Insight into Surviving the Sale of a Family Business

Bruce Werner, currently managing director of Kona Advisors LLC, spent 12 years at the family busniess, Werner Holding Co., in a variety of senior positions before the family made the decision to sell.  Werner gave tips and insights from his own personal experience into how he survived the business sale and life afterward in an interview with Lauren Wolven, J.D., a partner at Horwood Marcus & Berk Chtd in Chicago, featured in the Estate Panning Journal.

Werner had eight main tips to offer:

  1. Be honest about priorities and values.
  2. Develop a personal strategic plan.
  3. Invest in friendships.
  4. Understand that wealth works in step functions.
  5. Realize how the family business experience situates oneself in the job market.
  6. If early retirement is chosen, consider the impact on family members.
  7. Get used to the everyday inconveniences.
  8. Enjoy the ride.

Werner said the decision of his family to sell the business evolved over three years and was not as difficult as it can be for some families because, although the company was private, in many aspects it was run like a public company.  After the sale, eight of the ten insiders, Werner included, continued to work for the company.  He said before they even got into sales negotiations, the insiders had discussed what would change about their positions and perks after the sale and had already come to agreements, making this part of the transition much easier as well.  He feels it is important for people to understand things will change if they stay with the company after the sale.

Werner’s first tip during a transition is to be honest about your own values and priorities.  He explained that it is important to really consider for yourself and your family that the trade-offs that come with a sale are made in the pursuit of happiness, family harmony, money, or whatever your priorities may be.  He said it is also crucial to have a long term plan personally after the business is sold.  Werner advised others to ask questions like: Do you really want to run another business?  Would you rather pursue a hobby or charity?  If you are entering young retirement, will it be fulfilling?  Make sure you have an idea of what to do now that you no longer have the business.

Werner said he feels cultivating outside friendships is important during a transition period like this because you need someone to help guide you and talk things through.  Also, work relationships are lost in a job transition, and other relationships can fill a void.

Finally, Werner also addressed the issue of what it is like to deal with a new liquid wealth and going back to work.  He said the initial step-up in lifestyle is easy, but for him there was never a question of whether he would go back to work.  Even during his time of sabbatical, he had an office outside the house so his children would have an example of good work ethic.  The family business experience proved to be an advantage and a disadvantage it certain situations.  Werner said some employers stay away from former business owners for fear that they will be too independent or difficult to manage.  In the end, Werner said he needed to figure out how his unique skills can apply in a different, changed market.  He recommended the help a career counselor to aid with this process and decision.