When a Rest is as Good as a Change

Burnout is a very real problem and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s a state of emotional and physical exhaustion. It’s caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout reduces productivity and saps energy. It leaves its victim feeling hopeless, powerless, and resentful. Burnout can threaten jobs, relationships, and health.

It certainly affects a business owner’s judgment.

We were approached by a forty-five-year-old chap, David. He had gone into business with his father, Jordan, some fifteen years earlier. Jordan was now seventy-five years old. David said he wanted to sell the business in order to straighten things up with his father. They currently co-owned the company on a 50/50 basis.

As we looked at the company we found that the sales growth was steady at 14% to 18% growth year over year. Current revenues were approximately $15 million. Profits were well in excess of $1 million after paying wages of $250,000 to both Jordan and David. Jordan was not active in the business.

The company had a really unique product line and a niche market. They had the products manufactured for them offshore – with light assembly, packaging, and shipping within four hours of receiving an order. The products were brought in under their trade names and re-marketed. Customers believed that our client actually manufactured the product.

I suspected that David was suffering from burnout and just wanted to get out of the business. I brought in a vocational psychologist to interview and test him.

The psychologist advised that David was extremely burnt out and was close to a mental breakdown.

When it came time to present results of our Comprehensive Business Analysis report I insisted that David bring his wife and his father to the meeting. I wanted Jordan there, because he was 50% owner. David’s wife needed to be there because she owned half of whatever David owned. Also at the meeting were our analyst, our valuator, and our psychologist.

We went through the presentation. We showed the three of them what the business was currently worth and how long it would take to sell it. I then turned to David and said, “I’m not prepared to take this business to market until you take a four- week vacation that is totally isolated and uninterrupted – no cell phone, no laptop.”

“I can’t possibly do that,” he said. “I couldn’t get away more than a couple of days at a time.”

“Do you know what will happen if you get sick or have a heart attack or an accident? Who will run the business then?”

David pondered that for a few minutes and said, “Well, I guess Dad would have to come in and operate the business until I got better.”

I looked at Jordan and I said, “Can you? Are you willing to come in and operate the business for the next three or four weeks to give your son an opportunity to recover from burnout?”

“Absolutely,” Jordan said. “When do you want me to start?”

I then turned to David’s wife and said, “Can you find a place to take him where there are no telephones and no Internet?”

Her eyes sparkled and she said, “Try me.”

I then told David that until such time as he had this vacation I was not prepared to consider taking his business to market.

About six weeks later he called me and thanked me profusely for forcing him to take the trip away from the business. He had managed to get away for only two and a half weeks. But during that time he had an opportunity to rest, recover, and recuperate.

“You know, taking that vacation was the best thing I ever did,” he said. “I had a chance to rest and clean my head out. Now I know I don’t want to sell.”

He listed the reasons why he no longer wanted to sell the business. They were all good business reasons – economic reasons, not emotional, burnt-out, tired, psychological reasons.