In this episode, Elizabeth is joined by a friend and previous client, Jennifer Tibbetts, who is the former owner of Power Equipment Specialists. She and Elizabeth have worked together on two different business transitions, purchasing a business from Jennifer’s father, and transitioning the business to her own successor. Tap or click the play button below to listen to: Going Through Multiple Transitions In Business with Jennifer Tibbetts.
Together, they’ll discuss the successes and challenges with both of these transitions and what the experience was like through Jennifer’s eyes. They’ll also discuss some important lessons that Jennifer learned along her journey and how much it means to hear other business owner’s stories of transition as you embark on your own.
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This episode was produced by Story On Media & Marketing: https://www.successwithstories.com.
Going Through Multiple Transitions In Business with Jennifer Tibbetts Transcript
[00:00:00] Elizabeth Ledoux: Hi, and welcome back to the Business Transition Roadmap Podcast. Uh, today I am so excited because I’m here with Jennifer Tibbetts, who is a former owner of Power Equipment Specialists. Um, she and I worked together years and years ago, and she’s had the opportunity to go. Two transitions. One where she purchased the business from her father, and then the second when she actually transitioned the business to an employee who was a very special employee at the time.
[00:00:38] So Jennifer, welcome and I would love to hear a little bit about your story and just tell us a little bit about. . Sure.
[00:00:47] Jennifer Tibbetts: Thanks for having me, Elizabeth. It’s nice to be here. Um, the story with power equipment specialist starts in 2001. Uh, my father began Power equipment Specialists actually it begins in 1982, but I entered the picture in 2001.
[00:01:04] Uh, never had my father or I ever talked about working together. It wasn’t in the game plan. He essentially needed some short-term sales help and I was between careers. The, uh, internet bubble had just burst and I knew I was gonna need a new direction. Wasn’t quite sure what that was gonna be, but I was gonna help him with his sales efforts along with some of his other sales engineers until I figured that out.
[00:01:30] So we thought that was, , a short term intermediary place-stop for me. Um, it came to about three years after I started with the company. Um, and he had been trying to sell the company actually before I joined. And during that interim three years. And none of the deals had worked out. There had been two or three attempts and.
[00:01:57] I kind of looked around and decided that, hey, I liked this and maybe I could buy the company. And so that’s when I met Elizabeth, right. My dad and I both . We decided that it made sense to talk to a team, and you at that time were working with our attorney and he
[00:02:18] Elizabeth Ledoux: introduced us. . That’s right, that’s right.
[00:02:22] Yeah. I remember that you came to one of, I think, a workshop that, um, I did Peter, right? Mm-hmm. , Peter Scott, and I did mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . And, um, that’s the first time that I met you’s. And then from Right, there’s, right, yeah. From there it kind of evolved and so That’s right. Tell us a little bit, well, tell us a little bit about, um, that transition with your dad Sure.
[00:02:43] And kind of, yeah, just a little bit about what were you thinking then? Maybe what were some of your, um, concerns and also some of your excitement? I think,
[00:02:54] Jennifer Tibbetts: um, you know, communication is so key with any business, but we really made it a point before we even started working together that our father-daughter relationship came first before the business and that that needed to stay primary and whole and healthy.
[00:03:14] And I. We even consciously said when we started talking about transitioning, that we both needed to overcommunicate because there were gonna be a lot of, um, emotions and, um, necessary steps and strategy creation to get this transitioned, and we didn’t want to leave anything assumed or unsaid. . And so I know that that was forefront in our mind and it was a concern.
[00:03:50] Um, but more, it was also, um, excitement, trepidation. The transition of our particular business model really necessitated good. relationships with the manufacturers that we worked for, and basically they had the opportunity to say, Nope, we don’t like the idea of Jennifer running the show. And so we needed to be really careful and very um, uh, clear about how we communicated to each of them, and they were about 22 of those different manufacturing relationships at the time.
