The Baby Boomer Business Exit Bubble

By Marcus Hedenberg
last updated Monday, April 13, 2015

Exit bubble

Roughly 76.4 million “baby boomers” were born in the United States between 1946 and 1964. Many of those boomers later went on to form businesses, and today, between four and five million businesses are owned by people over 53 years old.
    It's an astonishing number, but also a troubling one, now that a reported 75 percent of owners don't have an exit plan. Gary Ampulski, Managing Partner of Midwest Genesis (a Business Value Enhancement and Transition Planning/Execution firm), delves inside the “baby boomer exit bubble” that looms over seniors who may now want to sell their businesses.
    “If every owner in the over 53 crowd is depending on selling their business to fund the next stage of their life (be it retirement or something else), the amount of capital required to close all those transactions is over $10 trillion dollars,” Mr. Ampulski writes. “Where is the money going to come from to fund those acquisitions?”
    At the moment, there's about $535 billion in funds available to acquire businesses, which falls drastically short of the equity needed to satisfy all the sellers looking to sell their businesses. In fact, many experts now believe that the fierce competition for these retiring business owners will drive down prices.
    Some contend that baby boomers should actually avoid starting new business ventures altogether if they haven't already done so, especially now that American households comprised of individuals in their 50s and 60s have a much smaller net worth on average than similar households in the 1980s, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Worse, the average American household only has approximately $25,000 in savings and investments, excluding home and pension benefits.
    Fortunately, not all hope is yet lost for baby boomers looking to exit their businesses. Selling off ownership of one's business to talented millennials who are fresh out of business school may actually be a worthwhile alternative, especially for those who lack any natural heir or wish to avoid a corporate buyout.
    Tenise Homan, entrepreneur and co-founder of ExitBubble.com, says that one of the first things business owners must do is to think like a buyer. Better yet, business owners should think like Millennial buyers and ask themselves how they can make their business attractive to that younger buyer.
    Among other things, Ms. Homan recommends to perform due diligence about buyers before selecting them, as negotiating power for price significantly wanes afterward. Moreover, owners should not “be blinded by dollar signs” since the highest price offer is not necessarily the best. It's also important to understand potential buyers' assumptions about valuation and that one has to anticipate price adjustments after the buyer has conducted his or her own due diligence. Equally crucial is weighing the buyer's ability to close the transaction and whether the net profits after transaction costs, taxes and debts are enough to cover one's financial exit goals.
    “Planning how and when you exit your business might feel uncomfortable, but it is how business owners can maximize the return on their investment of all of those years of hard work,” Ms. Homan writes. “Business owners owe it to themselves and their families to start planning now, regardless of when they expect to exit their business.”
    Above all, the key to selling off one's business is patience and optimism. With Millennials under the age of 35 numbering at roughly 80 million today, there's a potentially rich pool of customers to tap into – customers who could very well become buyers given the difficulty of finding jobs today in corporate America. The answer for them may yet be to turn to entrepreneurship.

Mony to building

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