Growth Insights for CEOs

Are You Going To "Finish Big"?

Posted by Tom McCrary

I had the opportunity to hear Bo Burlingham speak last year about his upcoming book, Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit on Top.

Many of you might be familiar with Burlingham from his groundbreaking work, Small Giants—Companies That Choose To Be Great Rather Than Big. In his latest book, he takes an in-depth look into the specific phase in a company’s life when its Owners/CEOs/Partners begin to consider exiting their business. His relevant ideas and sharp insights in this discussion of Finish Big were so compelling to me that I wanted to share highlights with you. I encourage you to get the book when it is released at the end of November 2014 so that the concepts below can come alive for you as well.

Burlingham begins by succinctly defining the primary premise of his book:

1)   All company or business owners eventually leave or “exit” their roles as Owners/CEOs/Partners;

2)   Every company, large or small, is inevitably sold or liquidated.

A “Good Exit” 

For a “good exit”—a graceful transition, if you will—CEOs/Managers/Companies must ultimately be able to:

  • Reflect what they are leaving with a sense of pride and accomplishment;
  • Depart without regret;
  • Receive earned financial reward;
  • Move enthusiastically forward into a next pursuit.

Further, Owners/CEOs/Partners must realize, according to Burlingham, that leaving —“exiting” one’s position—isn’t a contingency plan or a random occurrence, but rather a conscious choice. If building our business can be categorized as a journey, “exiting” is a part of this process, the end of this journey. It is not a finite event, but rather a phase, albeit the most important and difficult phase in our time with our business or in the life of the business itself.

In taking Burlingham’s ideas to a more practical level, this line of thinking actually takes the sting out of an “exit,” shedding light on its opportunity. It’s a logical and in fact, reassuring progression for our company and us—something for which we can and should prepare. With foresight and planning, we thus can—and should—make constructive and informed choices related to this phase throughout our tenure in our business. 

Build “Value Drivers”

As a part of the groundwork—preparation—for these graceful exits, Burlingham strongly advocates utilizing Marketing as a successful strategy in building the “value drivers” of our businesses:

  • Develop and strengthen our value core for today so that we might more easily “exit” or sell to a 3rd party tomorrow;
  • Maximize growth potential and minimize risk for our businesses;
  • Realize that the more we want our businesses to endure, the more time we will need prior to exit.

Suggestions for the “Execution Stage”

Given the importance and difficulty of “exiting” for both individuals and companies as a whole, Burlingham is realistic and frank in his recommendation that we seek help. The Execution Stage, as he calls it, is not to be taken lightly and takes an investment of time, deliberate focus and energy if “finishing big” is ever to be considered an option:

  • Don’t go it alone; bottom line, get help;
  • Solicit the expertise and objective perspective of a strong lead advisor;
  • Choose an advisor who has lived the process and has made mistakes along the way;
  • Realize that an entirely different set of skills is necessary for this Execution Stage than in those used to support us to this point.

Prepare to “Finish Big”

In conclusion, Burlingham generously leaves us once again with helpful guidelines, clearly aware of the meaty and very critical material he has shared. He offers an 8-point summary of key and thought-provoking principles for us to consider as we best prepare our companies and ourselves to “finish big”:

1)   Ask yourself, “Who am I, if not my business?”

2)   Build a sellable company;

3)   Allow enough time by beginning early and deliberately;

4)   If having a successor is crucial to your exit plan, prepare to be wrong the first time;

5)   Seek the needed help from those who have experienced the process;

6)   Take care of your employees and investors;

7)   As a seller, beware; understand the real motives of the buyer;

8)   Plan what you want to do next, and give yourself time to transition. 

Burlingham’s talk was exceptional, and I left feeling not only his passion for his subject but also his commitment to those he serves through his writing.  I encourage you, when the opportunity arises, to hear him speak; I hope you will also join me in finding a copy of his latest book, Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit on Top, when it is released this fall (November 2014).

As each of us moves forward with our businesses, I welcome the opportunity to hear about your specific business, company aspirations, objectives and/or challenges, and encourage you to call. Whether you are building critical value, clarifying your purpose and mission, striving to achieve further growth or simply wanting to build your professional network, it would be great to talk with you. You can reach me by phone at 214.931.9525 or email You can also learn more about Chief Outsiders at

Topics: Family Business, Value Creation

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