Just a few more years....What Muhammad Ali can teach us about exit planning!

10 Sep 2016 - Simon Palmer - Practice Sales

On June 3rd 2016 the world lost one of its most admired sports heroes, when Muhammad Ali passed away. Ali will no-doubt go down in history as an inspiring figure. As an athlete, he was an Olympic Gold Medallist and ranked by most (and most notably by himself) as boxing’s greatest of all time. As an activist, he was probably the most high-profile and well-known conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. As a sports personality, he was renowned for his eloquence, and was near-universally loved.

In fact, one of the only ways that Ali was not considered the greatest is in his choice of how and when he decided to retire from boxing.

In 1979, Ali won a rematch with Leon Spinks, becoming the only man to take the heavyweight title three times. Ali retired at this point and, if it had stuck, he would have gone out at the pinnacle of his career… Unfortunately it did not stick. He soon came back out of retirement, and his final two fights after that were marked by harsh losses to fighters who never could have touched him when he was in or near his prime. Many of those at the match said it was more like watching a senseless beating than a fight. Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa himself!), sitting ringside for Ali's second last match against Larry Holmes in 1980, said it was "like watching an autopsy on a man who is still alive."

While Ali’s athletic career, before his first retirement, has inspired generations of people around the world, his choice of when to finally step out of the ring provides us with some lessons about the importance of recognising when it is time to hang up the gloves and walk away. Or, in business-owner terminology, when it is time to exit your business, at least as its owner.

  1. Just because a business was once great, it doesn’t mean that this will always be the case.
  2. Age and fatigue catch up to us all, and with them come compromises. Compromises to our dexterity, speed, stamina and energy, which can’t help but be liabilities for our businesses, if we don’t identify them early and act to mitigate their impact.
  3. Sometimes our identity is so caught up with our careers that we hold on to it, despite evidence telling us that it may be time to exit.
  4. Exiting a business does not need to mean retirement and the end of income. Ali kept busy and made plenty of money after he retired from boxing. He worked on his own terms, doing charity work, endorsements…he even helped the government with hostage negotiations. Selling your business doesn’t need to mean retirement for you either. (For more information, please read “Life Begins After Dental Practice Ownership”, which outlines post-sale work options, and is available on our website www.practicesalesearch.com.au/articles.)

On several occasions I have had clients who were once proud giants of the dental industry, but who probably should have stepped out of the ring sooner. Dentists who once had the envy and admiration of their peers, coming to me with businesses that were shadows of their former selves. The decline of their businesses was due to a lack of drive, lack of interest, lack of reinvestment, less hours spent in the practice year-on-year…The truth of it is that the extra few years that they stayed in practice ownership were like the last extra few years that Ali spent in the ring – misplaced and damaging to their legacy