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What can Steve Jobs’ Passing Teach us About Planning for Our Own Business Exit?

Steve Jobs was, undeniably, an American icon. He was a man who materially contributed to the changing of our planet and touched the lives of millions of people with his ideas and products. Although the scope of our work and careers can’t compare to Steve’s, there is still a lesson for all of us as business owners in his passing. We too touch the lives of many people and, like Steve Jobs; there will be a void when we too are no longer running our businesses. Steve’s passing provides us with an opportunity to examine leadership and to see how Apple will continue on successfully without him.

Let’s take a look at a few ways that your company depends upon you the way that Apple depended upon Steve.

Your Role as an Innovator

If you are at the top of your organization, you are undoubtedly part of the creative process. You are an innovator. And, innovation is the lifeblood of businesses such as technology. Many would argue that in today’s economy, a leader who does not innovate is quickly out of business. It is your ideas, your direction, and your gut instinct that drives your business forward. When you think of the eventual exit from your business, can you foresee anyone else who could possess similar drive, insight and instinct? Do you see a spark of this in your current management team?

What about the Employees?

The heart of any company is its employees. Currently, Apple employs 46,600 full time employees and 2,800 temporary full time employees worldwide. These are the people who were provided a livelihood due to Steve’s innovative spirit and widely successful products. And, incredibly, an industry actually developed around his ideas.

Even if your company’s employees don’t number in the thousands like Apple, and I’m guessing they don’t, the fact remains that you do have employees who are counting on you for their livelihood. Perhaps you are close to retirement or maybe the idea of retiring is a distant thought.. Either way, at some point in time, those who counted upon you for their careers will begin to ask about the fate of your company once you are no longer running it.

Big Shoes to Fill

It goes without saying that Steve Jobs’ successor has big shoes to fill. So, how did Apple choose Tim Cook as the successor? Interestingly, the world knows about Apple and, with many shareholders and a formal Board of Directors, so the search for a successor would have been attractive to tens of thousands of professional managers and CEOs. Interestingly enough, Steve Jobs hand-picked Tim Cook, the former COO, to be his successor without any involvement from the Board of Directors. Some say that this process has helped reassure Apple employees, stockholders and customers that Steve’s vision will continue on. Many analysts say that for such a public ‘changing of the guards’, Apple, and Steve Jobs, did everything right. So, how will the ‘changing of the guards’ in your business occur?

  • • How many people know about your company?
  • • How many managers would be anxious to assume your role at the head of your company?
  • • How would you even begin to put this plan in place?

The size of the shoes that need to be filled is relative and, in all probability, your successor will also have big shoes to fill. How do you plan to help he/she fill those shoes? Maybe you have already started the process of delegating responsibilities to your management team. Perhaps you are already a part-time worker at your business leaving the ‘heavy lifting’ to your key employees. In all likelihood, you are none of these. Instead, you are most likely going to be the primary driver of the strategic direction and the major decision-maker for your business until your exit. The reason is simple, – as a privately-held business owner, it is your money invested in the business and, if you are like most owners, it is the majority of your wealth. Without ready access to willing successors, or a Board of Directors to assist with your transition, you will need to do some advanced planning in order for a well-planned and timed transition.

Concluding Thoughts

Steve Job’s life ended too early at the age of 56. Interestingly, his death certificate listed his occupation as ‘entrepreneur’. Steve will be remembered for many things; hopefully one will be his legacy – a legacy he helped protect through his succession.

You have the same opportunity to provide for a transition of your business, the key is planning for it.

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