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Don’t Wait for the Vultures to Start Hovering

Hey honey, come look at this, this is weird.” My wife, Emily (her real name), was looking out toward our backyard from the kitchen window. “This is unbelievable, kinda spooky” she said. I looked out to see vultures in my backyard. Big, black, scary-looking creatures. The fact that it was dusk made the scene even more ominous. I counted 21, there may have been more. From my vantage point, it looked like they were feasting on something in the creek bed about 100 feet behind my house. Most of the birds were standing guard while a few were picking at something. It looked organized, even orderly, which made the whole scene even weirder.

The next morning the birds were gone so I walked back to see what had happened. I saw in the dry creek bed a completely clean deer skeleton. No mess, no residue, just a clean skeleton. The birds had a very good dinner.

You know what’s interesting? Vultures are not predators. They don’t attack and kill their prey, they wait for the animal to die, then flock in to pick the carcass clean. Once they start their work, they get it done with amazing speed and thoroughness.

I see vultures in business. You know the type, buyers who are waiting to pick clean the carcass of a business owner, or their heirs. These vultures are not necessarily mean or disrespectful, but they have a sense to know when a business owner is in trouble. These vultures don’t wait until the prey is dead though. They can be creative and persistent in looking for a state of weakness, and then they’ll pounce.

The business owner can find him/herself in a state of weaknesses because of failing health, boredom, frustration, or internal division. Of course, there are times an owner can identify and fix these weaknesses, and move on to success. But in my experience, that is the exception not the rule. Though I hate to say it, from what I observed over thirty-plus years, once a business owner enters a state of weaknesses, it’s rare to work out of it. That’s why I caution owners to do a regular assessment of their state of ownership. Instead of waiting to sell a business because of weakness, consider selling before the weaknesses are manifested and the vultures are circling. “Sell before you have to” is one of my common mantras when speaking before groups of business owners. That comment is not intended to fear monger an owner who doesn’t want to sell into selling, but I do encourage business owners to be vigilant to recognize circumstances that could cause weakness in the business. Without a plan to address and reverse the weakness, the vultures will be nearby, waiting to pick your carcass clean.


JIM CUMBEE is President of Tennessee Valley Group, Inc. a retainer-based business brokerage and transition mediation firm in Franklin, TN. Cumbee is an attorney and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Jim is the author of Home Run, A Pro’s Guide to Selling a Business.  He has a wide range of corporate and entrepreneurial experiences that make him one of the most sought-after business transition advisors in the state of Tennessee. The names and fact patterns above have been changed to preserve the parties’ identities.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim Cumbee established Tennessee Valley Group to help business owners fulfill their dreams for life after business ownership. It’s a mission that his 30+ year career history had prepared him well for—in addition to being an attorney, transition mediator and business broker, Jim has been a buyer, seller, and entrepreneur. His broad range of experience gives him unique insight into how business buyers and sellers can achieve their goals.

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