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Positive Enterprise Value Blog Seller Beware
Seller Beware

Seller Beware

October 7, 2020

5 minute watch

Portsmouth, NH

In this very brief and concise video titled Seller Beware, Stephen McGee provides some learnings from his years of experience with Entrepreneur Owner-Managers who are thinking about a capital gain someday in the private transaction market (what we call the Seller Beware market). These learnings are delivered in an effective, no frills “TED Talk-like” setting. EOMs who are planning to find a new majority investor for their enterprises will find this material immediately useful to think about, and act on.


What I am Reading / Listening to

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1998)
By Ron Chernow

Contributed by Ryan P. Tracey 

Titan, the biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was one of the more in-depth and intriguing biographies I have read.  Ron Chernow brings the story to life by searching for the motivations, or story behind the story, to really understand the man, who at the time was one of the most famous figures in the country. While I would highly recommend this book, I wanted to suggest it for a different reason, one that I feel may resonate today with entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs during this time of pandemic and financial uncertainty.

We think of “the Rockefellers” and we think of one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. At their peak, the family controlled 90% of all the oil in the U.S. and had a fortune worth 2% of the national economy. But, they did not start off this way. John D. Rockefeller was actually the son of a serial criminal and bigamist who was in and out of John’s life before finally abandoning the family when John was in his teens.  As children, John and his brother were not allowed to sit in on the school’s picture day because their suits were too shabby.  I laughed at the fact that a farmer’s daughter whom John had taken a liking to was persuaded to stay away from him by her father so as to “not waste her time on someone with such poor prospects” – not the greatest parental advice in hindsight!

Thrust into adulthood at an early age, John’s greatest influences were from his mother’s unflappable nature, and his strict Baptist upbringing. He was renowned for his stoic nature and his ability to remain extremely calm through any crisis. As others panicked and followed the crowd, John sat back observing. He endured the financial crisis of 1857, the Civil War, and when the oil business was in its infancy, it was more like a helter-skelter gold rush. However, John envisioned the long-term potential and never got caught up in chasing the next oil site. This side of the business was wildly speculative and unpredictable. John astutely realized that refining the oil was the critical point that would allow him to exert maximum leverage over the industry.  With hindsight, all of John Rockefeller's transformative strategic moves were in the midst of industry turmoil.  His secretive, and later highly controversial, railroad deals were during a period when the Pennsylvania Railroad teamsters were trying to squeeze out the refiners of Cleveland.  Many succumbed to the pressures.  John instead went around them and secured deals with competing railroads promising volume in return for rebates of up to 75%.  It was these moments of remaining calm and finding strategic alternatives that defined John D. Rockefeller’s career as one of the greatest entrepreneurs, capitalists, and philanthropists in American history.

Where are we in 2020?  Emerging from an economic shut down due to the pandemic.  Businesses struggling to stay afloat and owners are being forced to make some tough decisions.  John Rockefeller claimed that he became the way he was through the “school of adversity and stress.” He was actually grateful for those tougher times which taught him many lessons to be applied throughout his life and career. Like John, we can choose to be focused and determined rather than fearful victims.  We can choose to make now the time we reflect on our real mission and goals as a company, as an owner, or even just on a personal level.  And we can choose to make now the time we sharpen our pencils and make ourselves more efficient.  It’s survival time.  Those that come out the other end of this crazy chapter of our history will be sharper and leaner, because they have to be.  Rockefeller’s story was a reminder that obstacles and crises can turn into opportunities with the right perspective.

Entrepreneur Owner-Manager Quote

“I’m motivated by a sense of stewardship; this company is a living organism that I want to see not only survive, but flourish.”

-Andrew Schonbek, Former President & CEO of Schonbek Worldwide Lighting Inc.


Andrew Schonbek

Energy Creation

Contributed by Ryan D. Lavin

Changing with the Season

I usually don’t like to make sweeping generalizations, but here’s one: in terms of exercise and the pandemic, most people I know have fallen into one of two camps over the past six months. I call the people in the first camp the “Essential Exercisers.” You know them. You saw all their social media posts. When the gyms closed they are the ones that quickly Googled “DIY weights,” and next thing you know there’s a concrete block tied to a makeshift pulley in their backyard and despite your serious doubts surrounding the strength of the tree branch they hooked it up to, they were not going to miss a workout. I liked this camp. There were some amazing people in that camp. I just wasn’t one of them.

