If you’re like most owners, you have invested some or most of the best years of your life, and most of your financial resources, in your business. By now, your identity and that of the business may now actually be one and the same. Take heart: Now is the time to focus on your other passions, which may be family, traveling, catching up on reading, fitness and so much more. Consider your next act as a rebirth of you.
• Learn to count beans – outside of your business. Now is the time to take stock of the assets you’ve saved outside of the business and determine how much income you’ll need post-transition. Then, calculate how much money you’ll need to receive from the ownership transition. Most owners are not independently wealthy without their business; most need to extract money from their companies to fund the rest of their lives. The more a business profits, the more owners tend to spread the wealth to family members, or ratchet up spending in other ways. Be realistic about how you want your money to be spent in the next phase.
• Is your business transitioning “in-house”? Small businesses – those with less than 500 employees – are responsible for nearly half of the GDP and employment in the United States. Many of these are family-run enterprises; naturally, owners often want to keep it in the family, which doesn’t always work out. Often, parents want to distribute evenly to their sons and daughters, even though only one was actually active in the business. Attempts to be “fair” can cause businesses to crumble, with an absentee owner trying to call the same shots as someone who’s always there. Be honest about what will actually be good for the business and its employees.
About Kathleen Richardson-Mauro
Kathleen Richardson-Mauro, CFP, CBEC, CM&AA, CBI, has owned and operated five small companies and has successfully assisted more than 150 business owners in achieving their transition goals.
About Jane Johnson
Jane Johnson, CPA, CBEC, CM&AA, owned her own business, which she exited successfully in 2007. She has been providing advisory services to business owners on how to plan and execute successful ownership transitions since that time. In 2010, Jane received the Excellence in Exit Planning Achievement Award from Pinnacle Equity Solutions.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.