Updated: Sep 13, 2019
I sold my company, Averica Discovery, in 2016. I left two years later. The other day a colleague told me she thought I left because I didn't get along with the new owners, that I was unhappy with management's direction for the combined entity.
I didn't immediately know how to answer. I hadn't thought it through, but I knew it wasn't really about that. Sure, there were some disagreements, and I didn't get my way on some plans I felt were undervalued by the new owners, but in the end I left because it was the best way to strengthen my former company, now a business unit of a bigger parent.
The biggest mistake I made in the process of selling was to misunderstand who my buyer was. I started negotiation with the buyer's CEO and CFO. Early on there was a courteous meeting with the private equity investor, whom I liked personally. He told me "I will not be involved, [the CEO] has my complete authority to negotiate this deal. I just wanted to meet you." A couple of weeks later, I was on the phone with the investor (not the CEO) negotiating pricing. He kept on inserting himself into the negotiating process, and later in the preparation of the sales contracts. But I never recalibrated - I kept talking to the CEO and CFO. I never took the time to learn enough about the investor's goals.
It turned out that the investor had some changes in mind. Less than a year in, most of the buyer's executive team had left. I found myself having to re-sell my business (re-justify its value) as the new execs joined the team. Rather than moving forward, I was stuck making essentially the same presentations about our capabilities, plans, and customers for nearly the entire two years I stayed.
I finally realized, six months before leaving, that I had hired excellent leadership on my own team; and if I turned everything over to them they would be in an entirely different position than I was. Rather than constantly selling the parent on the value of Averica, they could leave that behind - it hadn't been their role. They could focus on moving forward and growing again.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is get out of the way and trust the talent you've hired. I stayed for a while, but I was not the right leader for my company any more. Averica has new leadership, is growing, hasn't suffered without me, and I'm proud of what we accomplished. I'm glad my colleague provoked me to reflect a little - I'm not in any way unhappy with how things turned out for Averica Discovery, or for its parent, or for me.
More thoughts on selling a company to come...