[00:04:29] So it was a lot of planning, it was a lot of travel, it was a lot of making sure he and I stayed on the same page. And I think he was excited for me.
[00:04:43] Elizabeth Ledoux: He was, I think, um, your, just your biggest support. He was there with me every step of the way. Yep. He
[00:04:50] Jennifer Tibbetts: always has been and always, and continued to do that after he retired.
[00:04:58] Elizabeth Ledoux: Being a huge support. Absolutely. So what did the, what did the transition look like? Um, how, yeah, how did you go through it? What did, how long did he stay? Just tell some of our listeners a little bit about the function of it. Well, ,
[00:05:16] Jennifer Tibbetts: we needed to come up with a timeline for an a payment plan, essentially for how I was gonna pay over time.
[00:05:28] Um, so there was that, the massaging of the numbers to look and see what was doable for him in terms of getting out. Um, and what was doable for me in terms of getting in and how long over time that might need to extend. because, you know, the agreements can take very short amount of time or years and years.
[00:05:51] So we needed to figure that out. Um, we did need to take months of communicating. It couldn’t be an abrupt change. We were very concerned with. making any quick changes because most people in business don’t like quick changes and we didn’t wanna cause any anxiety, right? So we started months and months in advance, probably a year in advance, um, talking to people and communicating our message.
[00:06:18] And, um, he stayed until October of 2004. and we started talking about this probably I would say a year before that. Um, and again, it doesn’t have to be, you know, that long, but we wanted to make sure our employees as well as employers, the manufacturers we represented were on board. And nobody felt there was any seismic shift that would cause anyone to be uncomfortable or.
[00:06:54] Create chaos. Right.
[00:06:57] Elizabeth Ledoux: And you did a great job because, um, if I remember right, you ended up with your, your employees supported you all the way through it. Um, you were really very thoughtful in how you that and you had, yeah. You had all of your employees behind you, if I can remember properly.
[00:07:19] Jennifer Tibbetts: I think they were, I think, I think the alternative, I, I think they were, uh, behind me.
[00:07:28] I think they also though were a bit, um, skeptical as well because my father and I come from very different technical backgrounds and unconsciously even I was probably projecting perhaps a little insecurity on my end that I didn’t have the technical snuff. Um, and I fought with that for a long time. . So I think they were definitely behind me and wanted it to work out because then everyone could win.
[00:07:57] Everyone could stay with the company and we could continue doing what we were doing.
[00:08:01] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That was exciting. Yeah. So, so tell us a little bit, um, what do you think worked really well that made that so successful? This particular transition and also, What didn’t go as expected in that transition?
[00:08:23] Jennifer Tibbetts: I think what was very helpful is that I was a part of two different associations that were made up of people who owned companies like ours. and those relationships and friendships and being able to talk to people and get their own personal experiences and their own personal stories about what went well and what didn’t go well for them.
[00:08:47] Maybe in any transition they had participated in. Um, I would highly recommend surrounding yourself with other professionals that really understand your business and understand what you’re going through. . That was very, very helpful to me. What didn’t go so right. Um, I was thinking about this earlier today and, um, probably our legal representation.
[00:09:19] I wish I had given myself probably more credit. in terms of knowing our business and understanding things. Um, I was very concerned that I had to get an attorney that understood our business model and understood our industry, and I think that maybe limited, um, me to options. I felt like there was, you know, kind of one choice, whereas maybe if I had depended more upon my own.
[00:09:49] knowledge of the business, um, I could have made a couple of different choices and not just depended on someone else
[00:09:58] Elizabeth Ledoux: for that. And are you talking about the legal representation in the transaction or the legal transaction? Okay.
[00:10:05] Jennifer Tibbetts: I guess I’m talking about the legal transaction specifically when I sold. I guess I would just say that, you know, everyone has a, needs a healthy dose.
