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Adjusting to Life After The Liquidity Event

“But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.  Charlie Bucket: What happened?  Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.”

 Roald Dahl – Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory

With no disrespect to Mr. Wonka (and his clearly non-OSHA compliant factory), his sentiments are rarely the case for the business owner who chooses to sell their business.  The stories are wide-spread and the survey data supportive that most business owners reflect on their sale negatively in the near-term after the sale is completed.  Whole organizations, like Tiger 21, have been started to help the now former owners address their new reality.  When contemplating life after the liquidity event, it is best to think in three phases – loss, arrival, and orientation. 

Loss

While there are certainly financial gains, the business owner loses much as well.   As one long-time family office executive I heard speak remarked, the world after the sale is almost the opposite of the one the business owner lived in pre-sale.  Consider these changes:

  • From a busy executive to out of the business and bored
  • From limited options to use liquidity (reinvest in business) to all possible investment options globally
  • From gatekeepers managing access to you (hierarchy and staff) to open access
  • From a ringing phone / e-mail inbox to a quiet one

And that is just the day to day.  There are even more deeply seated identity implications that come from the feeling of losing a life’s work.   It has been remarked that all change is first processed as a form of trauma, and as such, the exiting business owner should not be surprised to feel themselves passing through the typical stages of grief experienced after the loss of a loved one.

Arrival

In the same way that the business owners lose the world he or she knew before, there is also a sense of arrival.  Jim Grubman in his excellent book Strangers in Paradise analogized the journey of the newly wealthy as like the path that an immigrant follows in leaving a country of origin to arrive on new shores.  The newly liquid business owner faces a new set of questions, opportunities and concerns that were most likely not front and center while occupied with the business of running the business.  Seen rightly, this sense of arrival can mark a time of intense creativity, exploration, and potentially re-invigorate the entrepreneurial synapses of the early days of the prior business. 

Orientation

“If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.”

Edmund Burke

Yet, while the arrival period may be flush with excitement, there comes a time to begin to move forward.  Universities know this well – shortly after the bright-eyed freshmen arrive on campus, they are ushered through a progression known as Orientation.  Orientation helps the new student learn and adapt to their new surroundings.  The same thing is true for the wealthy, what is needed then is upon arrival to orient oneself to the new landscape. 

My forthcoming book, When Anything is Possible: Wealth and the Art of Strategic Living, is a framework to begin one’s orientation to this new landscape.   To accomplish this, I believe there are three key elements to consider – Wealth Structure, Wealth Identity and Wealth Strategy. 

Wealth Structure looks at the structural elements underlying the shape of one’s wealth.  That may include legal considerations, but it also includes things like the behavioral ways you manage your wealth, along with the way it was made.  Wealth Identity goes deep on the personal level to understand all the various influences that affect how you think and yes, feel about wealth.  A well-considered Wealth Identity also clearly expresses what is most important in terms of your purpose, values, and vision for your life. 

Only once you have both of those components in place can you begin to build a Wealth Strategy.  Strategy is simply the making of choices to accomplish a goal.  Wealth can be deployed in a variety of ways – the important thing is whether it is in alignment with what is most fundamental to you.  For business owning families, this same dynamic occurs at both the individual and collective level as we discussed in our post last week. Completing orientation and moving forward with purpose and direction I believe to be fundamental for any business owner’s successful adaptation to life after the sale.

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