alternative, employee owned, sustainable businesses, how to exit a business, build something to last, a new way to end the entrepreneurial story

My daughter recently started learning to drive. Both she and my wife have agreed that it was probably best if I am the one who takes her on the road. This prospect has reminded me of the importance of planning for the end of the journey at the beginning.

My father taught me to drive. I can still picture the moment of my first lesson with him, on a quiet road on the housing estate in North Somerset on which we lived. He explained about how gears are used to engage the engine; how to listen to the engine in order to know when to change gear; the purpose of the handbrake; the location of the rear view mirror.

I put the car into first gear, took off the handbrake and lifted the clutch. The car spurted forward and we were off, into second gear and that’ll do, take stock, easy as she goes, round a corner, and towards a junction.

It was at this point that I realised, with more than a touch of panic, that there was one crucial piece of information that my father had forgotten to tell me. How to stop.

This taught me a valuable lesson in life: always sort out the last thing first.

I suspect the panicky five seconds as we headed for a wall had as big an impact on him as it did on me (thankfully we didn’t make an impact on the wall). For when I set up my own business, in an informal partnership, he offered me one particular piece of advice – the first thing I should do, he cautioned, must be to put in place everything I needed to exit the arrangement.

This felt counter intuitive, to be entertaining such negative thoughts at a time of excitement. However, it proved to be wise counsel as two years later I left that firm and set up Ovation Finance Ltd, in 2000.

I didn’t know about indirect ownership at the time, but I did have an idea of what I wanted for Ovation. The clue is in the name. You see, I didn’t call my business Chris Budd Financial Planning. Because I didn’t want it to be all about me.

I knew that I wanted to build something that would last. Such a business – an Eternal business – would look very different from one being readied for sale.

There is a well known Chinese proverb, every long journey starts with a small step. But in which direction?

This analogy extends to the books that I write. When I begin writing a novel, I have at least an idea of how the story will end, either specifically, or in terms of the message I want to get across.

In the past there has only been two real options for exiting a business, selling to employees or a trade sale. With the advent of the Employee Ownership Trust in 2014, there is a new way to end the entrepreneurial story. And to begin a brand new adventure of life in an EOT.

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