[00:10:16] Learning from other people, but also to have confidence that really you’re the one in the business, running the business, doing the business, and you know a lot. So maybe someone you know, um, gives ideas or suggestions just because they’re degreed or they have a completely different background than you, it doesn’t mean that you don’t understand or that you’re to wrong.
[00:10:41] And they. , right? So that,
[00:10:44] Elizabeth Ledoux: so the legal representation, what didn’t work, that was in the second transaction. That was in the second
[00:10:49] Jennifer Tibbetts: one. And I, I can’t remember all the specifics, but I just remember thinking, , I wish I had gone more with legal representation that understood business transactions in general and I hadn’t focused so much on the industry.
[00:11:04] Elizabeth Ledoux: So tell us a little bit about that transaction. Right? That was the second one. So the first one you bought it from your dad? Yeah. Second one. You were there for, what? About 12 years? How long did you stay until you saw 12 years? Yeah, probably 12 years. All right. And then tell us
[00:11:22] Jennifer Tibbetts: a little bit and then about, we were ,
[00:11:25] Elizabeth Ledoux: we were recruiting sales engineers, and I decided to hire a
[00:11:30] Jennifer Tibbetts: gentleman from the Colorado School of Mines, and he became a wonderful employee.
[00:11:39] Um, and. was just so always steadfast and professional, and he is such a good guy. Um, I had a more tenured employee at that time that I thought might have interest in buying the company. He left for another opportunity and it really caused me to stop and my husband, who also owned the company with me to stop and say, , what is the plan going forward?
[00:12:15] How much longer do we wanna do this? What, what do I really feel about this? And the decision was that it was time to really start seriously looking at exiting for various reasons and also for most importantly, for what was going on in our family. So, um, I actually had a conversation with Grant. and said that I was gonna be looking over several years to create a succession plan.
[00:12:49] And, uh, we had thought about a couple of other people in the past and actually had very brief conversations in the past with people that hadn’t worked out. I think that’s the thing too. There’s a lot of conversations that don’t work out. Yeah, yeah. You know, um, , but I mentioned to him that we would be looking to exit in a few years and would he wanna create something like that to take over power equipment specialists.
[00:13:12] And he was thrilled. He really loves the business and he was thrilled. It was very, very, very important to me that his wife was on board. because it really is a family commitment to owning a business. And um, I remember talking with her and making sure she was on board, my husband and myself, and they both, we all went out to dinner and just had a touch base, you know.
[00:13:49] um, that we were gonna give it the very best we committed to each other, that we would communicate the best we could, that we very much valued all of our relationships, and it started on a really positive note. .
[00:14:03] Elizabeth Ledoux: Nice. Yeah, and, and it is interesting, you know, you kind of, it’s a little frightening to have those conversations with different people because it is, um, you know, one of the things that we’ve found, Jennifer, , um, the many years we’ve been doing this, uh, is that owners think that the minute they say, Hey, would you like to be the owner?
[00:14:25] The person on the other end is gonna jump at the opportunity and say, absolutely. I wanna be an owner. Are you kidding? And mm-hmm. , it’s amazing how many. Kind of, you know, frogs you have to kiss to find the prince. It’s not that easy. Yeah. And yeah, so, um, yeah, thinking about
[00:14:43] Jennifer Tibbetts: if somebody jumps at the opportunity so quickly, maybe they don’t fully understand exactly the opportunity in
[00:14:49] Elizabeth Ledoux: full.
[00:14:50] Yeah. Yeah. There,
[00:14:51] Jennifer Tibbetts: I think it’s normal and natural to just take things, you know, with a bit of pause because those are big things you’re talking about. Big changes to different families, big changes to money, big changes to futures, big changes. And so,
[00:15:09] Elizabeth Ledoux: yeah, absolutely. Great point. And so, um, so you went through with that transaction?
[00:15:17] We did, it took you. , how long? Six years to go through it.
