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Main Street News November 2013



The Conference is Around the Corner!

november2013-fall-conference-graphic-1It is not too late to register for the 2013 IBBA Fall Conference, to be held November 18 – 23 at the Hyatt Regency Savannah in Savannah, Georgia, don’t miss your chance to sign up for new educational offerings and networking opportunities at the best possible price.

Interested in contributing to your association? Volunteer positions are open on Conference Planning, Marketing, and Communications committee. If you are interesting in participating on an IBBA committee, please contact admin@ibba.org.

 


George Lanza, CBI, M&AMI, CSBA, MEA
2013 IBBA Chairman of the Board and Chief Governance Officer

Chairman’s Message

Growing Professionally Through Leadership

george-lanzaWell here we are again, reaching the end of another year and another IBBA term. For me, this time marks six years serving on the IBBA Board of Directors and the end of my year as Chairman. I can easily remember my very first time attending a Board of Directors meeting—I was very quiet and I hung on every word that was spoken, trying to learn and figure out how to best integrate into the IBBA leadership.

I dedicated some time and attention and learned fast. By the end of my second year, the Board elected me to Chair the M&A Source and tasked me with organizing a separate Board of Directors and develop policies and procedures according to MASTIF, a newly passed Board resolution.

Two years ago I was elected the 2013 IBBA Chair, which was a surprise and unexpected honor for me during a time of turmoil for our organization and economic challenges in our industry. I participated and helped during my time as the incoming chair while planning the strategy to deploy during my chairmanship.

My strategy was simple; to concentrate on the three most important aspects the organization needed: stop the monetary losses, develop new educational courses and increase membership while creating awareness of our association and industry. I am pleased to announce that together we accomplished all three!

Throughout the years, I have had the privilege and satisfaction to work alongside a great Board of Directors and committee members that have grown professionally through the ranks and are giving back with their service to our association.

Yes, I dedicated time and effort, but through the challenges and positive changes made towards the association’s objective, the experience and the knowledge I have gained during the past six years will forever be an asset to me and to the development of my firm. The opportunity of developing lifetime friendships while learning from one another on best practices has been well worth my volunteer time.

We can remain a strong organization through the dedication of those who volunteer, we can sustain through the ups-and-downs of our industry with the knowledge of our current volunteers, and yes, we can grow and increase our membership with everyone’s participation!

If you are not already involved, I would encourage you to become more active in the association—share your talents, experience and knowledge with all of us, while at the same time expanding your awareness and expertise for your own growth and professional development.

I thank you for the opportunity to serve you. I look forward to connecting with you personally in Savannah—please don’t hesitate to talk to me

 


Steve Wain, CBI, M&AMI
2014 IBBA Chair Elect

Incoming Chairman’s Message

Make a Difference

wainWe are on the cusp of our Fall Conference in Savannah, which is showing signs it will be a great one. More and more attendees are registering, and the education, topics of discussion, and networking will be fantastic.

I’ve been saying this for a while, but my hope is that if you attend you will see that the IBBA is changing and growing, and you cannot afford to not participate. Why? Because these changes will impact you.

In Savannah, you will learn about new initiatives and be able to participate in the committees that are working on these improvements. Do you have an idea that you think, if implemented, could have a good chance of increasing your success as well as others? Tell us. Participate with us. Make a difference!

This is not a desperate appeal for you to come to Savannah. On the contrary, it is a request to have the many people I know who have great ideas make a difference in the initiatives we are already in the midst of preparing and implementing. Great ideas need people willing to see their value and adopt and implement the plans.

These initiatives will lead to greater benefits that help you get more listings, sell more businesses, and lower your cost of operations. They will help you expand your geography and network with others, and in the end it all equals dollars in your pocket.

On top of that, we will be reviewing key initiatives that will help ensure your future. For example, a true and open discussion of securities and the HR 2274 Mergers and Acquisition Broker bill currently in the House of Representatives. If you are not in Savannah, you cannot participate in this open and informative forum.

I expect all members to help make the future brighter for themselves and the industry. It all starts in Savannah. We have been working hard to put the plans in focus, and now it’s your turn to help crystallize them and bring them to fruition. It’s your future and money!

If you see members of the Board of Directors in Savannah, stop us and let us know how we can make your membership better. Give us feedback and I promise we will review and take action on it.

We’ve endured many years of uncertainty. It’s time for a change.

Welcome to the new IBBA.

See you in Savannah.

 


Kay Ciesla
IBBA Director of Operations

Director of Operations’ Message

kay-cieslaIt has been an exciting year for the IBBA, and it’s not over yet! I look forward to attending my first-ever IBBA conference next week alongside other first-timers as well as “veterans” of the IBBA. If you haven’t already heard, the 2013 Fall Conference is slated to have the highest registration in nearly two years! That means you have the chance to be exposed to a larger set of wisdom, education and networking as well as the “informal” education to be gleaned from war stories and success stories. If you haven’t registered for the conference or courses, it’s not too late! You can register this week or even on site.

If you’re unable to attend the conference, I hope you will take advantage of all that this organization has to offer throughout the year as an IBBA member. The IBBA committees are made up of brokers like you and as you can see from their contributions to this newsletter, they constantly strive to enhance the IBBA education and resources available to their fellow members. In particular, they want to ensure that the skills and education IBBA members gain will set them apart from being “just another broker”.

If you’re one of the 100+ new members the IBBA welcomed in 2013 and you’re unsure of how to make the most of this valuable membership, you will be exposed to some of the greatest benefits of this community if you join us in Savannah! And don’t forget that you can also access the exclusive IBBA Member Benefits year-round with your member login.

Lastly, you should always feel free to contact me or IBBA Headquarters if you have questions or suggestions – that applies whether you are a new member, a founding member or a potential member. If you will be in Savannah, I look forward to meeting you. If you’re unsure of how to find me, I’ll be the one wandering around awe-struck, trying to absorb all of the excitement of my first IBBA conference.

See you soon!

 


Pino Bacinello, CBI, M&AMI, CMEA, CSBA
IBBA Past Chairman

Past Chairman’s Message

pino-bacinelloWith the scary stuff behind us—no not Halloween, the challenges of business divestitures and acquisitions—it appears that we are starting to see the light. The question is, how bright will it get? In my view, it likely will not be as bright as it was before 2008; at least not this time around. But it may get brighter for some than others.

Combine the improving (albeit slow) performance of businesses out there with the pent-up demand of aging business owners desiring or needing to exit and I believe that the business brokerage profession will be muchneeded in order to not only assist those looking to exit or enter the entrepreneurial gerbil wheel, but also to our economy as a whole. Of course, that is in spite of the uneducated and the unprofessional that will continue to enter the business like jumping on a loot train. They will only make you shine brighter!

