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Boomer business owners prepare exit plans

DALLAS — Cynthia Pharr Lee is not ready to retire anytime soon.

But when the time is right, Pharr Lee has an exit plan in place to ensure her public relations business will be in the right hands. Pharr Lee identified a “young superstar” employee and put her on a partner track to take over Dallas-based C. Pharr & Co.

“This plan gives more flexibility and freedom,” said Pharr Lee, 64. “It lets me have the kind of business that we prefer to have.”

Exit planning has always been a vital part of running a small business. Careful planning can ensure business continuity as well as a level of financial security for exiting owners.

Succession plans take many forms. Deals can be everything from selling to a third party to transferring ownership to a relative to establishing an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP.

Dallas real estate queen Ebby Halliday set up an employee stock ownership plan to allow employees to invest in her namesake firm in 1992.

Amid the economic recovery and retirement looming for some, baby-boomer entrepreneurs are expected to drive a wave of ownership transfers and sales over the next few years.

The recession forced some baby boomers to delay their exit plans and hold on to their businesses longer than they had planned, according to consultants and brokers.

Now, transactions are picking up.

“Owners have attempted to get their businesses in order over the past few years with an eye toward exit when valuations rose again and we are seeing those come to market now,” said Greg Stevens, a senior director at Dallas-based Riveron, a financial consulting firm that works with buyers and sellers.

Sale prices and volume have been recovering in recent years. Small-business transactions jumped 61.8 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, according to, an online business-for-sale marketplace.

And retirement was cited as the No. 1 reason driving business sales in the first quarter for the second consecutive period, according to Market Pulse Survey Report. The study is conducted by the International Business Brokers Association, M&A Source and Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

Joan Ridley, president of Dallas-based Business Wealth Solutions, works almost exclusively with baby boomers to help them prepare and exit their businesses.

And lately, Ridley has been busy with clients whose businesses have recovered from the recession and can show steady revenue in the last few years.

“Everyone knows there was a recession, but the markets are pretty unforgiving,” said Ridley, who sits on the board of governors of the Exit Planning Institute. “It’s a buyer’s market. It’ll be a real beauty contest. The boomers who are selling are getting gussied up.”

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