[00:15:21] Jennifer Tibbetts: From the minute I decided that we really wanted to sell to it being done in December of 2018 was six years. Uh, six. Six plus years.
[00:15:33] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yep. So it was a journey. Right? It was a journey. Not an event. There was an event. It was a journey along the way. Yeah.
[00:15:40] But that’s great. Yeah. And one of the things. Uh, that you did in both of those scenarios is you really put relationships first, and that’s a theme that you carried all the way through both transactions. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Yeah.
[00:15:54] Jennifer Tibbetts: Um, I think also a part of being associated with other businesses, maybe like yourselves or learning from other family businesses in particular, is that sometimes they can crash and burn.
[00:16:06] So sadly, and. , I guess we always took that as cautionary tales that you really had to work hard at keeping the relationships primary. Um, because over time the gentleman who bought our business, you know, essentially became family. And I don’t say that lightly, but that’s how much.
[00:16:33] how, how much we valued each other’s relationship. And it was important even within the industry for his business continuation for there to be no burn bridges. So there was impetus from both sides to make this smooth water so smooth as possible.
[00:16:48] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. And um, in both cases, the owner leaving like your dad and then also you, um, were there.
[00:17:01] to work with each other and to help each other. Mm-hmm. and to support each other all the way through the journey. Right. Yeah. That
[00:17:07] Jennifer Tibbetts: was a big deal. And afterwards, mm-hmm. , um, I moved a couple hours away after the business officially transferred to Grant, so I didn’t quite see him probably as much as I wanted to.
[00:17:22] Um, but we definitely still stayed in touch and talked and if he had questions or whatever it was, he knew that I had his back a thousand percent because ultimately too, Within his payout agreement, it reg relied on his business being successful to be able to compensate me. So there was a real synergy there that we wanted to help each other and make it go well on both sides.
[00:17:49] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah. Yeah. Great story.
[00:17:52] Jennifer Tibbetts: Yeah, great story. So I feel very fortunate, but I want it, it it is a great story and I think unfortunately we hear a lot of bad. , but there really are some really good stories out there, and I, I believe that people can communicate through a lot, but don’t assume anything .
[00:18:13] Elizabeth Ledoux: Don’t assume.
[00:18:15] Don’t assume. Don’t. Yeah. And looking at, well, you know, one of my foundations is to put relationships first. And I, yes, if you put relationships first, uh, it makes all the difference in the world. And I was talking, just an interesting comment. I was talking to a client the other day. and one of our foundations that we work with is to always assume best of intent.
[00:18:41] It’s called the rule of engagement, right? Always assume best of intent, and it’s really if you incorporate that not only in a business transition or you know, just in general in your business mm-hmm. , but in your life, it is a game changer. Because if somebody does something that really pings you in, in maybe not the best way mm-hmm.
[00:19:02] and you assume best of intent, all of a sudden, all of a sudden you, um, become curious. Mm-hmm. , you wonder, gosh, gee, that was odd. I wonder why. Mm-hmm. , and, um, you know, it opens up a whole conversation and ability for you to go out and ask what happened? Mm-hmm. , what happened? And let’s get reentered because, you know, we’re in this together.
[00:19:24] We’re a. to get through this transaction and transition. Yeah. Right.
[00:19:28] Jennifer Tibbetts: Yeah, I completely agree with you. Yeah. So, and also surrounding yourself with people that you, that you al you know, at a very base level have the ethics and values that you agree with, if you can
[00:19:44] Elizabeth Ledoux: Absolutely. If you’re not aligned in your values and kind of what you’re trying to accomplish.
[00:19:50] Right. , if you wanna call it the mission, right? Mm-hmm. not the mission. Like what are you trying to accomplish and how do you get through to the other side of where you want to be? Yeah. If you’re not very clear about that. Yeah. Especially if you’re the owner who’s leading it mm-hmm. and you’re successors following you.