We’ve all been talking about succession planning for years now. Regrettably, the impact of the much-hyped succession planning has done little, in my view, to alter the actions of the majority of small business owners. Granted, today there may be a slightly higher number of business owners with a plan than there were five or 10 years ago. However, that number is still extremely small, and some say it could be as low as 10% to 15%. What makes it so alarming for the economy is that the anticipated voluntary and involuntary exits over the next five to 10 years are anticipated to be anywhere from 30% to 50% of small business owners.

Large businesses typically have succession plans in place. Those more educated business owners of small businesses today are also better at planning and preparing, but the larger number of small business owners out there are the true entrepreneurial-spirited owners whose heads are down and focused on working in the business with no time or resources to plan or even think about planning. We are a funny animal, us entrepreneurs; we seem to have a hard time realizing we don’t go on forever. I suspect there is a direct correlation in reasoning with the low number of people that have a will in place.

I won’t bore you with statistics as we all know them by now, but the practical implication of this reality is that business exits are and continue to be on the rise. I say there is a “pent-up demand” as a very large number of business owners waiting for that high-value exit in 2008 hit “tilt” in 2009. Owners’ expectations did not adjust to the new realities.

These owners that were in their 60s, 70s and 80s then are now five years older and in another five years will be 10 years older, and unless they prepare the business for sale, they will be once again disappointed in their business value.

The economic implications of the accelerated pace at which businesses will be changing hands or closing their doors should not be underestimated. The demographic realities of small- and medium-sized enterprises today suggest that succession planning is becoming increasingly more critical.

The already high number of exits will mushroom over the next five to 10 years and given this magnitude, the lack of planning or a badly-executed succession plans will have a substantial economic impact with job losses, premature closures and unrealized value sales as well as possibly even bankruptcy rates.

This could potentially be a significant economic cost and should to be treated as a microeconomic issue relevant not only to the businesses themselves but to a potential national economic crisis. The continued reliance on the human capital of the small business owner in every aspect of small business may have been the strength in getting the business where it is, but unless this changes, this perceived strength by entrepreneurs will become a costly weakness.

I am not in the succession planning business. I have chosen to focus my practices in the divestiture and acquisition business instead, but adequate succession planning by business owners requires knowledge and time, and also requires owners to face the realities of their own existence. Still, we are told that about 60% of business owners over the age of 55 today have yet to start planning for an exit strategy or even discuss exit planning with their family, business partners, or professional advisors. I believe this is a great opportunity for each of us to make a positive difference not only in their lives, but in our local, regional, national as well as global economy.

That said, I also see an increased competitive environment for business brokers with realtors, advisors and consultants coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on what appears to be the obvious. Success in this business will therefore require professionalism, knowledge, competence and a proven track record.

A strong association that provides the best education in the world and the opportunity and environment for professional business brokers to succeed continues to become not only more relevant but more essential to the success of a business broker or intermediary. Who would you rather compete with—someone with knowledge, professionalism, competence with high ethical standards, or someone with little knowledge, no standards, ethics or competence?

I know I would welcome professional, competent, ethical and knowledgeable competitors to share the profession with rather than those simply jumping at the perceived opportunity and do more harm than good to their clients and our industry. Though the initial reaction may appear that it would be easy to compete with the latter, I suggest it will not be, and certainly we will all be better off competing within an environment of knowledge competence, professionalism and excellence. That environment can only be created by those of us in it. That is, you, and I.

So go out and invite those out there attempting to practice without such benefit, and invite them in to our Association so that we may build a stronger, more professional group of competent professionals, to help our fellow entrepreneurs and in turn, our respective economies.

 


Cress V. Diglio, CBI, M&AMI
Chair, IBBA Education Committee

Education Committee’s Update

Set Yourself Up for a Successful 2014

diglioIf asked what time of year is slowest for deal closings, most business brokers would probably respond with November and December. The answer seems sensible due in part to the holiday season and the many other events taking place this time of year. In fact, some brokers claim that from about Thanksgiving or the second week in December, they close the doors to their practice for the remainder of the year. Many take it one step further and discontinue marketing during this time because it seems to be a waste of effort and money. Although this might be common practice in our industry, it is not a routine that I suggest be followed.

When I became a business broker in 1999, I was surprised to see the number of vacant desks in our building after Thanksgiving. I decided to test the claims made by my peers pertaining to the lack of activity at the end of each year. While they shut down their business during this “slow” time, I increased my networking and marketing campaigns. Though there was a semblance of truth to my fellow brokers’ feelings on a slow year’s end, the reason had very little to do with the time of year and more to do with the efforts (or lack thereof) by the brokers themselves.

I quickly disproved the end-of-year activity theories as I stayed extremely busy. What happened next was something that I didn’t anticipate; I was pleasantly surprised by the carry-over effect of my yearend networking and marketing campaigns. Business owners that were too busy to talk during the holidays or ignored my communications altogether were more than happy to set up meetings in the new year. Instead of having to reach out to business owners the first week in January, they were contacting me.

In previous articles, I’ve stated that business intermediaries must distinguish themselves from their competition. Continuing marketing efforts through the holiday season is just another way to stay one step ahead. Throughout my career, the efforts I’ve made at the end of year have set me up for huge successes in the upcoming year.

If you are one of those brokers who is guilty of shutting down in November and December due to lack of business activity, then I challenge you to try something different this year. After attending IBBA’s Fall Conference in Savannah, Georgia next week, set yourself up for continued success in 2014 by maintaining your efforts through the “slow” time of year. Next year’s holiday parties will be all the more enjoyable with the extra closings you had in 2014 because of your diligent efforts.

 


Scott Bushkie, CBI, M&AMI
Marketing Committee Chair

Marketing Committee’s Update

bushkieAs the conference draws near we are working on analyzing the results of the Q3 Market Pulse Survey. We continue to hear stories about how this survey continues to help our members if you take the time to use it. One of our members, Gary Papay, used the “how to” guide for trying to get the results published in his local media and was very successful. He was on the front page of the Sunday edition with his picture next to the press release that included his quote in the article. It no doubt positioned him as the expert in Main Street and lower middle market deals. I hope that more of us will follow Gary’s lead with the results for the Q3 survey. Nice job, Gary!

We hope to have the survey results out to you before the conference so we can discuss them in Savannah.

On another note, I am taking on the position as Chair of the Conference Planning Committee in 2014. Because of that move, Lisa Riley, who has been a key asset to the Marketing Committee, is taking over as Chair. I will still be involved in the Marketing Committee but have great confidence that Lisa will do a great job.

