Walt Disney and the Grim Reaper
As a general rule, no one likes change, however in the words of the 5th century philosopher Heraclitus “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”. When a company is sold, both owners and employees are inevitably faced with change. How people address change is the key to success. I like to think of is as the difference between the Grim Reaper and Walt Disney. Some people will look at life as it was and think everything they have worked for is falling apart. The Grim Reaper has come to destroy their way of life. Others however, will see an opportunity to work for a new company who is growing and prospering. They are looking at the event through the “Walt Disney Prospective” Walt once said , “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
I love to tell the story about a delivery driver who worked for a small family owned business while he went to school to get his degree. He worked in the summer for an oil company who also had a Porta Potty business. He basically pumped waste out of mobile toilets in the summer heat. The company he worked for was acquired by a large consolidator. He saw opportunity with the new company and he continued to work hard under the new management. As time went on his hard work was recognized and he continued to move up the ranks and became a dispatcher, safety manager, delivery manager, operations manager, Vice President of Operations and eventually he became the President of one of the largest fuel companies in the Mid-Atlantic region.
I recently attended an industry energy expo and I ran into two people who both referred to me as the Grim Reaper. They were referring to me as the person who showed up, helped sell the business and now the employees lives were forever changed. I never considered myself the Grim Reaper. Most transactions were very positive and the vast majority of employees involved in the transition after a sale have gone on to enjoy great careers in the industry. New opportunities open for them and career paths are typically better defined. I have always considered myself more like Walt Disney, as I was helping owners to realize their financial dreams. Walt Disney also said, “Well, my greatest reward, I think, is that I’ve been able to build this wonderful organization.”
After a lifetime of owning a business and all the challenges owners have faced, I think owners deserve to reap the benefits of their labors and their courage, not meet the Grim Reaper.
After all, change happens all the time. Changes are challenges and as an industry we have done a great job at keeping up. Owners are faced with addressing volatile pricing, health care reform, regulation & compliance, finding skilled service technicians, and employing qualified drivers, just to name a few. They also need to manage their businesses with changes in the weather from 12% colder one year to 10% warmer the next. I understand that when a sale occurs, some people will continue to refer to it as the Grim Reaper has come, but I will continue to believe that it can be a dream come true for many employees and owners.