[00:20:08] Um, right. It’s pretty hard to have great communication without a, without a good strategy. .
[00:20:15] Jennifer Tibbetts: Yeah. And I, in retrospect, looking back, some of those earlier conversations I had had with people, I don’t believe would’ve gone to the finish line anyway, , because of that, not maybe sharing values and truly being on the same page about that.
[00:20:33] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah. And that’s so critical. . Yeah. It, it is, it’s a lot of work. Um, I think sometimes selling to a third party is an easier road than actually transitioning it to somebody, you know, an inside transaction, like a, you know, an employee or even a partner, one partner staying, one partner going maybe. Yep.
[00:20:56] Those are, I think that’s the harder road. I think sometimes though, it’s the most fulfilling road. Mm-hmm. . to see that business go on with somebody that you really care
[00:21:05] Jennifer Tibbetts: about. Yeah. It has been a great joy and an, and an honor and a privilege to still be in contact with him and his family. They’re very dear to
[00:21:14] Elizabeth Ledoux: us.
[00:21:15] That’s awesome. So Jennifer, um, Many times owners are fearful of leaving the business because they’re not really sure. Mm-hmm. what life is gonna look like after and how they’re gonna be fulfilled. And you, both of you, right, um, left the business and you were both working in the business at the time. So tell us a little bit about how it was for you to figure out your next adventure.
[00:21:41] Jennifer Tibbetts: Um, I think there’s a great deal of relief at the beginning, kind of a honeymoon period, like wow. I don’t have to travel like I was, I can stay around home. And that I enjoyed that for a while, we did take the opportunity to move to a new location in Colorado that we had been wanting to live in. So it was a big change for our family in moving.
[00:22:05] And then the business wasn’t there. Um, I think over the last four years, which it has been, it took me a while. , it took me a while, um, and probably there was a lot of feeling of, what am I doing? That’s very significant. Now I think you get, you know, used to a certain level of responsibility and then when you don’t have it anymore, It feels really good at first, but then you maybe, you know, am I important?
[00:22:49] How am I important? Um, where do I bring value? I think I’ve struggled with that for probably a good, I mean, it’s been a process over the last four years. I feel good about where I am now. Yeah. But it has take, definitely taken a while. . And that’s, you know, from a very positive transition to your point, if it had been negative and gotten ugly and bitter, it would’ve been really traumatic.
[00:23:18] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yeah. A lot harder.
[00:23:20] Jennifer Tibbetts: A lot harder. Is that,
[00:23:22] Elizabeth Ledoux: and as you, so it took you about six years to transition, right? Mm-hmm. , mm-hmm. , um, to grant and. During that time though, you were kind of thinking about where you wanted to go and what you wanted to do. So the transition not only was great for him, yeah. For you to be there and for you to communicate and help him learn how to run the company without you.
[00:23:45] It was also great for you in designing your next adventure during that time, trying to figure out where you wanted to go and it was what you might wanna do. And there was,
[00:23:55] Jennifer Tibbetts: you know, a little bit of. , especially in a family business, you know about staying on the same page. Kind of a
[00:24:06] another person in that equation was my husband. So there was communicating on that end too. And we didn’t always see eye to eye on how things should end. We really didn’t. Um,
[00:24:20] And I would say that is important too, when you’re going through such an important time to have people you can talk to, have people you can understand that, you know, it’s, it is, it’s a very, uh, there’s a lot of ego. There’s a lot of years of your life spent tied up in this entity, and it’s changing and it’s morphing, and so automatically we’re going to.
[00:24:48] a little bit outta sync with that for a while. So relying on friends and family, you know, again, keeping those relationships primary. .
[00:24:59] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yep. Yeah. It almost feels like you’re ungrounded a little bit. Yeah. But yeah. And trying to let go, right. In your case Yeah. While grant’s trying to engage and, um, I call it, it, I call that kind of a goofy dance.
