There are three primary ways to handle succession:
- Sell or merge your firm
- Bring in a partner to take over the firm
- Build the next generation of leadership from within
Reports from various parts of the industry indicate that the volume of sales and mergers of firms indicates increased activity. Hiring a successor can be a risky undertaking. A good hire will require a great amount of your time or a good recruiter or both. You might find someone who is a good fit with the values and client service standards of your firm, or you might not. It is often difficult to know this during the “interview process.” In fact, it can take months to assess a “fit” in some cases.
The decision to leave your firm or sell it requires a certain level of confidence that:
- You will be able to maximize the return on your most significant investment (a lifetime of work)
- Your retirement and financial legacy will be ensured
- Your clients will continue to be served appropriately
- The firm will continue to operate from the values you built it upon
- Employees will continue to have job security
- New leadership will be capable of filling your shoes
By strengthening your team to become the next generation of leadership you can ensure the future direction of the firm and build a team that inspires the confidence of creditors, business associates, clients, potential clients and the community. If you train and mentor your team members to become the new leaders of the firm, you know they know your clients, know the kind of service you have provided to them and have the knowledge and skill to continue to serve them into the future.
It should be part of your strategy that your team will become more valuable as professionals. It is true that they will be more attractive and more valuable to other firms. Nevertheless, if you have mentored and trained them well, creating a clear and transparent succession plan for the future, you are far more likely to keep them within the firm.
You certainly have the option of trying to sell or merge your firm when you are ready to retire. You can hire someone as a successor. These options are not as certain as they were in the past. You might find that you can sell your firm only at a price far lower than you believe it is worth today. You may or may not find the successor you need when you are ready to make a hire.
In these uncertain times, I believe most CPA partners and firm owners would be very wise to invest in the future of their teams. Strengthening and developing your team ensures the kind of employee retention and development you want for your company, your employees and your clients. I think you will also find that it is far more affordable to build your team than it is to buy a new partner.