As always if you have any ideas for the Marketing Committee, please don’t hesitate to send them to us.

 


Jeff Snell, CBI, M&AMI
2014 Credentialing Committee Chair

Credentialing Committee’s Update

Jeffrey-SnellThe IBBA provides many benefits to its members, including the Certified Business Intermediary (CBI) credential. It is the Credentialing Committee’s responsibility to protect the integrity of the certification for the benefit of all those who worked to earn it, ensure that the requirements remain relevant, and that they evolve to address new issues and challenges that present themselves in the marketplace.

One of this Committee’s regular tasks is to review requests from current and former CBIs for variances from the stated credential requirements. Most requests are based on hardships or unforeseen issues in the member’s personal or professional life. While the Committee’s goal is to accommodate all reasonable requests, there are unfortunately times where requests are made that, if granted, would be unfair to other members or devalue the credential by allowing individuals to take shortcuts that others were not permitted. At the end of the day, the purpose of the CBI is to indicate a broker’s proficiency in the marketplace as well as an individual’s exceptional current expertise and experience in assisting Main Street business buyers and sellers. Any request that falls short of maintaining that standard (requests for credits completely unrelated to business brokerage, credit for activities beyond the three year maximum, and/or to be excused from certain requirements without acceptable substitution) cannot be approved.

It will always be the goal of the Credentialing Committee to represent the IBBA with fair and balanced decisions. I have but one request of you, the membership and lifeblood of not only our organization, but in fact our industry. If you ever find yourself needing to submit a credentialing variance request that is denied, please know that it was done only after significant consideration and the reasons well thought out. It is not a personal attack on the requestor or the IBBA saying we don’t care about you or your situation. In fact, it is your association working to ensure that the value of the CBI credential is protected.

Lastly, although it has been infrequent, it bears mention. Threatening to quit the IBBA and abandon the CBI credential if a request isn’t approved can have no bearing on the ultimate decision of the Committee and only serves to create conflict and friction where none is needed. Ultimately, members who elect to ‘take their ball and go home’ will admittedly be missed by the organization, but I personally believe that decision results in a disservice not only to the IBBA, but themselves, their firms, and their clients.

As many of our members find traction with their practices moving forward into 2014 and become more active or return to the organization seeking the CBI designation, there will be tough decisions that have to be made. Let us all remember that none of us as individuals are as important as all of us as a community, and the IBBA via the CBI designation continues to set the standard for business brokerage practitioners worldwide.

 


Marcie Woolworth, CBI, FIBBA
Membership Committee Chair

Membership Committee’s Update

woolworth“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Coming into the holiday season is a special time; a time to reflect and be thankful for all the blessings that we’ve received. During this season we can stand on the mountain and reflect on the good things that have come into our lives, and look back at what we’ve learned over the course.

As some of us struggle to make ends meet, we can be grateful for the beauty of the sunrise and sunset, snow, rain, a cool fall breeze, colorful leaves, friends and family.

This year your Membership Committee has worked very hard in making the IBBA even better! A new year will bring new challenges and new rewards. Personally, I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve you as Vice Chair of the Membership Committee and see the progress that has been made. I am thankful for the time and dedication of the members of this committee for their commitment to the IBBA. Be sure to keep checking the Newsletter to see all of the new benefits coming your way.

Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving season (to those in the US), Happy Hanukah, and blessed days for the rest of our members!

Looking forward to seeing you in Savannah!

 


Joe Lindsey, CBI, M&AMI

The Monkey Never Learns

lindseyEverybody Loves Raymond was a television series that revolved around a character named Raymond Barone. From time to time Ray would be in situation in which he expected certain results, but he often received a different outcome, and certainly not one he wanted. In each of those disappointing instances Ray would mutter to himself, “The monkey never learns.”

So, you ask yourself, what do Ray and the monkey have to do with being a business broker? Let me explain.

Selling or buying a business is a complicated and time-consuming transaction that is best left to the professionals, but many sellers and buyers believe the process is within the realm of do-it-yourselfers. Let’s talk about one such example.

The Company has been in continuous operation since 1983 and has a well-established reputation for fast, reliable, quality service at a reasonable price. The services include carpet cleaning, carpet repairs, air duct cleaning, 24 hour emergency water extraction and odor removal. All services are provided by the owner and his family.

As is often the case, Mr. Seller grew tired of the day-to-day responsibilities of business ownership. Selling the business seemed like his best option, especially if the buyer would employ Mr. Seller’s family members and employees. Having made the decision to sell, he drafted a “For Sale by Owner” ad and placed it on Craigslist.

Along comes a buyer who is disenchanted with his life in the corporate world and longs to control his own destiny. Armed with his degree in business administration and very little money, he found the Craigslist ad and calls Mr. Seller.

Mr. Buyer has never owned a business and has no carpet cleaning experience, but is not deterred. Because of his lack of experience, Mr. Buyer convinces Mr. Seller that a 50/50 partnership would be in the best interests of both parties. Mr. Seller and his family would be responsible for performing the cleaning services. Mr. Buyer would be responsible for the sales, marketing and administrative duties. The purchase price, which was established by Mr. Seller, was based not on the fundamentals of the business, but on an amount needed by Mr. Seller. Because Mr. Buyer was acting as his own agent and with no training in business valuations, he agreed that Mr. Seller’s asking price was reasonable.

The only question that remained was how to finance the deal. Mr. Buyer opted to use his 401(k), much to the horror of his wife. The deal was struck and both parties seemed happy, except for Mrs. Buyer who was still less than thrilled about the whole deal.

Mr. Buyer’s 401(k) was also the source of working capital. What better use for those funds than to paint the office, buy new furniture, and install new software and computer systems?

As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, Mr. Seller and his family began to sense that the partnership was not what they had envisioned. They were, after all, doing all of the work while Mr. Buyer sat in the freshly painted office, in the air conditioning, and “played” on the computer all day.

“We’ll show him,” said Mr. Seller and his family. “We’ll just stop performing services until Mr. Buyer starts to pull his own weight around here.” Responding in kind, Mr. Buyer retaliated by refusing to market their services and turning down job opportunities.

I think you can see where this is going.

In less than one year, the business became virtually worthless—no customers, no revenue, very little in the way of used assets—not the perfect opportunity for selling.

Because of the direness of the situation, Mr. Buyer decided to interview business brokers who could help him out. All he needed was to sell his 50% stake in the business for enough money to re-fund his 401(k), pay him a reasonable salary for the time he had committed to business ownership, and possibly have enough money left over to pay legal fees for his impending divorce.

