When I met my daughter for dinner in New York and before we finished our first drink, she said, “Dad, I feel like publishing is my destiny, but it’s not my passion. I want to be a teacher—that’s my true passion. In the fall, I will be going back to school to get my teaching credentials. I hope you understand.”
It was a bittersweet moment for me. She had thought about it long and hard before she shared her heartfelt feelings with me. I was proud of her for making her own decision, but I have to admit her decision took the wind out of my sails.
She had been a star in our company’s internship program, was a straight A journalism student, and now was getting advertising and publishing experience in New York before returning to Wisconsin to begin an accelerated training program to become my successor CEO.
My son, David, had never had any interest in the business. Rather, he always wanted to create his own businesses—a serial entrepreneur—like his grandfather. Amy, on the other hand, had the perfect combination of skills to succeed in publishing.
With both of my children opting out, presently there was no choice but to focus on the business and ownership circles and not the family circle of the Three Circle Model of our family business system. The rapidly changing dynamics in the print publishing industry coupled with intensifying competition caused me to pause when thinking about the current and future value of the company. We finally reached the decision to sell the business in order to be responsible stewards of our family wealth.
My mother was an alcoholic. While I drank a lot in college and even more as the years went by, I never thought I had a problem with alcohol, and my dad and my brother were in complete denial about my mother’s drinking that started no later than 10:00 nearly every morning.
Recognizing that I had grown up with a chip on my shoulder and was intensely competitive in my relationships with my dad and my brother—especially in business where I was extraordinarily driven and successful—I was never really cognizant of how easily I hurt people. When my unhappiness and bouts of depression continued after selling the company, when I seemed to have it all, I finally realized that I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable. That’s the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous. When I admitted it, I realized I was an alcoholic just like my mother.
After teaching for a couple of years and becoming as busy as a professor, company director and consultant as I had been as CEO of our family company, unhappiness with my life intensified. I came to the point of yearning to be content and getting off the metaphorical hamster wheel.
A friend in Milwaukee referred me to Dr. Ashok Bedi—a Jungian psychoanalyst and certified psychiatrist. When he started working with me about listening to the whispers from my soul, I had no idea what he was talking about, and I told him I didn’t think I had a soul. I just had a highly polished stainless steel tube running through me. He explained that I had a lot of work to do…and I began with multiple appointments each week for 10 years. I gradually learned what equanimity and contentment were. I also went to AA meetings several times each week and worked with others who were struggling with alcohol and other addictions and wanted to get clean and sober. I was on the most arduous journey of my life.
Pat and I had both had successful careers; she was a distinguished professor (one of few in the UW System) of film and television; I as a business owner/CEO of a successful growing company as well as doctoral student and professor of entrepreneurship. She had been on a spiritual path for years—and I wanted what she had. We both decided to retire and move to a tiny town in northern California to continue our quest for peace and contentment.
We traveled to Asia numerous times visiting Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Korea, China, as well as Bali, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Morocco, Italy and Turkey. All of our travel was at a relaxed pace with a spiritual foundation. It was sublime.
Our priorities—not always balanced—when our children were growing up left us with an ample amount of guilt and shame. I was largely an absentee father, and Pat, a single mother with a bad divorce agreement and financial insecurity, worked hard teaching and publishing papers and books in order to get a full professorship and tenure—without a doctorate, exceedingly rare in academia.
We agreed the quality of time spent with our grandchildren was going to be different than with our own children. We began traveling with them, alone—without their parents—when the two youngest were 3 and the eldest was 7. We had a big surprise when they requested that we go on yet another Disney Cruise together at ages when we thought they would no longer have extended time to spend with us because of their busy schedules and desire to be with their friends. How wrong we were.
Pat organized summer adventures in Monterey that included golf, tennis, swimming, horseback riding, and ukulele lessons. All of her ideas didn’t take root—but tennis and horseback riding sure did. Every year the girls spent more time with us in the summer, and finally they had their own horses with which to compete in rodeos.
The girls named the camp and our homes in California and Mexico. The girls now compete in rodeos in their hometowns—Denver and Portland.
These experiences brought us closer to not only our grandchildren, but also our children. We will always cherish the memories that have given us the best years of our lives.
On my 70th birthday I sold my last Harley motorcycle and purchased a UTV in Mexico. My dealer convinced me to start racing on the Baja roads, and my decision was clinched when he told me the winner of the last race was 84 years old. He explained that the senior racer was more conservative, more careful and paid more attention to technique rather than just putting the petal to the metal. I bit—and I copied his strategy winning second place in my class during my first year racing.
Pat has become an avid high-handicap golfer, as have I. In addition she teaches mediation to friends and neighbors. She also worked with me on a six-year advisory assignment on the generational transfer for a company founder and his three children who all worked in responsible positions in the company. While difficult beyond expectation, it was an incredibly successful case. All the family members are very happy, the company has performed extraordinarily well and the owners have been richly rewarded.
Together we have supported scholarship programs for high potential students in need of financial assistance in both Wisconsin and California.
And after 18 years, I have finished my book, The Art of Selling the Family Business: Responsible Stewardship of Family Wealth.
I am hopeful you will find this to be a useful guide to help you explore whether or not to consider selling your company. The book will also help you with the decision making process, and finally if you choose to sell, you will find a proven process for achieving a successful sale.