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Business Owners: Are you Stuck in the Bermuda Triangle?
By Jon Hokama, Senior Vice President
Building a top 25% quartile company is not for the weak of heart. As a business owner, you’re like the captain of a ship: It’s up to you to get your ship--your business--safely and effectively to the next port. You need to know the navigational charts, the waypoints, the itinerary, the hazards and the final destination.
One hazard you face is what I would call the managerial “Bermuda Triangle.” The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil's Triangle, is a loosely defined region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, where a number of aircraft and ships have allegedly disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Like its nautical namesake, a managerial Bermuda Triangle is the place where a captain and his crew “disappear” when he unknowingly loses his way. They may not know they’ve been caught in its trap until they find they are not advancing the business the way they’d like to.
While there are many versions of the managerial Bermuda Triangle, let’s define the three sides of this triangle by the traps that can afflict the captain, the officers, and the crew.
The Captain’s Dilemma
Consider first the captain’s dilemma. Whether he acknowledges it or not, every captain has a final destination at which he has to give up command of his ship—either by choice or by force. At a gathering a couple of weeks ago, former Inc. Magazine editor Bo Burlingham related an experience he had when he addressed an audience of business owners. He asked how many had exit plans. Only half of the audience raised their hands. To the rest he said, “So it looks like the rest of you have discovered the secret to eternal life.”
Captains believe–or at least project—that they have the right navigational charts and can guide the ship safely “forever.” But most believe leaving their business is merely an Event—either by sale or by death. Few realize their charts are misleading them. That event actually has four specific necessary waypoints:
Even if he charts his course well, many a captain loses his way in The Transition Out. It’s a far longer and more uncertain and treacherous passage than he anticipates. When Bo Burlingham surveyed owners’ satisfaction with the sale of a company, only half reported being happy with the result. So unless you, too, have the secret to eternal life, unless you carefully chart your course to encompass these four phases and navigate all of them successfully, you will leave behind a shipwreck for those you care about most—family and employees—that will need salvaging. So it’s important to squarely face the captain’s dilemma and set the waypoints for life beyond your business.