The business broker, who shall remain nameless, sized up the situation and determined that there must be better uses of his/her time, and rejected Mr. Buyer’s plea for help.

Similar to Ray Barone, who got this story started with “the monkey never learns”, Mr. Buyer and Mr. Seller also suffered from a severe case of “they didn’t know what they didn’t know.” I won’t go into the details of what they didn’t know. You can probably figure that out for yourself.

One lesson that we should learn from this horror story is that the world has plenty of people just like the ones in this example. They don’t know what they don’t know. It should be incumbent on us to market our services proudly; to let the world know what we do and why. With some sound advice from at least one professional, Mr. Buyer may have saved his marriage because he would not have overpaid for 50% interest in a business for which he was not qualified to run.

Tell your prospects that you are a member of the IBBA, that you keep abreast of the latest developments by attending the IBBA’s semi-annual conferences, and that you are a firm believer in continuing education. If you’ve earned the CBI certification, explain why that sets you apart. If you haven’t earned the CBI, consider making an investment in yourself and in your career.

Don’t forget to use the IBBA tagline: Knowledge. Experience. Results. And don’t forget to attend the IBBA Fall Conference the week of November 18th in Savannah, Georgia. I hope to see you there!

 


Doug Robbins, FCBI, MCBC, M&AMI, CM&A, CSBA, CMEA

Member Spotlight

Another Revenue Source for Brokers

doug-robbinsMost business brokers focus on three things: the listing, the documentation, and the sale. Unfortunately that approach can leave a lot of revenue out of reach of the broker who may also miss longer-term strategic opportunities.

At Robbinex, we developed the 10/5/3 Strategic Planning Program for clients who are not interested in selling straightaway. This generates immediate revenue and establishes the relationship necessary so that when the client finally decides to sell out, we will be retained. We currently have a number of clients who retain us on a monthly basis and/or are paying for our time as consumed.

A strategic business plan should identify the goals for the immediate future as well as long-range strategic plans. When preparing a plan, also take into consideration any activities that occur outside of the business’ focus. A typical business plan includes a Mission Statement, Executive Summary, Business Summary, Marketing Plan, Operational Plan, Financial Plan, and any supporting documents.

Developing a business plan takes time, energy and research and needs to factor in the following:

  • Life expectancy of Income generating products and services
  • Competition and market share
  • Unexplored opportunities
  • Problems and challenges facing your industry

Every business has a primary business strategy and many have secondary strategies that add to the bottom line or make full use of equipment and employees’ skills and time. For example, many road maintenance and landscaping firms in the northern regions that are at maximum capacity during good weather will supplement their annual income during the slower winter months with snow removal.

When creating a business plan, I like to break the planning process into three distinct activities. I refer to this as the 10/5/3 planning program.

The first activity is setting the 10-year vision. What does the client expect to be doing 10 years from now, and what will the company need to be doing in 10 years to meet the owner’s personal 10-year vision? What products or services will it be selling? How many locations will it be operating from? How large will the ideal facility be? What will the employee makeup look like? Once the 10-year vision is clearly established, we then sit down and develop a five-year business plan to determine the goals that will need to be achieved if we have any opportunity to be successful in achieving the client’s 10-year vision.

The five-year goals are expressed in at least five distinct business activities, with supporting documentation with respect to:

  • Marketing & selling initiatives
  • Product development
  • Capital equipment acquisitions
  • Territory expansions
  • Employee development

This planning detail is then placed into a timeline that is expressed by means of a financial projection summarizing how the company will achieve the five-year goals that they need to reach if the company is to realize its 10-year vision.

The third and final step of the 10/5/3 planning program is to complete a three-year business plan; the first year of the business plan will be completed on a month-by-month basis, line-by-line, with years two and three being done on a quarterly basis.

The first time someone initiates the 10/5/3 planning program, they should allow approximately three to six days of concentrated effort to be sure all aspects of the process are covered.

An important part of this process is attention to detail and to be forward-looking. You must remember that this is a learning process as well as the planning process. Consequently, the first-year business plan’s actual results need to be reviewed compared to the original plan on a monthly basis; it’s quite likely that at three or six months, it will be necessary to revise the plan to reflect the reality of what actually occurred.

The true value of the 10/5/3 planning program will not be realized by the client until well into the second year because research, planning, and implementation requires time to see the desired results and this usually takes more time than initially envisioned. The client needs to understand this ”time lag”; otherwise they may be disappointed with the initial results.

The 10/5/3 process needs to be repeated on an annual basis with an appropriate amount of time allocated for each planning session. The real value of the 10/5/3 planning program will gradually be realized as you move into years three, four and five. The planning accuracy will also improve as the years progress and you will be pleasantly surprised at how closely the results achieved will match your forecasts.

It is highly likely that someone at age 50 will have a different vision of where he will be in 10 years than they will at age 60 or 65. There is no doubt the technology will change, competition will change, markets will change, products will change and employees will change, to mention a few. The only constant today is change itself.

A well thought-out program will generate hundreds of billable hours for the broker and almost ensure that you will have a valuable listing to sell in the future.

Tales from You Can Always Sell Your Business by Doug Robbins

 


Clyth MacLeod, Lifetime CBI

News and Views

The Importance of Confidentiality in Business Sales

clyth-macleodThe immediacy of the internet and email can create problems for inexperienced business brokers. Prospective business owners see an ad for a “manufacturing business, profits $350,000 P.A.” and email off an enquiry. Many expect an immediate response identifying the business and providing full financial and operational details.

This is often totally against the owner’s interests. The owner may be most concerned that their customers, suppliers and staff are not aware that a sale is contemplated until much later in the process. The owner also needs to be assured that any prospective buyer has the experience, skills and financial resources to successfully buy and run the company.

Safeguarding confidentiality is a major issue for business brokers. They need to secure a written confidentiality undertaking from the buyer, check their background and ascertain their financial capacity before revealing commercially-sensitive information. Those who have owned businesses previously will understand the importance of this. First-timers struggle to understand they have enquired about houses for sale and been overwhelmed with inside-and-out photos and the address.

Business brokers who follow the process discreetly protect and benefit both sellers and buyers.

 


Keith McLeod, Lifetime CBI

Honoring Clyth MacLeod

Last month there was a notice to members: “Congratulations to Clyth MacLeod for being selected as a Lifetime Member of the IBBA, in honor of his dedication to the industry over the past 60 years and his contribution to the IBBA since joining in 1986.” During the mid-2000 decade at our convention in Phoenix, Arizona I had the opportunity to sit down with Clyth for an interview which I put in an industry handbook along with Tom West and Darrell Fouts. At our last Convention earlier this year Glorianne his number one staff member arranged for a number of us to record some thoughts to honor him on his 80th birthday. Clyth turned 80 recently and his firm has done over 8,000 transactions! I thought industry members would like to read about this extraordinary individual who puts the “International” in our name. I am honored to call him a friend and I feature Clyth in each of our monthly newsletters. Here is our interview:

I’m meeting with Clyth MacLeod from Auckland, New Zealand. Were you born there?

