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Featuring purpose-driven leaders who are making a meaningful impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.


 

Elizabeth LedouxElizabeth Ledoux is the CEO of vNacelle headquartered in Fort Collins, CO. Follow them on Facebook and learn more at vnacelle.com.

 

TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?

My name is Elizabeth Ledoux and I guess you could call me a serial entrepreneur. What I do now, and have done for the last 30 years, is work with business owners helping them to transition from one place to another. I work with business families, helping them to move their businesses from one generation to another. Additionally, I work with individuals within those scenarios to figure out where and how they fit within the family business or determine what their next adventure will be if they’re one of the generational people who are leaving the business.

 

HOW DID YOU GET HERE?

It’s kind of interesting, I think. I have a degree in petroleum engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. I worked in the oil business for a while; I loved drilling oil wells and designing them and that kind of thing. When I had my first son, the industry was moving to offshore drilling. I really didn’t want to be a “month on/month off mom” on a platform somewhere in the middle of the ocean. So I decided to switch my career. I went into consulting and I started working with business owners on building and growing their companies – helping them transition from where they were to where they wanted to be.

What I found is that I really enjoy the process of and everything that comes with transitioning a business from one generation to another. So, I began to focus my work on transitioning business owners out of their business and helping them to figure out how to teach other people to run it without them.

 

WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?

We’re getting ready to go through the world’s largest transition of wealth in our history as the baby boomers retire. They’ve built these businesses over their lifetime and have been working in them for the last 20, 30, 40 years and they’re getting older. Back in 2008 when we went through the recession, everybody was saying, “Oh my gosh, there is going to be an onslaught of businesses that are going to transition in the next 10 years,” but that didn’t happen because of the recession. Nobody wanted to sell, nobody wanted to get out. They didn’t want to transition a business that was uncertain to anybody. However, the baby boomer business owners kept aging and have become even more ready to retire and are starting to look around and ask, “Who can I transition this to?” Whether it’s gifting or selling, they’re looking for someone who they can transition the business to who will actually be able to carry it forward.

If you look around your community, it’s likely not made up of major companies. Communities are made up of restaurants, dry cleaners, small CPA firms, etc. Lots of different independent businesses, boutique shops, all the non-box type companies. Those are the kinds of businesses that make up our communities. Small businesses provide more jobs than large companies in our country, and they really make up our middle class and provide a lot of wellbeing to our communities. I do this work because I want to help business owners transition well and keep jobs in place, keep employees happy, keep their families happy, and keep communities whole.

 

WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?

Typically when a business owner decides to leave a company, they’ve never done that before. They’re comfortable building and growing the business, making decisions, etc. Typically they’re very thoughtful of their employees and their people. So when they get ready to leave, they have all kinds of thoughts about, “Who’s going to take care of the business? Who’s going to take care of the people? These are the people who have helped me build and grow this and who have become part of the team and how do I leave that team?”

Typically when you go through a transition, you lose relationships. There may be two partners who have worked together for years, maybe decades, and now they’re on opposite sides of the table because one’s leaving and one’s staying. The impact that I’m making is by helping people see that they can put people first. They don’t have to put the money or the taxes first or anything like that. They can start by putting people first and I’m helping them continue their great relationships.

My intention is to ensure business owners maintain the relationships that are important to them and to help them strategize the process down to the very last detail. For example, I worked with a business owner who was transitioning the business to his three sons and we had to figure out how the business would need to grow to support those new family members. Instead of having one family (the business owner’s), there were now four families that the business has to support. There were a lot of questions that had to be answered such as deciding who was going to be the leader of the three boys. How do you choose that? What’s fair? What’s equal? These are hard, tough dilemmas that have to be addressed. The impact I’m making is by tackling those big questions and developing a logical strategy that helps people to keep those relationships whole.

 

WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?

My clients, the families that I work with inspire me. Business is complicated and both the good and the bad bleeds and affects people both inside and outside of the business. I appreciate the opportunity to help people keep their relationships intact through a transition. And I’m inspired by the businesses that have transitioned from one generation to another and have stayed in business. Statistically, only 33% of second-generation businesses survive, but my track record is 100% – all of the second-generation businesses I’ve worked with are still in operation.

It does take time and a concerted effort though. Transition is a journey, not an event. The only way you make it an event is if you don’t start. You need time to be able to make these transitions work and put relationships first. People tend to go to CPAs and attorneys at the beginning of the process. Not that you don’t need a CPA or an attorney, they’re highly valuable at the right time. But if you go there first, there are too many options and people are overwhelmed. But if you put relationships first and know what you want those relationships to look like after the transition, then you can go to the lawyer, the estate planning or the business attorney, and the CPA and say, “Hey, this is what we kind of want and need you guys to make this come true.”

 

WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?

Truly I’m inspired by helping people live the life that they would like to live and get them to the belief that it’s possible. My big dream is to finish my book, Trading Places, and get it published sometime this year. I hope that when business owners read the book or hear me speak that they’re able to make these transitions in ways that keep the business healthy and them and their people happy. Because when that happens, our communities stay strong. If these small businesses fail in their transitions, which statistics show that they will, then that becomes a major impact to our economy and communities.

 

WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?

The biggest challenge that I have is that people are afraid. They stop doing something, like transitioning the business, because they don’t know how and there aren’t a lot of resources. I’ve found is that my concept of putting people first is new and not well known. This process is a completely new approach to business transition so it’s a challenge to get owners to navigate it because it’s hard to have some of these conversations with family members or partners or other people. It’s easier to avoid it.

 

WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?

One thing I’d like people to know is that, again, business transitions and your transition as a person, take time. I want people to know is that it is possible to achieve a great business transition, one that is intentional, where people work together, where they are able to create this next phase, and everybody gets to move onto their next path, whether it’s inside the business or external to the business. I want people to know that it’s possible to have a healthy, thriving business going forward without them.

 

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?

It’s actually two different ones that I put together: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. And so a year from now, what will you wish you had done today?”

Because this truly is an unknown. There are a lot of unknowns and there is a lot of focus and ambition that needs to go into this. And like I said, most business owners haven’t done this before. It’s pretty scary to let go of something you’ve been doing for 10, 20, 30 years. It’s pretty scary to let go of that and then envision what your next adventure could be. Because you don’t know what the business is going to do, you don’t know what decisions are going to be made. You don’t know what the economy’s going to do. You don’t know who’s going to get elected to the government. You don’t know what’s going to go on with China’s trade deal. We don’t know about the future.

It’s tricky for parents, too. Parents are worried about what transitioning the business will do to their kids. Should they transition to their kids? Should they just sell it? They’re worried that they will ruin their kid’s life by having them stay and take over the business or by selling the business and not giving them the opportunity. That’s a big decision from a parent’s perspective. The funny thing is, it’s not the parent’s decision to make. It’s the parent’s decision to have input on how it would work and have the conversation. But it’s really up to the kid, to the buyer to decide whether or not they want to take the risk.

 

HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?

Buying the book when it comes out would be great. I enjoy teaching and doing keynote speeches and would love to talk to more people. And then if anyone knows of a family who might be facing some of these things and is kind of stuck, I’d love to connect with them.

 


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