Hard Sell

Its Just Emotion

Some advisors don't realize the decision to sell a family business is far more complex and wrenching than a spreadsheet analysis. "Like a divorce, there are `kids' involved in the separation--and they don't necessarily have to be your own children," says Nager. "[Owners] are concerned about how the sale will affect family members, loyal employees and, if the business is in a small town, the community."

Concern for employees has prevented Dwight Sherman, president of Berland's House of Tools Inc. in Lombard, Illinois, from seriously considering the many offers he has had for the family's tool superstore. When he came into his father's business in 1974, he promised he'd sell it by his 45th birthday because, he says, "I'm a person who seeks opportunity, not security." His children are still young--15, 13 and 7--and "I'm not hanging onto the business so I can hand something over to them. They're being molded to be self-sufficient and independent, and I'm not sure I even want them to be in the business.

"But we've created a good place to work for our 50 or so employees, and I worry if I were to sell the business what would happen to my seven key people. I have an obligation to them because we've created it together. I couldn't live with myself if the sale of the business weren't a winning situation for people working here," says Sherman.

So at age 44, Sherman's not selling . . . yet. To satisfy his yen for variety, he appears on television frequently and makes and hosts infomercials demonstrating various power tools.

Other emotional factors influence why business owners say no to lucrative offers:

Keeping the family business intact lets them do things for themselves, their employees and the community. They have the power to launch public service and philanthropic initiatives. They have additional opportunities to grow together. (Plus, they have at least one reason to meet with the family once a year.)

They can pass on to future generations the same opportunities and choices their relatives provided them.

They won't be betraying their ancestors' dreams for the family or the business.

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This article was originally published in the June 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hard Sell.

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