“Baby Boomer women are dreaming of retiring to Mars,
while Baby Boomer men hope to retire to Venus.”
— Sharon O’Brien, “How Baby Boomers Will Change Retirement

I’ve read that only 39 percent of married couples, in general, say they and their spouse share a similar vision for retirement. As reported in the New Retirement Survey, Baby Boomer men are looking forward to working less, relaxing more and spending more time with their spouse. Baby Boomer women see the dual liberations of empty nests and retirement as an opportunity for career development, community involvement and continued personal growth.

It reminds me of a friend whose CEO husband retired and then asked her shortly afterward, “Honey, what’s for lunch?” This active social entrepreneur said calmly, “I didn’t make your lunch before you retired, I don’t make your lunch now that you are.”

For business couples, selling their company and retiring can be stressful on their relationship, and 1.2 million husband/wife company owners are going to have to figure out how lunch is provided.

Clear Signage

bigstock-Signpost-44173003 SeptMost individuals in a relationship would not unilaterally decide to sell their shared home, stage it and list it without a thorough joint discussion of two areas:

  1. The selling process, e.g., how soon, by owner or with an agent, how to make the house ready for sale, what’s the pricing, what’s our fix-up budget?
  2. The question of “Then what?” — what’s next and where to?

However, according to a recent annual survey of 5,400 U.S. households, many couples do the equivalent when they look at their retirement. Only 38 percent of couples engage in retirement planning together. One CEO I interviewed related his approach to working through this important decision by saying, “I told my board my plan, and then went home and told my wife, who said, ‘Oh really?’”

It is no wonder that the fastest-growing divorce rate is within the over-50 age group.

When you listen to couples-owners in the early stages of the sale process, you can get two very different impressions. In one case a wife sighed as she said, “I’ve wanted us to sell for over three years — I’m so over it!” The husband, after a health crisis, finally halfheartedly agreed and initiated the process. His energy was low until he talked about his hopes for post-sale. “Buy a farm!” She rolled her eyes when she heard that plan. They hadn’t figured out that lunch question yet.

Wise business-owner couples know change presents challenges and opportunities that require dedicated attention. These couples have serious planning work to do together. They must consider their common vision, who is ready and who is not, their financial goals, their timing and, importantly, what the profile of the next owner needs to be. They also must consider how their relationship could evolve into the next phase of life together.

Transitions: Who Am I; Who Are We?

Over the years of co-owning, building and running a business, a couple’s roles become pretty well defined, and the calendar and structure of a day are fairly predictable. Expectations are implicit if not explicit: how they spend time together; how they make decisions; the rules for after-hours shop talk; and who needs what kind of space or solo time (if it even exists).

Before a sale, couples must re-think these routines and structures. More fundamentally, couples need to expect the questions: Who Am I? and Who Are We? Be prepared for a lack of clarity and take the time to work out differences in how each partner deals with the transitions involved in life after the business.

My book, Exit Signs: The Expressway to Selling Your Company with Pride and Profit, provides a set of tools to help couples, and partners in general, draw a common map of their selling strategy and the post-sale destination. Here’s one set of questions to get started. Answer the questions independently, and then compare and discuss (in a quiet place with a beverage?).

  1. Why do you each want to exit this business? What pulls you? What pushes you? What holds you? What is your time frame?
  2. Are you both committed to selling? I.e., will you dedicate 40+ percent of your time and energy to make the business ready and then conduct the sales process?
  3. What are your top three goals for the business before you leave? Some examples include growth, operational improvements and talent development. Do you agree?
  4. What do you envision as your post-departure lifestyle? For example, do you want to travel, never have to work again, take on a nonprofit venture, or spend extended time with family at a second home? How will you each envision your being together now that there is no business providing structure to your time?
  5. What will your cash flow needs be to achieve your post-departure lifestyle?

bigstock-Portrait-of-happy-African-Amer-41865766 bwCouple-owners obviously have a unique challenge over unrelated partners. Their lives are still deeply intertwined after turning over the keys to their business. They drive away in the same car to a new phase of life together. Those long-developed ways of being together need to be examined and thoughtfully rewritten. It’s one thing to have a new map with a common destination, but they also need agreements about how they will be together along the way.

The odds are good the answers will become clear, but only if they take the time to pose these important questions and listen with an open heart and mind to what might at first feel like a map to different planets.

What is the discussion you need to have with your partner to create a common map?