In our experience, your age has a big effect on your attitude towards your business and how you feel about one day getting out. Here’s what we have found:

Business owners between 25 and 46 years old
Twenty- and thirty-something business owners grew up in an age where job security did not exist. They watched as their parents got downsized or packaged off into early retirement and that caused a somewhat jaded attitude towards the role of a business in society. Business owners in their twenties and thirties generally see their businesses as means to an end and most expect to sell in the next five to ten years.  They have strong emotional attachments (at least to the first one), but aren’t generally blinded by emotional attachments. Similar to their employed friends who have a new job every three to five years; business owners in this age group often expect to start a few companies in their lifetime.

Business owners between 47 and 65 years old
Baby Boomers came of age in a time where the social contract between company and employee was not only implied, it was often in writing. An employee agreed to be loyal to the company, and in return, the company agreed to provide a decent living and a pension for a few golden years.

Many of the business owners we speak with in this generation think of their company as more than a profit center. They see their business as part of a community and, by extension, themselves as a community leader. To many boomers, the idea of selling their company feels like selling out their employees and their community, which is why so many CEO’s in their fifties and sixties are torn. They know they need to sell to fund their retirement, but they agonize over where that will leave their loyal employees.

Business owners who are 65+
Older business owners grew up in a time when hobbies were impractical or discouraged. You went to work while your wife tended to the kids (today, more than half of businesses are started by women, but those were different times), you ate dinner, you watched the news and you went to bed. With few hobbies and nothing other than work to define them, business owners in their late sixties, seventies and eighties feel lost without their business, which is why so many refuse to sell or experience depression after they do.

Of course, there will always be exceptions to general rules of thumb but we have found that – more than your industry, nationality, marital status or educational background – your birth certificate defines your exit plan. Why is this important?  First – ask yourself what category you are in and whether you share the perspective of your peers above. What are the implications of how you may approach your own sale.  Second – if I am selling (or even more so, when you are buying), what is the likely thought patterns of my counter-party and are we aligned enough to get a deal done or what can I offer that may be helpful to do that (ie. Ensure some community sponsorship stays in place, or guaranteeing a minimal employment period for some long time employees).

We would love to hear your story – please feel free to contact us anytime (we are good with evenings and weekend chats).