Since the beginning of time, dedicated and inspired men and women have been making a mark on the world. From carpenters to goldsmiths, brewers to weavers, the occupations of these men and women have been reflected in their surnames as their livelihoods and reputations were passed down the generations. The legacy they have left is apparent in the titles and manner that we address their future generations.
It is not quite the same now. We do not know what our professions are by our surnames, but one thing has not changed. We all want to leave a legacy and be remembered in the future. We all want to have a deliberate and tangible impact both today and in the future.
Today, we have a generation of hard working and ambitious group of people that are now called Baby Boomers. They have earned the dubious honour of the title because they belong to that generation born in the years following the Second World War, when there was a temporary marked increase in the birth rate. Because of their numbers and the relative prosperity of the economy during their careers, the baby boomers are an economically influential generation.
Baby boomers are now reaching retirement age and face some key challenges, including leaving their legacy intact. They have built their business by making a lifelong commitment to do be the best they can and have instilled that in the culture and values of the business. Most have built a loyal and trusted workforce that are inherent parts of the business.
So how do you retire from your business but keep your legacy intact?
I grew up in a family business where my father’s reputation was paramount. It was his name over the ‘door’ and his status in the business community that was important. That meant doing the best job possible together. These values were ingrained into the minds of those who worked with him and lived with him.
I must have been about 5 years old when he set up his business. My earliest memory of that time is visiting a two person portacabin in the middle of what was a work yard, that he and his faithful secretary used as an office. On a corkboard was a newspaper cutting with the picture below.
Forty one years later we put that picture on our Values booklet which forms part of everyone’s employment contract. It is written in simple English and covers how we behave, how we work and what are the most important aspects of our working lives. It has been put together with input from over 80 employees. They wrote it, so they now live it and they will always carry the values of the company forward, no matter who owns it. It is referred to on an almost daily basis and means that every single person in the business is starting on the same page. Every single member of staff also knows that the picture has been around for 41 years and means something.
Alongside this our staff are all given access to the budget for their particular areas. They are taught how they can influence both growth and sales by their own actions. They all have the levers that they can pull and push. It gives them a sense of purpose and shows them that the way they work has value and direct implications for the success of the business. When you do this, it no longer becomes just a job. They all become an important component of the business and its success. They become your legacy!
Making sure that these those values persevere also means making yourself ‘redundant’ and disposable. We have a policy in our companies. Everyone should be training their replacement. If they are not, then how can they be promoted or move onto better things. You should always have someone that can step into your shoes without too much trouble and strife. If you are doing this effectively, your replacement knows what to do and how to carry out your legacy.
As the leader and founder of a successful business, there isn’t always the right person to hand over to, or no one who really wants to take the mantle, either within the business or the family. How do you make sure that everything you have worked for is not destroyed by selling to someone who just wants the component parts and does not understand the value of the whole? This is possibly one of the hardest things to determine.
Most business owners I know trust their instincts. They have finely tuned their gut feelings over the years and can usually tell if things do not feel right. Trust that feeling! You have to build a relationship with someone you are selling your life’s work to and it is a good idea to prepare for retirement and a retirement sale.
We have found that the best way to actually understand what business owners want as a legacy for their business, is to do a stage buy out or earn out. That way you are still in the business and can gradually reduce your input or time in the business while still being around to guide the new owners around using those little nuggets of knowledge that only you have. You will be there to make sure that the long term relationships are handed over correctly, your staff are eased into working under someone else, even if they work slightly differently and you are happy with the direction the business is going to be headed.
To leave a legacy, therefore, means to ensure your story, your values and your vision lives on in the people you employ, the way your business is run and how you prepare for your retirement. To make sure that the story and image of your business is remembered for the next 41 years, we work with you because we feel some things are just too important to be forgotten in the mists of time.
Make sure that the mark you made cannot be erased easily!