written by Jane Johnson, Business Transition Academy
Were you – like hundreds of thousands of fans – unhappy with the finale of Game of Thrones (GOT)? According to a number of news outlets, more than 50% to 60% of viewers were dissatisfied or even outraged at the outcome. There was even a petition circulating that demanded a “re-do” which, of course, isn’t going to happen.
Running a business may seem like an episode of GOT at times, i.e. forging alliances, marching into battle, conquering your enemies… Cersei Lannister did warn in the first season, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” As you well know, the same may be said about playing the great game of business.
However, unlike GOT fans, when it comes time for your inevitable exit from your business, you have a good deal of power in planning for the outcome whether you plan to sell to a third-party or to family members or employees. “GOT gives us life, leadership and business lessons. Every character is written in such a manner that they teach us to learn from our mistakes, grow wiser, understand the world and never give up,” an Entrepreneur article argues.
So, we’ve pulled together 5 key lessons that exiting owners can learn from Game of Thrones.
1. Plan your strategy wisely
Exiting your business is anything but simple. Business owners are often so focused on the day-to-day challenges of running their businesses that they can’t see the big picture or plan for the long-term. But, this lack of planning can jeopardize the future of your company as well as your financial security. Should you sell externally or pass it along to a family member or an employee?
You will need to consider your financial needs, the needs of your business, employees, and family – it can be difficult to wrap your head around so many moving parts. But you can do it successfully with careful planning and ample time, which is why you need to educate yourself about your business transition options and devote time to the exit planning process well in advance.
2. Be prepared for the worst
While it might not be the same level of death and destruction as in GOT, businesses face serious risks on a daily basis. Would your business be able to continue on without you should you become ill, incapacitated, or pass away? Other on-going dangers that businesses face include financial, operational, political, business interruption, failure to innovate, damage to reputation, increased competition, natural disasters, compliance (OSHA or EPA), and business obsolescence.
In the face of these risks, there are many facets of risk management that need to be addressed, including contingency planning, insurance, business continuity, health and safety, corporate governance, and finances. Having a plan in place and being able to put it into immediate action can mean the difference between staying open or closing your doors should disaster strike.
3. Take the emotion out of business leadership.
While many fans were disappointed by the chosen king, Bran, a Vox article contends that it kind of makes sense: “Bran as king makes at least some thematic sense. One of Game of Thrones’ obsessions concerns the impossibility of just leadership, because we are all limited by our human passions, intelligence, and blind spots… Bran—who can see everything that has ever happened—kinda-sorta isn’t human anymore. The implication, then, is that a just and wise ruler is someone who is so disconnected from humanity that his dispassion becomes an asset…”
As business owners, it can be difficult to take the emotional aspects out of your business. Unfortunately, most of us don’t possess Bran Stark’s gift (or curse) of being able to see the past, present, and the future. After spending so much time and energy in your business, it can be especially challenging to re-establish your identity outside the business. But it’s partcularly necessary to remove the emotional aspects as you think about your transition. You will need to remain clear-eyed and focused on your ultimate goal, including choosing your exit strategy, planning for successors, and writing your next chapter.
4. Your successor might not be who you think it is
“Over the course of Game of Thrones’ eight seasons, Bran Stark gradually evolved from being one of the show’s more peripheral characters to being one of its most central and significant. For a long time, many viewers might have had little interest in his long quest to travel north and become the Three-Eyed Raven.” (Vox)
Try to keep an open mind when it comes to choosing who will take your place. It could be someone you haven’t considered. You will have to be objective in assessing their capabilities, skills, and desire to become the new owner. Not everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit, talent, or is in the right life situation to run a business. It’s important to pick someone who thinks like an entrepreneur and has the experience, and confidence to run the business. Identifying the right person is a process that requires careful thought and planning.
5. Know who to trust
Like the world of Westeros, the world of exit planning and mergers and acquisitions can be a very dangerous place, especially if you are inexperienced – and you need to be careful in selecting those you trust. Selling your business, whether to an individual, a competitor, a private equity group, or someone internally, can be a potential minefield.
You will be well served to enlist the assistance of the right, trustworthy advisory team who can help guide you through the process, based on your unique circumstances. They can help you build company value, prepare you to compete in the marketplace, perform pre-deal diligence, and address potential deal killers in advance. There are myriad aspects to consider and lots of decisions will need to be made. Not having the right team in place could cost you. Working with trusted advisors who are uniquely trained in this discipline will enable you to create a comprehensive plan that will achieve your desired outcome.
Be the Master of Your Own Destiny
While you might not have been happy with the outcome of Game of Thrones, if you’re an owner who is thinking about exiting your business in the next few years, you have control over the ending of this chapter of your life. Just like in GOT, you won’t have the option of a re-do. Without a solid exit plan, you might not be happy with the outcome.
When it comes to planning for the future of your business, your family, and your retirement, there are no shortcuts to success. And just like in Game of Thrones, there are lots of dangers and pitfalls along the way. Most owners will only go through the sale of one business in their lifetime and it is usually the largest financial transaction of their life. Don’t leave the outcome to chance. Be the master of your own destiny; start planning your exit today.
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