Born and bred there, lived there all my life. Immigrant parents from Scotland and England but I’m New Zealand through and through.

When you and I see each other at these conferences, what’s the greeting?

The greeting is hello cousin; you still haven’t learned how to spell your name right. You’re missing an A.

Well, I suppose if you drive on the wrong side of the street and live down under you put an A in your name. Clyth, what do you do?

We sell businesses. Well, our main function is selling businesses. We have subsidiary companies that value businesses and do consultancy, but our primary function is the sale of going concern businesses.

How long have you done that?

We’ve been doing it for 43 years, since I was very young.

Is it your business, did you start it?

I started it from scratch from home. I have recently brought in a co-director; a business partner, and that’s my exit strategy, my succession planning.

In 43 years, how many businesses have you sold?

We’ve sold over 6,000 businesses. (Editor’s note: It is now 8,000+)

8,000?

Yes. Currently we’re selling about 200 businesses a year. I guess we’ve picked up the pace a little bit from the early days.

What did you do before you sold businesses?

My university degree was in history. I accidentally got into retail home appliances when I finished at university. When I was about 28 or 29, I went to work for a grocery organization that sold grocery stores and super markets. There weren’t many super markets in those days. It was a cooperative grocery organization. While there I was dealing with business brokers, and came to know a little bit about the industry. I came to realize some of them made a lot of money, drove very nice cars, and decided I would be a business broker.

Many people have heard of New Zealand, but where is it, how big is it?

New Zealand is in the South Pacific. There are two main islands. It is not part of Australia; it is 1,500 miles away from Australia! My country has a population of a little over 4 million. The city I’m in, Auckland has a population of 1 ½ million, and there is another ½ million, to total 2 million within 2 hours drive. It is a very beautiful country, temperate climate, long and thin. It is very difficult to be more than half an hour away from the sea in any part of New Zealand.

Thank you. Did you have any role models, any leaders you admired as a young man?

Yes. My father was a great, great influence on me. He was an enthusiast. He was a passionate socialist, a believer in cooperatives. He was a man with a great capacity for ideas and innovation. He had the capacity to see them, but sometimes lacked the ability and the desire to see them through. He was a brilliant orator. He could persuade people, and yes he was certainly a major influence. I had university professors, teachers that had a great influence on me. One particular teacher gave me a great love of the English language. When I got into the work-a-day world, the head of the grocery company I was working with was a great mentor. They built this organization from a few grocery stores. The major grocery company throughout the country had something like 1,500 outlets. I heard various speakers in my younger days that impacted me. I continue to learn from all sorts of people.

Was there an event or turning point providing the motivation to run your own business?

No. My father ran his own businesses in home appliances. He went bankrupt, and that has been a great influence on me. It made me very conservative, and cash conscious in many ways. It’s one of the things that influenced me. I realized from an early age if you worked for a salary, there was a limit on your income. And the probability was you would not be paid what you were worth. If you had your own business your earnings were unlimited, and were a result of your own endeavors. Yes, right from my mid-twenties I was involved in business enterprises on my own.

September 11 was a turning point for President Bush. His advisors say it was the days following he really became president in the fullest sense of the word. Was there a similar experience in your journey, an event or situation that caused you to grow rapidly?

No, I don’t think so. I think I’ve grown steadily as I have learned more. I’ve always been an avid reader. I’ve always been a seminar junkie. I’ve always worked very hard. The major formative influences I believe were my parents who gave me self-confidence, and self-respect. I was a depression baby. I had my early days in the depression, and my father’s bankruptcy. I think those three things have been the formative influences that have helped me where I am, and molded my philosophy towards life and towards business. Another was I had some very serious illness when I was five, repeated at 15, and repeated at 25. It made me very aware there were no guarantees of a long life, and gave me a philosophy of seizing the day, enjoying the day, and living the day, because there are no guarantees of a tomorrow. Those were the formative things. It has been a steady development. There has been no one thing that said hey, do this or do that.

Describe your operation in New Zealand.

The major company, the business sales company has a staff currently of about 23 people. I have a codirector now, a business partner who is my exit strategy and succession planning. When I do manage to get my head around retirement, I do not see myself as ever retired, I enjoy business. I still get a buzz out of it. That’s it. I have a couple of other companies with some part time staff, and another company in the South Island which collects business sales statistics. It operates under management, and I have limited input into it.

When you became CEO of your business, what were your biggest fears, what were your initial excitements?

I don’t think I had any fears. I was young and self-confident, and you don’t have the fears at that stage. As you get older and wiser, you realize the possible downturns and pit falls that can await you. When I look back I had a young family, a mortgage and limited cash behind me. Probably I was out on a string if I hadn’t successfully made sales. But, I didn’t really see the dangers then.

Clyth, most people in their careers have a number of different jobs and a number of different businesses. This has been one for 40+ years.

I’ve really only had one job since I left the university. I’ve been a sales person. Yes, I’ve worked in the home appliance field; I’ve done a lot of public speaking and consultancy. We’ve sold a lot of businesses, we do a lot of business appraisal work, but at the end of the day I expect my tombstone to read, “Here lays a sales person.” My career has always been sales.

What was there about you, and your strength that has created the success of selling 6,000+ businesses? (Now 8,000+)

I think probably the good fortune to establish good relationships with people, to get on with people, to like people. I believe that relationships underpin all success. If you make good friends, good acquaintances, if you’re generous of your time, if you respect others and treat them with integrity the benefits will flow back to you. I’m very wealthy. I’m wealthy in terms of the relationships I have. We’re sitting here talking in Phoenix at an IBBA conference; I’ve come to these conferences 20 or 21 times and I know a lot of people here. I count them as very close friends, and yet if you look back, how much time have I spent with some of them in total. I might have spent six or eight hours of actual time. I think the good fortune to make good relationships underpins success.

What is the most rewarding and exciting about your success?

I don’t think there is any one thing. In business sales if you’re doing a good job, you make two people happy: the person who wants his business sold and the person who wants to buy the business. I have been very pleased with some of the people we have taken on as sales people. We have shown them the road to success, and some of them have been very, very successful. We’ve been fortunate with some of the people that we’ve hired and mentored, and I think success has been the people that we’ve helped to grow.

Do you agree or disagree with the statement the CEO is the loneliest job in the world?