I quickly enrolled in the second camp–the “Delivery & Donuts” camp. (Let’s just say I didn’t do myself any favors from a health perspective during the early stages of the pandemic.) I started the year training for my first marathon, but once it was cancelled, I no longer had a tangible goal to hang on to and my longest jog became from the fridge to the couch. It soon became a walk from the fridge to the couch. Come late August I realized this had become a problem. I needed a real solution and fast.

The Fall happens to be when I spend the most time outdoors. Once mid-September hits, if I’m not working or sleeping, I’m in the woods, on a trail, or on a mountain. The extra COVID 19 I’d put on was going to seriously jeopardize all the Fall plans I had. So I got serious. I put together my own personal challenge: 35 days; two workouts per day (everyday – no days off), each had to be a minimum of 45-minutes in length and one had to be outside; one gallon of water a day; pick any diet, but no cheat meals; no alcohol. Easy, right?

The two workouts a day sounds fairly easy, but absent some creativity, this actually becomes incredibly hard and poses multiple challenges. I doubt there are many physicians out there that will tell you that after six months of sitting on the couch fully engrossed in a PhD level research project surrounding the similarities & differences of various cheesecakes, you should immediately hop into two CrossFit caliber workouts per day for 35 straight days. That’s a recipe for disaster. The other challenge is balance. I’ve been married for less than two years and even I know that, “sorry, but I won’t be cutting the grass for the next 35 days,” isn’t something I should be saying. I had to get my workouts in and still fulfill all other responsibilities. My success here came down to scheduling and creativity. I had to schedule in really hard workout sessions, but I also had to schedule in active recovery, stretching, and low-impact workouts. You can’t work out 70 times in 35 days if you injure yourself on day 3. I solved the balance issue with a mix of creativity and crazy. I traded in my ride-on lawn mower for a reel-mower – yes, the manual mower with the spinning blades in the front. Reel-mowers work great on small flat lawns – having neither one of those allowed me to turn cutting my grass into a workout. Cleaning the garage? I popped on a weighted vest and mixed in sets of squats, lunges, and pull-ups (somehow my garage looks worse than when I started but that’s for another post…). Walking the dog? Put a weighed vest on the dog and carry him (that last one was a joke, but you get the idea).

If you read “drink a gallon of water a day” and thought that it was either ridiculous or overkill, you’re probably right. But I knew two things: 1.) I was vastly underhydrated and 2.) the exact amount of water I needed to drink a day to maintain optimal hydration would change every day depending on my activity and I honestly didn’t want to do another math problem to figure it out, so I picked a number and made it dummy proof. Drinking a full gallon a day started out difficult – mostly a logistics issue. Most people will look at you funny if you are carrying around a full gallon of water with you wherever you go. Carrying a wide-mouth Nalgene and knowing at all-times where the bathroom is made this part easier. If you’re only going to try one part of this challenge, I’d say make it this one. The effects of being fully hydrated are vastly underrated.

Sticking to a diet and cutting out alcohol was fairly straightforward. Simple and easy to make meals were the key. “Salad” is an obvious answer to the, “what’s for lunch today?” question. I knew that if I had to find something new each day or “quinoa-encrust” anything, even once, I would fail. Once I was in my routine, I only had to fight off my sweet tooth cravings a handful of times. I think the timing of my challenge really helped here. My 35 days fell right in between the summer wind down and the holiday ramp-up. Would I have the willpower to say, “no thanks, I’ll just have a salad” at Thanksgiving? Likely not. Also, if you’re ever going to try to cut alcohol out of your life for a while, a global pandemic with reduced social gatherings is certainly a good time to do it.

It should go without saying that from a physical standpoint I feel 100 times better than I did 35 days ago. I’ve lost my COVID fluff and avoided the need to find myself a good pair of fat pants. My sleep pattern has dramatically improved and the drop in my monthly allocation to cheesecake research has done wonders from an economic standpoint. More importantly, I prevented the loss of my favorite time of year. It’s hard to enjoy the view from the top of the White Mountains when you don’t make it up there.

We have all lost pieces of our lives because of COVID-19. Our social interactions, sense of normalcy and, at times, even a bit of our sanity. But COVID can’t be blamed for everything. Sitting in camp “Delivery & Donuts” was my fault – not COVID’s.

I alone had to put in the work and fight for my Fall season, and it was worth it.

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