Exit Stories: Begin with the End in Mind

On the evening of Tuesday, April 12, 2016, I attended Exit Stories: Begin with the End in Mind workshop hosted by the Entrepreneurship Forum at St. Joe’s University. The Entrepreneurship Forum of the Greater Philadelphia Area hosts monthly meetings that begin with networking and proceed with an informative presentation given by the guest speakers. This organization’s meetings help aspiring, current, and experienced entrepreneurs learn from each other and build their businesses.

Joe O’Donnell, the President of Entrepreneurs’ Forum of Greater Philadelphia and Omega Commercial Real Estate, Inc. directed today’s presentation on exit stories. The room was filled with small business owners, employees, and students looking for advice on improving, growing, and learning more about businesses and their exits. Below are my takeaways from the four guest speakers that O’Donnell introduced.

The four guest speakers were

  1. Gene McWilliams
  2. Ryan Clark
  3. Kenyon Hayward
  4. Louis Hayner

Each panelist shared their experience with their companies and the lessons they learned along the way. I really enjoyed listening to their reflection of looking back on their time with the company and what their plan or no plan exit strategy ended up being. The following discusses in detail each panelist’s companies, learning lessons, and their exit strategies.

McWilliams has been involved in several high-growth companies. Most recently, he was the CFO of Source4Teachers. Another company McWilliams was primarily involved in during 1995 to 2000 was Crothall Services Group. He has been involved in several mergers and acquisitions and shared his view on exit strategies based on his personal experiences. He believes that it is all about following someone with a vision and their leadership, but mostly he emphasized the equity of the company. The timing for the exit is always key, but business owners and managers should exit when its most financially beneficial. His exit strategy advice was in the financial interest of the owners and the company in general.

Clark, was one of the founders of PeopleShare, that they later had acquired using a boutique investment banker. He shared how the private equity firm was definitely the way to go despite the expense. Clark considers himself lucky that his company had the success it did. When asked if he would get involved in other start-ups or start another company of his own, he say he was “one and done.” There is so much work that goes into starting a company and he attributes his success a lot to his hard work ethic from his upbringing. The exit strategy that PeopleShare took was a strategic and long process, but wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Hayward considered himself a “serial entrepreneur.” By that he means he is always looking to get involved in new ventures and ideas. Hayward was the founder and CEO of V-SPAN, leading global videoconferencing/web conferencing network services firm. Hayward was also the co-founder of Advance Voice Systems that was acquired by MCI. He has been involved in several other organizations and start-ups. Hayward’s advice on exiting was to not sell when you want to, but to sell when it is the right time for your business. Timing is everything. Each sale should be customized to what is best for the firm at that time.

Hayner’s entrepreneurship started as a founder of the UC Cloud company Alteva, which exited for double the average industry valuation. Hayner also started The Hayner Group in 2013, which is a consulting firm that helps smaller to mid-sized companies receive the help their businesses need to grow in the markets. He really stressed having a strategic sale over a financial sale. Hayner really emphasized the importance of investing in your employee staff to help grow your company to the best of its ability. Hayner shared that he built his company to be profitable, not with the objective being the exit.