I think there is some truth in it because sometimes you have to make the hard decisions. The buck stops with the CEO. Even at this stage when I have the co-director and a business partner, I’m still conscious that ultimately the decision is mine. When my present co-director is holding the majority of the shares the responsibility will be hers. Some things you cannot share. Some things there has to be a decision made for right or wrong. Businesses only survive if decisions are made. I think there is a lot of truth in it. There is an element of loneliness there. As a company we have a lot of fun together, we have good relationships with our sales team, and with our support staff, but there is just a fine line which can’t be totally crossed.

How would you define success?

Effecting change for the better in some people’s lives and leaving a legacy; whether it’s been through business activities, service club activities, sports coaching, or things of that nature. I certainly wouldn’t define success in money terms. That said, you need a certain minimum amount of money to survive; and to a certain extent, dollars are a measure of success. Certainly I don’t equate money with success. Once again I get back to relationships. Success is having good friends, good relationships, leaving a legacy, and making a difference in people’s lives – Things of that nature.

By your own definition, how successful are you?

Difficult question. I would say fairly successful. I’m very fortunate I have a very good family. Very loving wife, and I’m loved. I have a good circle of good friends, really, really good friends. I have tremendous relationships with a number of people I know in the industry. I enjoy life. I enjoy good health. Yeah. I would think that I have been very successful by my own definition. Other people may not perceive it the same, but from my point of view, yes.

Please comment on the issue of ethics and success.

Your good name is paramount. My belief is integrity is non-negotiable. We are in a business where the opportunity occurs with some frequency to make money by being a little bit unethical. I do not think you can be a little bit unethical; it is like someone being a little bit pregnant. You are either ethical, or you are not ethical, and as I say, I believe integrity is non-negotiable. Our team knows that. We know we will not tolerate anything unethical. We would much rather walk away from a deal than be suspect of anything. I got rid of my top producing sales person a couple of years ago, just for that one reason. Money became more important to him than strict ethics. While it hurt the company at that time, there was just absolutely no argument about it between my co-director and I. He had to go. Integrity is nonnegotiable.

Good. I want you to comment on being a Chief Executive Officer your personality, or management style.

Dinosaur. Control freak. Dogmatic. Optimistic. Enthusiastic. Intolerant of negativity. Hustling. Urgency.

Talk about the responsibility of being a CEO.

CEO at the end of a day has total responsibility for the operation of the business, and for the performance of all the people that are responsible to him or her. He sets the mission. He sets the values. He institutes the systems or provides measures of accountability. He is responsible for the performance of everyone that is responsible to him.

Comment on leadership.

Leadership I think is different to management. I have done some lecturing on professional practice management with the International Business Broker Association (IBBA) and I see there is a distinction. I think leadership is more intangible. More charismatic. More? I don’t know. Management is more detailed. Making certain that the systems run; that everything is detailed. Someone had the example of a leader, a mile off the road in the jungle, carving a way through. The manager was back at base organizing the people to follow the leader, and the coach was showing them how to sharpen their machetes. They were all different things. The leader sets the tone, the direction, and the everything for the company.

Comment on selecting executive team members, and what you expect of them

We have a very small executive structure. There is myself as CEO, and there is my co-director Glorianne, who is the future of the company. She is very different. She has over ten years experience in the industry, and is a very wonderful person. She has very different skills to me. She is a very warm, empathetic, and more patient person than me. She displays a lot of the characteristics that women are reputed to have, and she really is a very good people person. The other member of our executive team is Carol, the administration manager. She is a very strong details person, very methodical, and has absolutely no sales ability whatsoever. She is an administrator. And what Carol does is take all the “stuff” off my desk. All the stuff that I don’t want to get involved in: whether it be receivables and payables, accounting, commission pay outs, contract management, and dealing with lawyers. She is a different person again. I think that is the strength of our team. My strengths are I’m a deal maker, a rainmaker, a relationship builder, and a PR person. Glorianne is so strong with her detail work and her people capacity, and Carol is very strong on the bookwork details on the administration side.

How did you pick them, Clyth? How did you select them?

I made a lot of mistakes along the way, which most of us do. That might be one of the other identifying characteristics of a leader. I have looked at bringing in partners previously. In retrospect, I’m glad I saw the light before I got too committed. Glorianne, my present co-director has worked with me for ten years. She displayed the keenness to grow, and pursue an ongoing education. She shares with me the passion for the industry. She has never hidden her ambition. She told me very early on that she expected to sit in my chair one day, and has been prepared to be patient about it. It was a no argument thing. She just flowed into the position. She went from being a sales person, to being the marketing manager, to being a director of the company. Carol, the administration manager, is very methodical. We’ve had some very, very good people work for us as administration managers before. They all brought different strengths to the position. With Carol we were just very fortunate. She is very talented. She is very technically oriented, very computer oriented. She has abilities we would not generally find in an accountant type person. She is very good on graphics, and on all sorts of other things. We’ve been very fortunate.

You’ve picked two women for your executive team. What is the remaining breakdown of your staff?

I think we’re currently running with a sales team of 16 people, and six are women. It has been 50/50 in the past and may well be 50/50 again. It’s just the way the cookie has crumbled. I have a feeling that in many ways women make better business sales people than men. They also have different pressures on them in terms of homemaking. But, certainly there is no bias to the imbalance we have on the team. We believe that women can be just as good, if not better, as sales people.

Talk to me about company culture and values.

The first one, as I said, integrity is non-negotiable. We are a little ego driven. We want to be the best business brokers in our area, and we have quite a significant amount of competition. We recognize to be perceived as the best business brokers we need to give the best level of service. We recognize the service we give will be through our team of salespeople. They are the ones directly interfacing with the clients, and customers in the normal course of events. We have a high focus on training. We have a high focus on service. We have difficulty tolerating negative people. We enjoy enthusiasm. We look for passion for the industry, the sort of people who enjoy what they are doing. We look for people that are a little bit hungry, and want to be successful.

I’m in New Zealand and I want to buy a business. Why am I going to bypass your competition and deal with you?

You’re going to go to our company, we hope, because we have more experience than any of the other companies. We have innovative marketing strategies that have been recognized with numerous awards. We have networks some of our competitors don’t have. We have business appraisal skills none of the others have to our depth. We have a very experienced, hard core of sales people on our team. These people have been with us ten to fifteen years. We believe we add more value to the transaction. We recognize the general standard of business brokerage has risen immensely in recent years, and most of our competitors do a pretty good job. We don’t hesitate to tell people, there are other business brokers out there, and “we are certain they will make you happy also; however, we believe we’ll make you a little happier”.

