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I consider myself a tolerant person. My wife and I have added three kids to the world in the last six years while both working. I can manage a Teams call while feeding a baby and while switching to mute to tell a toddler “okay wait right there and I’ll help you put on your shoes…. DON’T go outside…wait DO NOT go outside.” We’ve been through a frenetic pace of change at RKCA, while growing our headcount, the clients we work with and the geographies in which we engage. And through it all, my heart rate on my Apple watch averages where it should.

All of this to say there is something I CANNOT tolerate: When people undo decisions that have been made.   

In the year 1519, Cortes arrived in the New World with six hundred men. After landing, he destroyed all their ships and set fire to them. I believe this sent a clear message to his men: There is no turning back. Two years later, he succeeded and conquered the Aztec empire.

This is easier said than done. Taking risks is hard. The unknown is scary. Living with someone for a while before getting married is easier because you still have that out, the ship is still there. And this doesn’t just play out in big decisions like careers or marriage, it plays out in Board rooms every single day. A few examples…are you trying to commit to a new sales structure for your staff but you just aren’t sure a) if it will work or b) if someone will leave as a result? Are you concerned about that one employee who you know needs to go, but you keep him/her employed because how would the staff react to the extra workload? Or did you make a decision as a team to grab lunch from Chipotle and halfway there someone says “well….maybe Currito instead?” (real life example from this week)

The outcome you desire does not have a chance  a ship to hop back on.

We see this every day with business owners who want to exit their business. Here is a hypothetical example of some types conversations we might here from business owners:

February 2019

  • Business Owner (who we will call Jen): Would love to grab coffee with you guys to get a sense of the market and multiples, I’m ready to sell.
  • RKCA: Great, can you also provide some financial information in advance so we can get a better sense of the business?
  • Jen: For sure, see attached and see you at your offices for coffee next week.

Meeting at RKCA ends, Owner thanks us for our time, found the information very insightful and will take it back to her Board.

  • Jen: All, thanks again for the time. After discussing with my Board, I am not sure now is the time. We have pretty aggressive 2020 projections and I think the business will be worth a lot more in June 2020 once we have the large contract signed that I referenced.

November 2020

  • Jen: Hey guys, are you back in the office or still remote? This has been crazy and really impactful on our business. I’m definitely ready to get this business sold. That contract didn’t come through. Can we do a Zoom?

Zoom meeting ends, Owner thanks us for our time, found the information very insightful and will take it back to her Board.

February 2023

  • Jen: Would love to grab coffee with you guys to get a sense of the market and multiples, I’m ready to sell.

Without fail, we interact with a Jen business owner almost every day. And that’s okay, selling your business is a huge life change. It’s why we trademarked what we do as “A Life’s Work Realized”® and in fact, we measure our success annually as a firm in “life’s worked realized.”

So how do you get better at burning the ships? Two observations over the years to share:

  1. Change the environment
    • Do you have a culture/environment of reworking decisions? Is a decision made by you or your leadership team and then there’s a reversion to a discussion again about it? Even if it’s not changed, you need to break that cycle of revisiting decisions.
    • The solution we’ve found to work best: pick a king/queen decision maker. We use EOS and this role is the “Implementer.” But, if you play out Jen’s example, if SHE is the decision maker (not her Board), when the time was right for her, she is the one responsible for that decision.
  2. Take a step back, you be the advisor
    • What would you advise somebody like you to do? When you advise somebody external, then you’re not as influenced by your own biases.
    • This is where we advocate as well for joining Vistage, YPO, a Roundtable, or some other forum with business owners to talk through issues like transacting.

Decision making is hard. We make thousands every day and selling your business is one of the biggest you will make. Re-trading the Chipotle decision for Currito is a silly example (but right decision in my opinion to switch). But re-trading big life decisions like selling your business or taking a new job isn’t (my opinion) a healthy practice.

When you feel ready, BURN THE SHIPS.


The content of this material was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. However, RKCA does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information contained herein and provides no assurance that this information is, in fact, accurate. The information and data contained herein is for informational purposes only and is subject to change without notice.

The material is provided solely for informational purposes and does not consider the specific objectives, circumstances or profile of any particular buyer or seller and should not be relied upon for any specific course of action. This material should not be considered, construed, or followed as investment, tax, accounting, or legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of other employees of RKCA. Market data proprietary to source cited, may not be reprinted, reproduced, or used without permission from the source or RKCA.

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Investment banking services provided by RKCA, Inc., Member SIPC/FINRA. Non-securities related services provided by RKCA Services, LLC. 1077 Celestial Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. Phone: 513.371.5533.

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