The 2010 Forum offered a collegial environment to pose difficult questions Entrepreneur Owner-Managers and their advisors are confronted with. The Forum kicked off with a group orienteering activity, aptly titled, “How Can We Guide Our Clients If Even We Are Lost?” Rob MacLeod, Managing Director at Bigelow LLC, explained that orienteering was chosen as a fun team building/get acquainted activity and an apt metaphor for professional advisors. Rob MacLeod introduced Ms. Deborah Humiston, International Orienteering Champion, who launched 10 teams of Forum participants on a treasure hunt through the beautiful Wentworth grounds.
Peter Worrell, Managing Director at Bigelow LLC, kicked off the morning’s discussions with an overview of the content from the 2008 and 2009 forums. “What’s changed in the ensuing months,” he stated, “is the external environment. How are we reading the terrain?” The results from the 2010 participant survey gave us a window on how this group of expert advisors views the current economic landscape.
Rob MacLeod continued with an overview of the survey results. Highlights from Rob’s and Peter’s remarks:
- Advisors generally think their clients businesses are 2x worse off than their own.
- Our perceptions about the length of the recession and the severity of the GDP drop are greatly exaggerated. The actual drop of 3% essentially brought us back just two years.
- Behavioral psychologists have documented that “bad” feels 2.5x stronger than “good” – which helps explain the disconnect between reality and our perceptions of economic loss.
- Most of the 2010 Forum attendees had not experienced the worst of the previous perceptions, so their reference points are largely the decades of steady economic growth.
- It should be understood that the definition of recovery (in the field of economics) is not increasing employment. The current economy is indeed recovering.
The 2010 Bigelow Forum premiered the second and third sequels to the video case study of The Uncertain Entrepreneur. “There are over 2000 years of collective experience in this room,” said David Linton, Managing Director at Bigelow LLC. “In the recent year, we’ve all heard stories of owner-managers that went down the wrong path. Is it the economy? Particular industries? Or have they and their advisors gotten ‘comfortably numb’?” As apparent in the sequel to last year’s video, the tide went out on Shannon, our Uncertain Entrepreneur. What happened? Attendees met in small focus groups to discuss focusing questions, including: how do external events impact enterprise value? How do we, as advisors, become more effective advocates for our clients? How and when do we intervene and dare to ask the tough questions? What are effective tools for family governance? What is in the best interest of the Entrepreneur Owner-Manager? How do we ensure optimal client outcomes?
Moderator Rob MacLeod introduced three successful entrepreneurs who recently completed a value-capturing event. Their diverse stories offered real-world insight into the issues explored in the Shannon videos. We heard their viewpoints on the factors, internal and external, that caused fluctuations in the value of their businesses. We listened to their thoughts on the role advisors played as well as how the advisors could have been more helpful. We offer grateful thanks to the panelists for their time and willingness to share their stories.
Peter Worrell wrapped up the proceedings with a short summary of the Forum sessions. He stressed that it’s not a time to be complacent about the entrepreneurial economy. This past year has offered chilling reminders of how easy it is to anchor on a base case in the past (as Shannon did in Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda) – and make faulty assumptions about the present and future value of an enterprise. He thanked everyone for their deposit of intellectual capital and encouraged all to continue with the Forum “experiment” – sharing our knowledge and experience and working together for the benefit of our owner-manager clients.