When A Death Sentence Brought Life To A Business


No one wants to hear, “You have nine months to live.” But those were the words that Michael, a 52-year-old tech wizard who had built a dynamic, multimillion-dollar business, heard from his doctor. Immediately concerned with how to tell his family that he was now battling terminal prostate cancer, he also began to worry about his company.

Managing 20 employees, his days and nights run together. He worries when staff gets sick, he sprints between appointments, and he has canceled lunch with his wife so often, she won’t plan anymore. His stress levels are off the chart.

But he knew he wanted to spend his last months with his family and also secure their future without him. He had to sell his business.

Some 10 million small companies will hang up a for-sale sign over the next decade, calculates Inc. Magazine. But they’re not prepared, because their owners are stuck in a business that owns them, which means they just have a glorified job. The true goal of an entrepreneur is to build a thriving business, a working asset that he/she can choose to sell or keep.

Michael had an urgent need for an immediate exit strategy. He initiated a build-to-sell effort and began working with a mentor, who helped discover weak spots in employee performance, in the business operation and in marketing and sales.

Together, they helped remove Michael from the daily operations one role at a time. He learned how a business owner can break free from each function, which is critical, even if the owner doesn’t want to sell. This built self-sufficiency into his staff and created a path of ascension for each team member to elevate and learn problem-solving through empowerment.

Next, Michael launched Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each area of the business, allowing him to measure the success of its personnel and procedures. Finally, he established a clear mission and vision (values and purpose). A 2012 State of the Business Owner survey revealed that 42 percent of businesses with a written vision grew 50 percent faster and 30 percent larger than those without. Of those with written plans and accountable individuals, 60 percent grew faster than businesses with no revenue plan. And, owners who tracked metrics (KPIs) at least monthly earned 60 percent more than those who didn’t.

Michael felt ready to step away, knowing he could get the value that his business was worth. Almost miraculously, back at the clinic, Michael’s doctor greeted him with a smile and these words: “Michael, the latest round of tests show that you are cancer free.”

A stunned Michael sat speechless.

Later he wondered, “What if I hadn’t gotten cancer? Would I have stepped up and fixed my business?”

Today, sales are up in Michael’s company, employees are happy and the team is working smart. And Michael’s seeing more of his family.

A new year offers new beginnings for you and your family. Start down the path to greater freedom and prosperity.

Jon Goldman is president of Brand Launcher and a board member of Jewish Entrepreneurial Trust (JET). To learn more about JET or to get involved, contact info@jetbaltimore.org.

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