Over the past decade, the number of mergers and acquisitions in every industry has been on a steady rise. Just look at our own industry and you notice that it has changed a lot over the last few years. We’ve read many stories, books and articles about how to do a merger and/or an acquisition. We've heard many speakers on the subject. We seek out professionals to help make it happen. But, there is one thing missing. No one really ever talks about the range of emotions that accompany the transaction.
Each situation is different and unique. Granted there are times that the end goal of the owners, and their "way out", is setting up their company in a manner that will result in an eventual sale. In these situations, many times joy and pure excitement come at closing. However, when you are in a family business, it is more of a mixed bag of emotions.
For many of us that have grown up in our family business, it is sometimes expected and understood that the next generation will eventually take over. However, there are many factors that can get in the way of this successfully happening. Whether it is internal family dynamics or external economic factors, sometimes the end result is that the family business enters into a merger or acquisition.
When a sale or merger is determined to be the viable solution for the given circumstance, no matter if it is profitable or not, there is a host of emotions that rise to the surface. The thought of someone else running "your" business, the company you worked so hard to build, seems unrealistic. "No one can run it like me", "They will ruin my name", "What will I do once I don't have this business?” "Do I define my business or does my business define me?" These are just some of the thoughts that start running through an owner’s mind. If it is a multi-generational company, the older generation may feel nostalgic, and the younger generation may feel apprehensive. When the company gets sold to an outsider, the feelings of failure can creep up as well. All those nagging questions start to creep in from the subconscious to the conscious, such as "What could I have done differently?” "Am I failing my children(or parent)?", "What will my role be in the new company, or will they need me at all?".
It’s at this point,the harsh reality begins. When two companies are joined together there will be or should be cost savings that come as a result of the merger. These situations mean you probably will have to lay off people. Some of them will have worked with you for many years. These decisions are tough and painful.
On a personal note, my father and I sold our company a little over 2 years ago. Probably the hardest and saddest day of my life was when we had to tell our employees. Some of them had been with my dad for almost 40 years and I had known them since I was a young child. They were loyal, hardworking men and women that had become more like family. We knew that what we were doing was the right thing for the company and for us, however that did not make it any easier. Facing those people and letting them know that the home they had for the last few decades was closing was heartbreaking. It was a day that many tears were shed.
From denial, to anger, to sadness and finally acceptance, the range of emotions that one experiences, is sometimes much like going through a period of mourning. What advice can I give those going through it?
Accept the emotions: Give yourself permission to feel them and accept the fact that these feelings are normal. That is one of the hardest things to do.
Find your new path - I tell people that my path had always been laid out for me. I knew from a very young age that I would:
• Go to college
• Get a job for a couple of years outside of my family business
• Work with my dad and eventually take over the family business
• Get married and have kids.
The joke was, that until 2 years ago, the biggest deviation I had from my pre- planned path was getting a dog. Now all of a sudden I find myself on a path that I had never thought of paving. Yes, it is scary but exciting at the same time.
Anytime you lose something that is dear to you, there is a sadness that is inevitable. Remember, the sun will always rise tomorrow bringing a new day, new hopes and new dreams. Embrace it!