Talk about the opportunities that exist for being the owner or the chief executive officer.

I think the world is full of opportunity at the moment, probably more so than in the past. There are changing demographics, and changes in the number of businesses. One thing we’ve both seen over the last 25 or 30 years is less manufacturing businesses. They’ve gone off shore both in the U.S. and in New Zealand. There is the development of a lot more service businesses; whether it be business services, domestic services, personal services and things of that nature. I think there is just a ton of opportunity. With the Internet, and the web as a marketing opportunity, a small business can have a very high profile in a very short time, and can have a global reach in a very short time. This is the time of just absolutely great opportunity. We have seen all sorts of examples of it, with huge businesses grown out of garages in a very short time.

Talk to me about being the boss for over 40 years. Share with me your management approaches in calm times, and in crisis times.

I believe in celebrating when we have good results; when we have good times we should share that with the team. The nature of our business, business brokerage, it is a cyclic industry. There will always be periods of down turn, and periods of boom. I think you need to recognize that. One of the things you know with experience is after every boom there will probably be a bust period. But after every bust period the sun will shine again. You just have to have the courage, I believe, to just keep on doing the basics persistently, and consistently. It is an attitudinal thing. You can’t change that. The market is the market. The only thing you can control is your attitude towards the market. We will always stay positive. We are very fortunate that as a company we stay very cash rich, which is my inheritance from being a depression baby, and my father’s bankruptcy. We can weather any storm. It would have to be an unbelievable down turn to really cause us any problems. We sleep very well at night. If you sleep very well at night, you can go to work the next day positive, enthusiastic, optimistic and give it your all. Our business is a very simple business – but not an easy business. It tends to come back into balance. There is always someone who wants to sell a business, and someone who wants to buy a business. The market will never be quite in balance, so you might have to change your approach to the market, but there are always opportunities out there.

You referred to a crisis time when you had to get rid of one of your directors.

Not a director, a top sales person. No, it wasn’t a crisis. It hurt financially. It is never enjoyable to terminate anyone. It hurt personally. He was a nice guy himself, but he had this unfortunate trait. He was prepared to cut corners to get a deal together, and it just didn’t fit in with us. He’s working for someone else now, and we wish him well. It hurt us financially for a while, but it certainly wasn’t any danger of it being terminal. We have a number of very good performers on the team.

There is a word you’ve used a number of times, attitude. Talk to me about your attitude, and your staff’s.

They vary. I believe that I have a pretty positive attitude towards things. I’m always up. I’m always buoyant. I look forward to going to work every day. I still enjoy making deals. Glorianne, my partner, is passionate about the industry. She is very similar. She enjoys going to work, and her enthusiasm and passion filters down. Most of our team is upbeat. However, due to the nature of our business, some of our staff gets to be a little bit negative, or a little bit pessimistic. We are continually working on that and helping them. We try to instill in them urgency. A “do it now” attitude. If they keep doing the activities, the results or the outcomes will flow from there. You don’t focus on the dollars on the board, you don’t focus on results, and you focus on the activities. Keep doing those activities, as I said before, persistently and consistently it will come out right.

What have been your one or two biggest problems managing and running your business?

Without any doubt my biggest problem is I’m not a details person. I haven’t been good at delegation. I have spent time doing jobs I didn’t enjoy instead of focusing on my strengths. Probably in the last 20 years we’ve had a succession of good administrative managers. They do the “stuff”, all that bookwork, detail work, and all type of thing I don’t enjoy doing. Other people can do it much better than me, and it lets me devote myself to dollar productive activities.

Have you experienced any betrayals in business, and if so, how did you get past them?

No, I don’t think we’ve ever had any betrayals. We have had sales people leave us and go to other companies. I wouldn’t put that as a betrayal. For various reasons this has happened, not very often, fortunately. No, I don’t think we’ve ever suffered a betrayal. We have remained good friends with anyone that has ever left our company. They have perceived greater opportunities elsewhere, and that is understandable. I think there are five or six other business brokerage companies in Auckland, and I think all of them have some of my people working for them either as owners or managers. They weren’t going to become an owner, partner or manager with me, so you can’t blame them. I’m rather pleased to see them out there. It certainly makes relationships easier. They know where I come from, and I know them. No, I don’t think we’ve ever experienced what we would call a betrayal.

What else do you do besides work?

I still work probably 50 hours a week. I still enjoy work. I don’t work as hard as I used to, but it is probably still 50 hours a week. Generally I’ll be the first person into the office into the morning. When I fly back home from the U.S., the plane normally gets into Auckland about 5:30 in the morning. I’ll go through customs, I’ll throw my bag at home, I’ll go down to the office, and clear my desk before anyone arrives at the office. I want to know what’s happened, so I have time to talk to the troops when they come in. I still work hard, but I also enjoy life. I play some golf, very badly these days. It’s frustrating to say the least. We travel a reasonable amount. I have a very good relationship with wife Trish. We enjoy many of the same things. We eat out a lot. We are deeply involved in the hospitality industries, so we have to do a lot of “research”. I read a lot. I read fairly widely. I have a wide range of subjects. I read history, biography, business books, good quality fiction, and magazines. I read a lot. I don’t watch a lot of television. Life is full. We have family time. We spend time with friends. We enjoy life.

Do you have any other hobbies besides golf?

Not these days. I’ve been involved in various things over the years. In New Zealand I grew up playing rugby, and I played senior rugby. I coached boy’s rugby for some years. It was very rewarding to see some of those players go through life. I played tennis very competitively when I was younger. We ran for a long number of years. We ran a lot of marathons. We ran as a family, and we were very competitive. I coached a lot of runners, and I’ve had great satisfaction out of that, helping people improve. These days reading, family, travel, food, business, is probably enough.

What else are you doing, or is there anything else you are doing to improve yourself?

No. As I say, I do read widely with the aim of improving the self, and improving the business. I’m not pursuing any particular passion at the moment. I’m certainly looking to grow. I’m not looking to vegetate in front of the TV every night.

Is there something significant or unique no one knows about you?

I don’t think so. I’m an open book. I have no secrets from any one. I’ve always been very open about the company, its performance, and its people. No, I don’t have any hidden vices or hidden desires or anything of that nature.

You talked about your exit plan and your successor. What will trigger the transition?

