Like Oprah, Know When It's Time to Let Go
For the last few days in May 2011, millions of people waited with great anticipation to see the final episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." She had decided, after 25 years, to end her very popular daytime talk show to move on to other interests. Many questioned why she would leave a show that has had such success.
Moving on is often a difficult task; whether it is moving to a new job, getting into or out of a relationship, or moving away from home. There are so many uncertainties that it can be paralyzing. An athlete can find it difficult to end his or her career even when injured or passed their prime. Entertainers hate to leave the limelight, even when all signs point to declining performance. Entrepreneurs also can be guilty of staying too long, even when their presence is detrimental to the business.
From personal experience, it was hard to let go of a business I had birthed and nurtured to maturity. It's like letting go of your child. There is never a good time to leave, but usually there are signs that there is time for a change. After 25 years of operating the business I founded, I sold it. In hindsight I should have exited the business three to four years earlier.
Some of the signs were:
- I no longer enjoyed going to work, the passion was gone.
- I began abdicating some responsibilities.
- I avoided dealing with changes in the marketplace.
- I was reluctant to invest in growth strategies.
These were all key elements in maintaining the business on its successful path. At some point it is time to let go. Some things may allow for a long planning process about how the change should be made. In other situations, decisions may need to be made quicker. As an entrepreneur, there is time to plan to exit your company if planning is begun early in development of the business. Reasons to leave a company will vary, i.e., the passion may be gone, as in my case; illness or death may occur, or a myriad of other reasons.
I had begun developing a succession plan a few years before selling the company but "dropped the ball" in the process and did not complete it in a timely way. Therefore, when I knew I needed to leave, my options were limited.
I advise clients to begin working on a succession plan soon after starting the business. Having a plan in place does not mean it has to be implemented, but if there is no plan your options are limited.
Some things to consider are:
- Who is capable of taking over the business?
- Are there family members capable and interested?
- What role do you want to have after leaving the day-to-day operation?
- Is an employee stock option plan a possibility?
- Is selling part or all of the company something to consider?
Getting adequate answers to these questions takes time and usually requires some outside professional help.
Deciding to "let go" of your company may mean retirement or just give you the flexibility to do whatever you desire. I tried retirement for a while, but it did not agree with me. I, therefore, got involved in other business ventures.
As we know, Oprah did not retire but is operating her own network. She had a planned strategy. As successful as her show had been, she heeded the signs.
If you are an entrepreneur, put in place a plan to exit your business, whether or not you use it.
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Lillian Lambert is first African American woman to receive an MBA from Harvard Business School and a successful entrepreneur. In her book, The Road to Someplace Better: From the Segregated South to Harvard Business School and Beyond, Lambert draws upon her experiences, using her personal story to show how to use obstacles and barriers as stepping stones to higher levels of achievement. Visit Lillian on Red Room, where you can buy her book and read her blog.