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Entrepreneurial Hubris

Three days after I told him I might be interested in their offer to buy my company, I was sitting across a table from them. We were in a posh conference room at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville. It was one of me, and four of them.

They had been calling for the past few months expressing interest in acquiring my business. The publicly-traded company was growing through acquisition, it was just a matter of time before they had a presence in Nashville. All the times before I told them I had no interest in selling was not a negotiation ploy. I just wasn’t ready to let go.

But once I said “maybe,” the ball started rolling. The first meeting, me and four of them, lasted about three hours. I loved every second of it. I was comfortable in a corporate setting and I was secure in my ability to hold my own.

Four months later, the acquisition closed and I went to work for the company. I enjoyed my nine years with them, but as I look back on how I handled the sale of my company, I can’t believe how naive I was. These guys were honorable, they didn’t try to take advantage of me. But after the deal was over I realized how stacked the odds were in their favor. They had completed over 30 acquisitions the size of my deal or greater. They understood nuances of the deal structure that only comes with years of experience and scores of successful corporate acquisitions. They knew FCC rules and regulations better than most lawyers.

They knew what they were doing, whereas I just thought I knew what I was doing. Though I had a sharp lawyer represent me through the process of documenting the transaction, I never sought advice on the core business elements. I should have had an M&A advisor looking out for my interest, helping me frame the negotiation, and giving me a market-based perspective on their valuation. I was fueled by confidence and instinct, also known as hubris, a common yet dangerous combination for entrepreneurs.

Buyers of businesses love it when the potential seller comes to the negotiation without a business advisor. Buyers love it when the potential seller relies on his/her own confidence and instinct. But in these situations, who do you really think has the upper hand?

Hubris might be a greater threat to entrepreneurs than a recession or loss of a key customer. Fortunately, hubris is a malady easily remedied …. being willing to ask for help.



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. 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.

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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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