“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas’s words represent a clarion call to take life by the reigns and ride off victoriously into the sunset. Unfortunately, many a family business owner has taken this idea as inspiration to hold on to their business until the bitter end. Rather than pass the reigns off to another, they hang on until the company collapses into the dirt.

We’ve seen this far too many times. In these situations, we encourage preparation for the “Exit” conversation. There will come a day when the owner has to decide what comes next—whether to sell the company or keep it in the family.

This conversation can start with either the owner or key stakeholders in the company. In the former case, owners realize that the end is near and own up to their responsibility to prepare. In the latter, the owner needs to be lovingly coaxed along to that conclusion.

Like the Foundation Conversation, the “Exit” conversation could be particularly challenging when initiated by stakeholders. In those cases, concerned members must engage in a firm, yet loving manner. They can see what the owner can’t, and they need to help him realize the end is closer than he thinks.

There are two primary concerns in these conversations: the well-being of the business itself and that of the owner. Forced exits can often lead to forfeited family relationships. At the same time, deferred exits end up hurting the company as a whole.

Hard or not, this conversation is crucial. Putting it off could risk everything. Do you have an exit plan? What do your stakeholders think about it?

By the way, this conversation guide was created by a psychologist and can help you navigate this conversation. Check it out.


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