Anytime Exit Strategy : Planning A Business Exit
An anytime exit strategy is an exit plan for the owner of a business that has become part of the operating plan. While the term predates this article, the concept is timeless. Most founders and CEOs include an exit strategy in their business plans. Funding rounds finish, the business finds its operational rhythm, and its exit strategy remains stuck in an outdated document and often forgotten.
A concern for founders and employees alike would be what happens to the business once the current leader is no longer in charge. A book that raises questions regarding corporate succession is "Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies" (Collins & Porras, 2005). The authors point out that some firms are structured where the leadership understands and participates in business strategy. Once the CEO leaves, the next person can assume their position. It's business as usual. Others depend primarily on the CEO for their success. Without this person, the company might cease to exist. Both types of companies can be successful, but planning an exit looks different for each scenario. It's important to know which example is your current reality.
The anytime exit strategy takes this even further. Integration into the operational plan is crucial because the recommended course of action must be updated when necessary. Imagine a founder digging out a business plan to prepare for retirement. The document might contain a list of several Venture Capital firms known for acquiring dot-com companies and quotes from Investment Banks that were willing to overlook the importance of price-to-earnings ratios when going public. The existing plan is a waste of time. Contacting a member of the Clinton administration won't help either. Instead, an updated analysis of potential exit strategies will remain relevant and provide a seamless transition when the time comes to execute a plan.
Without diving too deeply into specific strategies, there are often multiple lucrative choices that will preserve the founder's legacy. These include hiring internally, selling the company back
to the employees, or even identifying an acquisition partner. The goal is to avoid liquidation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently wrote an article highlighting steps to develop an exit plan which will discuss the specifics more in-depth.
An anytime exit strategy contributes to the long-term success of a business. Integrating it into the operating plan can bring order to chaos in the event a founder unexpectedly leaves the company. Transitioning to a new owner or replacing a CEO can proceed in an orderly fashion because a thorough and vetted strategy already exists. It also has the flexibility to adapt as business needs change. Unfortunately, too many executives often overlook its importance. People should realize that everyone stops working someday. An anytime exit strategy is socially responsible for the employees, vendors, and customers. It can help keep a business generating profits long after its founder has left.