This article explores the role of the Value Advisor™, a term created by Christopher Snider and the Exit Planning Institute (EPI) referring to the lead advisor on an Exit Planning or Value Enhancement project.  Other terms for this role include lead advisor, most trusted advisor, exit planner, exit planning specialist, exit planning professional, and Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA). Snider selected Value Advisor in order to emphasize the systematic growing of enterprise value as the critical factor in helping business owners achieve their personal, financial, and business goals.  In his writing and public speaking, Snider asserts that Value should be the long-term goal, not income. In Walking to Destiny Snider writes, “I chose the phrase Value Advisor because this person’s primary objective is to help you grow value and unlock the wealth trapped in your business.” (Snider, page 254) The Value Advisor role has many aspects to it, including quarterback, project manager, and coach/teacher/trusted agent.

Every Exit Planning Project Requires a Team

In The $10 Trillion Opportunity, Richard E. Jackim and Peter G. Christman explain that an exit plan asks and answers all the business, personal, financial, legal, and tax questions involved in selling a privately-owned business.  Putting together a successful exit plan requires detailed knowledge of estate planning, business law, mergers and acquisitions, tax law, insurance products, financial planning, and wealth management required during the exit planning process.  In Your Exit Map: Navigating the Boomer Bust, John F. Dini explains that exit planning always requires tax, legal, financial, operational, and risk management expertise.  Dini points out that no one practitioner has all the knowledge required for every aspect of the plan.  “Exit Planning, in the true sense of the word, is coordinating all those skills so that they work together for a single objective.” (Dini, page 94) Exit Planning and Value Enhancement projects require a multidisciplinary team to adequately look after the full spectrum of the business owner’s interests.

Value acceleration actions require tireless commitment and relentless execution.  It can be hard to go this path alone.  Collaboration is your ally.  Working as a team uncomplicates the process and improves your exit planning experience.  You [the owners] are at the center of the process, flanked by a seasoned multi-disciplinary team to support your success. (Snider, page 47)

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Your Team Needs a Captain

Dini compares the Value Advisor to, a manager who has been given responsibility for achieving the owner’s overall goal of selling more product and giving excellent service, so customers become loyal buyers and the company increases revenues and profits.  The owner has the other managers report to him, so that all of their plans would complement the overall objective. That’s what an exit planner does. (Dini, pp 95-96).  Dini also points out that because exit planning is typically a once-in-a-lifetime event, the process is not something most business owners know anything about.  Therefore, using an exit planning advisor makes sense.  Using a Value Advisor adds an important degree of professionalism and legitimacy to the process. In many cases, this provides critical leverage because exit planning is often fraught with emotional issues.

Snider observes that Value Advisors typically have a background as a CPA, financial planner, management consultant, or former business owner — because they need to understand the game of business, its processes and functions, and the numbers involved.  However, Value Advisor is a separate role from these specialties.  On the owner’s core advisory team consisting of an attorney, CPA, financial planner, banker, and exit planner, even if several members hold the CEPA credential, only one of them has the role of Value Advisor. (Snider, page 254)

Some owners, of course, chose to manage the whole process themselves.  That’s generally a terrible idea – for at least two reasons.  To being with, unless you’ve done it before, you probably aren’t qualified to handle it and won’t do a good job…. An even greater danger is that you’ll wind up neglecting the business as the sale process unfolds.  (Bo Burlingham, Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top, pp 154-155)

Some owners try to coordinate the various professions in the belief that he (the owner) knows what will work best for him.  That approach doesn’t work in any other business situation.  (Dini, page 95)


The Value Advisor as Quarterback

EPI has defined the role of your team leader, or quarterback, as the Value Advisor™.  The Value Advisor is the defender of the owner’s objectives.  “He or she coordinates the efforts of other professionals so that they complement each other.” (Dini, page 96)  The Value Advisor is a trusted advisor – one of their jobs is to watch the owner’s back and help them manage relationships with the other advisors.

Many think of the role of the Value Advisor as the quarterback of the stakeholder team.  Just like on the football field, none of the other players on the offense “report” to the quarterback.  But when the quarterback calls the play, everyone on that field has a role and job to do.  The better they synchronize their efforts, the more effective they will be.  Sometimes they get smashed.  However, if you have the right people in the right roles, you usually score more often than the other guy.