[00:25:16] Right? And I kind of think of it when, when we were writing the book, um, , uh, we, I just started thinking about dancing and I started thinking about how a couple dances and, you know, one leads and one follows, one person leads, one person follows, but there’s a time where you’re leading, right? Grant was following.
[00:25:37] Right? And then you were kind of both trying to lead. Right. At some point in time, and it could be different tasks. Right, right. As you go through and then, but the goal in the end is for him to be leading and you to be following. So you That’s right. You just literally trade places, but there’s that uneasy, ungrounded, weird time.
[00:25:57] Jennifer Tibbetts: is a very weird time, honestly, I think. . The first year was weird, and then it was kind of okay for a couple years, and then it just got weird again in the last six months too. And I think that’s just being honest, that it’s gonna ebb and flow and that these things sometimes reoccur emotionally inform former owners when you least expect.
[00:26:22] Yeah. It’s just always gonna be something that’s a part of my history and a part of my identity, and sometimes that’s a positive thing and sometimes it’s really interesting. .
[00:26:34] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yep. Yeah. But in general, it’s
[00:26:35] Jennifer Tibbetts: a very
[00:26:36] Elizabeth Ledoux: good thing. In general. It’s a good thing. . Yeah. Yeah. And you, and you want that, you want your successor to engage and at some point you almost want to feel not important because that’s, I know.
[00:26:49] And I think of for people who have children. Yeah. You know, I think, um, one of the best things I’ve done as a mom is I raised kids who don’t need me anymore. And that. , you know, there’s some bittersweet in that they need me for certain things. Mm-hmm. , but I know they could live a great life. Mm-hmm. if I wasn’t here today, and that they’re making, you know, they’re completely independent of me.
[00:27:15] And that’s kind of what you want with the business owners that take over for you, your successor. Um, that’s what your dad saw you do then it’s what now you see Grant doing and it, so you’ve got two successes under your. , so congratulations. Well,
[00:27:31] Jennifer Tibbetts: that’s because I had help . That’s because I had help . That’s because I had someone smart, someone like you in my corner saying, you can work this out.
[00:27:40] There is a way to be thoughtful and strategic about this and be hopeful and, and not listen to the naysayers. Be hopeful. Yeah. These situations can work out really well. And everyone wins.
[00:27:53] Elizabeth Ledoux: Yep. Yep. I love. . Well, good. So we’re getting close on our time, Jennifer. Um, if you were gonna leave our listeners with one key thing, just one thing to keep in mind as they navigate and start to think about business transition for themselves, what might that be?
[00:28:15] Jennifer Tibbetts: Um, talk to people. I know it’s hard to open up about something. personal as business if you’re the owner. Some people are more private than others, but I would absolutely advocate go out there and talk to people, ask people their experiences, ask them questions, you know, be open about what kind of help you might be looking to find because, um, the wealth of knowledge you can gain from other people’s experiences is just, um, invaluable.
[00:28:51] Yeah. And believe that it can be good. Believe that it can happen and it can be good.
[00:28:56] Elizabeth Ledoux: Nice. Yep. That you can actually design and, and create the transition that you’d like. Yes. Mm-hmm. . Yep. Very. That’s great. Well, Jennifer, um, I cannot tell you how great it is to have you here, and I just wanna thank you for taking the time and for being so open with us today.
[00:29:20] And, um, yeah. Congratulations. You’ve done well.
[00:29:22] Jennifer Tibbetts: You’re welcome. It’s great to see you. Thanks a lot, Elizabeth. You
[00:29:26] Elizabeth Ledoux: bet. Okay.
The Business Transition Roadmap with Elizabeth Ledoux
How do communities thrive? When businesses experience healthy growth and transition. Join CEO of The Transition Strategists, Elizabeth Ledoux as she and her guests identify what makes a successful business transition roadmap. If you know you want to transition or exit your business “one day”, today is the right day to start planning. This show will give you the roadmap.