Heidi Bolger

Business Ownership Transition

Why itís a true team sport.

July 11, 2011
by Heidi Bolger, CPA, ABV

With so many baby boomer entrepreneurs approaching retirement age, there are sure to be plenty of transfers of business ownership. As CPAs, we often play a lead role as business advisor to these entrepreneurial enterprises, which positions us well to play a major role in guiding our clients through a successful ownership transition. Most of us feel honored to play this role even though the highest honors go to advisors who recognize this critical transition is best handled as a team sport.

Why Involve a Team?

Aside from the many areas of specialized knowledge required to facilitate a business transition, there are other good reasons to engage a team in the process:

  • The buy-in by key stakeholders and other advisors gained through a collaborative process can make the difference between a deal that works or one that goes south.
  • Three or four heads are better than one in developing creative alternatives.

Who Is on the Team?

Who should you paint into the picture as you work on broadening your client’s perspective on employing, a team approach? Some possibilities are highlighted in the diagram below.

Other possible team members who may be relevant (depending on the nature and make-up of your client’s business) would be a real estate agent, government officials or other contractual relationships’ representatives (e.g. your franchisor or key customers) who may have to bless any proposed transaction. You may also consider adding a business coach who can help groom the next generation of leaders. Although this may seem like overkill for a small enterprise, it’s far less complicated to get the right parties “on the team” at the outset than to resort to a fire drill late in the game in an attempt to cover all the bases.

What Roles Do Team Members Play?

The roles played by each of these key constituents vary for ownership-transition projects. In a very basic sense the primary roles are as follows:

Owner(s) define what they want and need in order to feel they have transitioned their business ownership successfully.

Family Members and Key Employees require an understanding of the ownership transition plan and what it means to and for them. Ideally, they would also be given the opportunity to provide input on their preferences regarding ownership transition.

Lead Business Advisor assists the owner(s) in assessing what options are available in transferring business ownership based on owner preferences and helps in assembling a plan and team to see that the process is completed successfully. In addition, the advisor sometimes also helps in developing the offering package when an outside sale is an option being considered.

Investment Banker/Business Broker serves as the matchmaker/lead negotiator when an outside buyer is determined to be the better option in transferring business ownership.

Appraiser develops an analysis of the value of business using an income, market, and, where applicable, asset approach.

Tax/Estate Advisor serves the role of guiding the owner(s) on the most tax efficient way to transfer ownership to maximize the funds available, and deliver a best case outcome with respect to the owner’s estate plan.

Insurance Agent(s) offers guidance on how to structure or restructure insurance coverage to secure the transaction and provide appropriate business coverage with changes in ownership.

Bankers can facilitate the transaction by getting on board to support the transition, by providing creative financing ideas and in some cases, by continuing their financial relationship with the new owners.

Legal Counsel brings a variety of skills including business acumen on structuring transactions, clear documentation that reflects the sale terms and affords protection to the buyer and knowledge regarding collateral and security and various other contractual arrangements vital to the successful transfer of the business.

Leading the Team

As CPAs and trusted business advisors, we are in the unique position of being able to help our client/owner(s) determine:

  1. Which key professionals will make up an effective transition team.  
  2. When and how individual team members can contribute and add value.

Assuming you win the team-leader role, your responsibilities will include being the quarterback of communications for the team, keeping the process flowing efficiently and making sure the owner’s goals are accomplished. Using the power of a team will greatly facilitate this process and expand your network of talented professionals who are potential future referral sources.


There are few events in an entrepreneur’s business life that are more significant than the successful transition of a business they created and built. By fulfilling the role as team leader through this complex and sometimes emotional process, we can help our clients reap the personal satisfaction and financial security that they have earned. What could be more rewarding?

In an upcoming article I will explore “What are the Most Important Elements of a Great Succession Plan.” In the meantime, have fun working with your clients on succession as a team sport.

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Heidi Bolger, CPA, ABV, CFFA, CMAP, is a founding Principal of Rehmann Consulting and advises clients in the areas of succession planning and business sales.