The quarterback of your stakeholder team is no different.  You need someone to lead.  As the owner, you certainly don’t have the time and, frankly, you don’t have the experience.  (Snider, pp 254-255)


The Value Advisor as Project Manager

I like to call project management the art and science of getting things done.  A more technical definition would be: Project Management is a set of principles, methods, and techniques that people use to effectively plan and control project work. It establishes a sound basis for effective planning, scheduling, resourcing, decision-making, controlling, and re-planning.  Project management principles and techniques help complete projects on schedule, within budget, and in full accordance with project specifications. At the same time, they help achieve the other goals of the organization, such as productivity, quality, and cost effectiveness.  The objective of project management is to optimize project cost, time, and quality.

Another way to articulate the role of a Value Advisor is to think of them as a project manager. They are managing the project of unlocking the owner’s business wealth by helping them identify, protect, build, harvest, and manage the value of their business.  The Value Advisor will”

  • Assess your personal, financial, and business situation and correlate this to the value of your business.
  • Develop a scorecard and be able to quantitatively and qualitatively measure the impact from the implementation of personal, financial, and business actions which are driving up the value of the business.
  • Develop a plan with sequential steps and milestones and identify the critical path.
  • Define the deliverables to be produced at each milestone and gate.
  • Solicit help and input from other on the team.
  • Establish communication protocols.
  • Facilitate communication, resolve issues, and hold people accountable for deliverables.
  • Keep things on track and on budget. (Snider, page 256)

Developing and working an exit plan is a big, expensive, culture-changing, multi-year project and it requires a seasoned and credentialed leader to get it done right.


The Value Advisor as Teacher, Coach, and Trusted Agent

The Value Advisor is knowledgeable enough in multiple disciplines to weigh different approaches and discuss them with the business owner.  “He or she is also a coach, keeping the discussion of technical approaches within the framework of the client’s personal vision.” (Dini, page 97) Dini also points out that Value Advisors come to the exit planning specialty through another primary vocation. Your Value Advisor might be an accountant, an attorney, a financial planner, or another kind of business advisor.  “Whomever you select to lead the process, it should be someone that you trust to act in your best interest.” (Dini, page 97)  Snider goes into further detail into this deeper role of the Value Advisor:

In addition to project management skills, Value Advisors need to demonstrate empathetic understanding of business ownership.  They need to be able to reach the owner personally.  They need to be able to dissect and analyze financial statements and the financial, cultural, and personal consequences of bother strategic direction and daily decisions.  Skills in change management and collaboration are very important.  Knowledge of who and when to bring someone in and who to use is important.  The Value Advisor makes sure the process you use to get things done is fast and flexible so that you can responds quickly when the unexpected happens.  They also need to be a teacher.  They will not only catch fish for you, they will teach your team how to fish so they can do it themselves.  (Snider, page 257)

The Exit Planning process can be fraught with emotions, for the owners and the other stakeholders in the business:  family members, senior management, employees, and advisors.  The emotional component can take a toll on interpersonal relationships.  Richard Jackim and Peter Christman, in the Ten Billion Dollar Opportunity, observe that the Value Advisor plays the role of facilitator, especially during the critical goal-setting process.  “A facilitator helps collect candid information form stakeholders, builds a shared understanding of differing viewpoints, manages emotional turmoil, arrives at equitable compromises, and helps build a share vision for the future.  It is often too difficult for an “insider” to effectively accomplish this important and systematic process.” (Jackim and Christman, page 93) The Value Advisor also works as a sounding board for the owner’s ideas about the Exit Planning process. Keeping the owner’s goals and priorities in front of mind, he guides and coaches the owner, advisory team, and other stakeholders through the process – helping them maintain an attitude of relentless pursuit of value growth. 

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Final Thoughts Concerning Your Value Advisor

Happy is the former business owner who had the right kind of help during his or her transition from business ownership. The right kind of help does not from a disjointed group of advisors looking at the transition through the soda straw of their own specialties.  It comes from an exit strategy carefully planned, orchestrated, facilitated, led, and managed by a Value Advisor. He has been educated, trained, and mentored to have a broad perspective, to thrive on collaboration with other advisors, and to put himself in the owner’s shoes and always act in the owner’s best interest.  This kind of Value Advisor probably has the CEPA designation and advanced training through the EPI.  He is well-prepared to be the quarterback of your advisory team; the project manager for your Value Acceleration process; and – if you let him – your must trusted advisor through successful completion of the most important adventure of the business career.