By Maurie Cashman
What do you want to be remembered for? We always start our planning process by asking the business owner(s) what their objectives are in transitioning ownership of the business. Often we get answers like I want to minimize taxes, I want to receive maximum value for the business, I want to protect my employees or I want to be sure I receive enough to meet retirement objectives. All are good and worthy objectives and that is where most ownership transition planners stop asking questions.
The problem with these expected answers is that they donâ€™t really get to what is in the ownerâ€™s heart â€“ What do you want to be remembered for? When we ask this question we generally get a blank look, at first. Then the emotion comes into the spotlight and we get to what is truly important.
â€œSuccess is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.â€
- Warren Buffet
Notice that I asked what you want to be remembered for, not what you want your legacy to be. Oftentimes the word legacy comes up in planning for ownership transition. Legacy is defined as something (such as property or money) that is received from someone who has died: or something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past. Nice to get I guess if you arenâ€™t expecting it but nothing that people (other than possible the heirs, maybe) are going to remember you for.
I come from a very large, extended family. Mom and dad bought our farm from my grandfather and when dad got sick the farm was sold. Dad was not a â€œbigâ€ farmer, even in those days. To the people who bought our farm, it was just another piece of land to add to their holdings. I doubt that they even knew that it was a Century Farm or that my great, great grandfather had settled the land and started in sod house less than a mile away. What I do know is this. When my Dad died it was one of the largest wakes and funerals in the history of the county. The funeral home stayed open far after normal so that everyone could get in. He wasnâ€™t the smartest man in town. He certainly wasnâ€™t the richest or most â€œsuccessfulâ€. He did not travel far or often. He was however, one of the most respected and loved. He was known as an honest, hard-working husband and father and as someone who would do anything asked to help someone else, friend or stranger. People still stop me to tell me what a great man he was.
My Grandma was in the convent and preparing to take her final vows when she met my Grandpa. They had eleven children, one of whom died in infancy. She never held a â€œpayingâ€ job and there was not a large financial inheritance to their children. She was probably the wisest person I have ever met, although she was not â€œwell educatedâ€. I will always remember her house being filled with books, many religious, biographical or discussions of current events. We loved to engage her in political discussions because she was so well informed. She was featured in the local paper for taking lessons in the Russian language simple for the challenge when she was in her late seventyâ€™s. She also volunteered at the local Catholic school and tutored students in every subject imaginable. I doubt that there is a single student that came through that school whom she did not positively impact for the rest of their lives by her volunteerism, caring and wisdom. She also treated my Dad as a complete equal with the rest of her kids.
I feel fortunate to have these role models to look up to and the specific traits that I remember them for. I continually ask the question of what I want to remembered for. What is your answer?
Next week I will pose a more difficult question.