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D. Franklin's primary areas of practice include corporate, mergers and acquisitions, finance transaction and federal and state securities matters. He represents a variety of clients ranging from established companies with global operations to early stage businesses. View articles by D.

So You Think You Want to Retire – Now What?Are you getting to the point in your life where you are thinking about retiring (or is the next generation dropping not-so-subtle hints)? If so, I have a recommendation. Last year my friend and colleague Rob Couch published So You Think You Want to Retire – Now What? I recommend it to you. Rob has a wonderful sense of humor that shines throughout the book. His subject matter is serious but his delivery is anything but.

I believe Rob’s book should be read by all high-achieving, hard-working business builders who are moving into the “next phase of life.” That is the phase where you reap the fruits of your labor or, according to some of my friends, it is the pasture into which you are put by your children. In any event, most founders and business leaders do not intend to leave this life while sitting at their desk. So, the question is: Are you prepared for your next phase? In my experience an honest affirmative answer is rare.

In the online article “The big thing everyone should think about before retiring – but almost no one does,” reporter Catey Hill observes that we plan for building wealth to retire and do our best to maintain our physical health so we can enjoy retirement but we rarely consider the psychological impact of leaving our life’s work. Consider the emphasis placed on “work identity” and how we are defined (in our own minds, at least) by the business we have built or the work we do. Think about the impact that losing that “work identity” is likely to have on your mental health.

My friend Gary, who has blown past “retirement age” and now spends most of his weekdays counseling younger CEOs, reports on his peers who have retired and are struggling. They have lost their sense of purpose and identity. Golf every day has gotten old, and they are watching too much cable news. They are at risk of rapidly becoming “angry old men.”

The good news is that there is an answer to Rob’s question, “Now what?” The answer begins with vision and planning. Successful business leaders know how to envision the future and develop a strategic plan.  Why not be as intentional in your planning for the next phase as you have been in building a successful business? Rob is an excellent guide through that thought process. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, Rob includes a joke at the end of each chapter that is worth the read in its own right.

My next post will be an interview with Rob that touches on a few of the lessons from So You Think You Want to Retire – Now What? Stay tuned.

Transitions in Family-Owned BusinessesAs we enter what is expected to be the peak decade of baby boomer retirement, the recent 2018 Insights into Family-Owned Business published by the Birmingham Business Journal focused on transitions happening, and expected to happen, in family-owned businesses.  The most significant expectation appears to be that many family-owned firms will be sold during this wave of baby boomer retirement.  This is not an unreasonable forecast based on the number of family-owned businesses in the U.S. and the troubling reality that many owners have not planned adequately for the succession or transition of their business.  Certainly, many family-owned businesses will be sold as part of a well-thought-out plan.  I expect more will be sold as a result of inadequate planning.

I had the opportunity to participate in the Table of Experts for the 2018 Insights issue. We focused much of our discussion on the importance of planning for transition in a family-owned business and challenges faced by families seeking to continue ownership through generations.  If you want the “CliffsNotes” version of the 2018 Insights, I would summarize the key points as follows:  Successful transition, whether that means succession to the next generation, moving to professional management under family ownership or a sale of the business for the maximum return, requires total commitment, continuous planning, unwavering focus and excellent communication.  Easy enough, right?  We also recommend outside help from knowledgeable, experienced, trusted advisors (which should come as no surprise).

I hope you find the 2018 Insights into Family-Owned Business helpful.   Please contact any of the attorneys on our team if you need additional guidance on preparing for the transition of your business.

Emergency Succession: Lessons from Nick Saban and Dabo SweeneyI was recently discussing emergency succession planning with my friend John Howe, CEO of American Pipe and Supply. Okay, actually we were talking about football over a couple of beers. John is a Clemson grad and a big fan of the Tigers. I am a third generation Crimson Tide fanatic. So, John and I have had a lot to talk about for the last couple of years. But, as is often the case (with me), our conversation turned into a discussion of (what else) emergency leadership transition.

A few weeks earlier John and I had been together with a group of CEOs that we meet with each month to discuss and share business (and personal) experiences, as well as lessons learned. At that meeting, we discussed the importance of having an emergency succession plan. Basically, that is a plan for what to do when there is an unanticipated leadership change. Any organization with a leader, or leaders, should have an emergency succession plan. It does not have to be a beautifully written legal document (though we’re always standing by if that is what you want). It simply needs to be a well-thought-out plan for what the remaining leadership of the organization should do to ensure that the organization does not founder if it unexpectedly loses a key leader – most often the CEO.

So, how do Coach Saban and Coach Swinney fit into this conversation? John and I both noted that these coaches always seem to have another player ready to go when a key player is lost to injury, graduation or the NFL. It seems to be a very effective “next man up” system. We talked about what it takes to have that same system for success in a business.

I mentioned to John that I recently heard Coach Saban on his weekly radio show say that he recruits players who buy into the program (i.e., fit the culture), are talented and are coachable. He always has a pipeline of talent that can take over when needed. I believe Coach Swinney has a very similar approach. John noted that, like Coach Swinney, he hires people who have the “right chemistry” and then trains the recruit for the job. John wants people who he can visualize going at least two positions above the job they are hired to perform. I think that is probably what our coaches do, too. That is, they have to be able to visualize a green 18-year-old being able to perform at a much higher level as an upperclassman and, in some cases, to be the leader of the team.

But John is also quick to add that “you have to do the training.” You cannot simply hire (or sign) very talented people who fit the culture and not provide them coaching and resources. Like Coach Saban and Coach Swinney, you recruit five-star talent and coach that talent to win championships. In John’s organization, each employee has an Individual Development Plan that is agreed to by the employee and the supervisor. The employee is mentored, and progress is tracked. Like at Alabama and Clemson, accountability to your teammates is key. This effort should produce the leaders of the future.

John says at his company there is no “second string” – everyone is a contributor. I noted that Coach Saban takes the same approach. I have seen him annihilate a reporter for asking him about the team’s depth chart!

To summarize, for a company to have the best chance for continued success when an unplanned leadership change occurs there must be talented, well-prepared people who are committed to the team and ready to take over the leadership role.

One additional element I recommend is for leadership to have a written emergency succession plan. The plan should outline the steps for succession, the person who is to be the next leader and the immediate job description. I expect Coach Saban and Coach Swinney have a “plan B” as part of their game plan – what to do on the spot if a crucial player goes down in a game.

So, the key elements as exemplified by our coaches (and John Howe) are:

  • Plan/think about/know the need – Who is absolutely key that may need to be replaced quickly?
  • Recruit the right talent – Hire people who can step up when needed. There is no second string!
  • Do the training – Someone should be prepared to step in at any time (e.g., QBs at Bama and Clemson).
  • Have a written plan – Be prepared with a plan in case of emergency when folks aren’t thinking as clearly as usual.

This blog post is co-authored by John Howe, CEO of American Pipe and Supply.