I recognized with some difficulty I wasn’t immortal. We built a good business over the years. We have a responsibility to our sales team, and support staff to ensure the company carries on into the future. It has my name on the company, which gives me some concern. We have had opportunities to sell the company in the past because it is so long established. Those buyers wanted to retain the name. I would not be happy about the name being outside my control, until I hired Glorinne. I have total confidence in her. She shares my passion, she shares my ethical attitude, and if she chooses to continue it under my name, I’m quite comfortable with that. But it was recognition I’m not immortal and sooner or later, I will step back from running the business. I may be happy to continue to work within the company as an employee, or as a sales person. I have my fingers in a couple of other companies that are growing. The valuation company, the appraisal company, is growing all the time. There is a heavy demand for their service, and we are really going to have to do something about that. I’m in partnership with a statistics company, and we’re looking at expanding into Australia. So, I might ease back from the business broking company, and pour a little bit more energy into the other opportunities.

I sold a business with a prominent name, and included a clause: if a problem or questionable business activity occurs, the name will be pulled.

Yes. I will certainly have some codicil of that nature if I transfer the company to anyone else. I would rather just close the company down, or sell it for peanuts without the name. I had a glaring example down here of a long established family company, a third generation company. It was taken over by someone who continued to trade on his name and went into liquidation. The previous owner was a friend of mine, and he was devastated because his name was on the company. This failure was very public. While my name might pass on, I would want to retain some control over the use of the right to pull the plug.

What advice do you have for budding CEO’s, what qualities are needed, and what is the best psychological makeup?

Psychological makeup, I think they need to be positive and optimistic by nature, because you are going to get knocked down. There are going to be failures, and you’ve got to treat failures as learning experiences. Tom Hopkins says you’ve got to accept the ups and downs. You’ve got to have SWSWSWN used in Julie Johnson’s class: “Some Will, Some Won’t, So What, Next” attitude. You’ve got to accept failures, setbacks and remain positive about it. I believe a CEO of his own business needs to have a thorough understanding of finances, and remember always: Turnover is vanity, Profits are sanity, and Cash is Reality. He needs to have some reserves for contingencies. I know that’s not always easy when you’re a budding organization. I think the budding CEO needs to face the fact it is lonely, and it is hard work. Certainly for the first few years he or she will need to work very hard. It won’t guarantee success, but certainly won’t stop it.

Support of a spouse is important. I think it is immensely helpful if you’ve got a supportive spouse that understands the business, understands the pressure, and understands you might well work long hours. I’m not a great believer in life balance as such. I think it will always be a little bit out of balance, one-way or the other. I think the spouse needs to understand that. I think it is helpful to have a spouse to share your thoughts with. If you accept a CEO’s role is lonely, there is a limit to what you can share with friends, because of confidentiality constraints. There is a limit to what you can share with employees, because they are employees. A good spouse is a major asset.

What have been your most satisfying accomplishments as CEO?

Building a company from scratch. We believe we are very highly regarded in the business fraternity by our peers, other business brokers, by realtors, and by the accounting profession who we share clients with. They provide services to business people as we do. We have been very fortunate over the years to building a very good relationship with the Institute of Chartered Accountants (CPA’s), as well as with individual accountants. We are very proud of the relationship, and the perception they have of us. I’m certainly very proud of some of the sales people we have developed we have assisted through success, and have them gone onto other things.

These are accomplishments, but what have you learned about yourself over the years?

I’m not a details person. I can make mistakes. I need to delegate. I don’t do it easily. As I get older, I’ve learned I don’t have the same stamina I had when I was younger. I’ve learned the more you give, the more you get. Being generous in relationships and giving away information comes back to you. Casting your bread upon the waters really works in the business world. I’ve learned to listen more, as I’ve gotten older, and question more. I’ve moved more toward 80% listening and 20% speaking.

 


Keith McLeod, Lifetime CBI

From the Editor’s Desk

keith-mcleodDuring my junior or senior year in college I took a business writing course. I was deeply moved by a passage in one of the required books to read: William L. Stidger’s Must You Keep Your Heart in Cold Storage? I kept it for years and I believe it bears repeating around Thanksgiving time. It is one of my treasures, which I share with you again:

The line between business appreciation and personal appreciation is often so thin that it cannot be discerned. You cannot tell where one leaves off and the other begins. This is as it should be. The businessman, the professional man, the public servant – all of us – owe an eternal debt to those whom have constructively shaped our lives. We should never forget our debt.

“We were a group of friends in the midst of an after-dinner conversation ten years ago,” writes the Reverend William L. Stidger of the staff of the Boston University School of Theology.
“Because Thanksgiving was just around the corner and prosperity wasn’t, we were talking about what we have to be thankful for.”

That started us. One of us said: “Well I, for one, am grateful to Mrs. Wendt, an old schoolteacher who 30 years ago went out of her way to introduce me to Tennyson.” She had, it appeared, awakened his literary interests and developed his gifts for expression.

“Does this Mrs. Wendt know that she made such a contribution to your life?” someone asked.

“I’m afraid not. I’ve never taken the trouble to tell her.”

“Then why don’t you write her? It would certainly make her happy if she is alive, and it might make you happier too. Far too few of us have developed the habit of gratitude.”

All of this is very poignant to me, because Mrs. Wendt was my teacher, and I was the fellow who hadn’t written. My friend’s challenge made me see that I had accepted something precious and hadn’t bothered to say thanks.

That evening, on the chance that Mrs. Wendt might still be living, I wrote her what I called a Thanksgiving letter.

My letter was forwarded from town to town. Finally it reached her, and this is the note I received in return.

“I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my eighties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and like the last leaf of fall lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for fifty years and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered me as nothing has in many years….”

My first Thanksgiving letter had proved so satisfying that I made a list of people who had contributed something deep and lasting to my life and planned to write at least one every day in November. I sent out fifty letters. All but two brought answers immediately. Those two were returned by relatives, saying the addressees were dead, and even those letters expressed thanks for the little bit of thoughtfulness.

Perhaps the most touching answer came from Bishop William F. McDowell, whose wife once cared for me with such motherly thoughtfulness that I never forgot it – but had never written her a letter of thanks. Now I remembered and knowing that she was gone, wrote my Thanksgiving letter to the Bishop, telling him my memory. I received this in response:

“Your letter was so beautiful, so real, that I sat reading it in my study tears fell from my eyes, tears of gratitude. Then, before I realized what I was doing, I rose from my chair, called her name, and started to show it to her – forgetting she was gone. You will never know how much your letter has warmed my spirit. I have been walking about in the glow of it all day long.”

For ten years I have continued to write my Thanksgiving month letters, and I now have more than 500 of the most beautiful answers anyone has ever received. A Thanksgiving letter isn’t much. Only a few lines are necessary. But the rewards are so great that eternity alone can estimate them. Thanks to the rebuke of a friend, I have learned a little about gratitude.

Stidger has written a powerful reminder to take time to say thanks for those who invested time and who advanced our lives. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I will see you in Savannah.

 


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