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The Early Exit

I couldn’t figure out why Don (not his real name) wanted to meet. As he was showing me around his office, it was obvious he had a very good thing going. Located in one of Nashville’s most prominent and expensive office buildings, there were cubicles with seemingly happy people busy at work (pre-pandemic). You could feel the energy, the employees liked being there.

Once we walked into his well-appointed office, Don opened a shelf that had about ten copies of a book written by Patrick Lencioni. Don handed me a book and said, “Here, read this, it will help you understand our culture.” He went on to tell me the Lencioni book is required reading for new employees within their first 30 days. “We’ve built a great team environment here because everyone buys into this thinking.

As we sat down at the mahogany conference table near his stand-up desk, Don began to explain why he called me. “My profits are about $1,000,000 a year and there’s nothing in the future that tells me we won’t continue to grow. But I’ve had enough,” he said. Here’s one detail that makes this story even more interesting, Don is only 36 years old. So, I replied, “Don, I can easily sell this business, but you aren’t gonna get enough money to go into retirement at the age of 36.”  “Oh, I know that” he said “I’m not ready to stop working, I just want to cash out and do something else. Maybe my wife is right, she says I have a short attention span.

Don was living the American dream. He started his company in 2006, only four years after finishing college. The business was profitable from day one, and even through the recession of 2009-2011, Don’s business never went into the negative. He had a loyal base of customers who loved his services, and he had a distinct niche that provided some barriers to competition.

We sold the business to a strategic buyer for more than we expected. Don took a few months off but is now running a technology startup incubator, helping young owners navigate the choppy waters of launching a new business.

My experience with Don helped me appreciate that not all business owners have the same exit schedule. I would have never anticipated that Don was a candidate to sell his successful business at such a young age. But, his short attention span has allowed him to experience a fantastic exit, and now help others to do the same.


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 principles above are true, but the story, names and fact patterns are 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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