As exit strategies go, Paul and Nina Winans' was both specific and open-ended. In 1998, 20 years after founding Winans Construction in Oakland, Calif., "we agreed that by December 31, 2008, we would be out of the business," says Paul. This summer, well ahead of schedule, the couple sold the highly regarded, $2.4-million-a-year design/build company. By this time next year, they should be settled in a home they're currently remodeling six hours north in Ashland, Ore., "discovering the rest of our lives," he says.
Customarily for the Winans (who are known for their business acumen and generosity, and who have been featured many times in these pages), they executed their plan systematically, realistically, and flexibly.
"Our main goal was to have a life while we're still young enough to enjoy it," says Paul, who is 57. That basic premise "forced us to really pay attention to wealth-building while we're still running the company." Nina, who is three years younger, clarifies that the intention wasn't necessarily to sell, "but to be in a financial position to have it run without us having to be there every day. The point was not to need it to live off of, and not to have to run it."
So the two worked with financial professionals, developing spreadsheets that projected different financial scenarios into their old age. They read books such as Too Young to Retire, The Wealthy Barber, and Died Broke. They dabbled briefly with the idea of selling the business themselves - and "freaked out," Paul says, when interested parties materialized quickly - and later hired a business broker, who helped them find and vet new owner Gary Belk.
The Winans then took great care to spread the news diplomatically. They talked to their seven employees; "that's a whole other article," Nina says. Paul called at least 35 past clients. They sent letters to trade contractors and suppliers, anticipating and answering questions, and then announced the sale to the broader public through the company newsletter.
Advice to others hoping to sell? Systems, of course; "Write down everything," says Paul. "Continually market your company to the buying public; visibility is worth a lot. Continually work on your staff and promote longevity. Build a client base of repeat business."
Other tips include coupling a building to the sale (lenders like to see tangible assets) and, from a more personal perspective, leaving town after the sale is complete - in part so the new owner can establish him or herself as the go-to person for staff.
Finally, have a plan for life after ownership. While hoping to take in plenty of travel, culture, and downtime, the Winans will remain visible in remodeling - consulting, writing, and volunteering. "We still love the industry," Paul says. "We still have a lot to give."