Eagle Talk

The Stories We Tell – Worst Enemy or Best Friend

Dear Friends,

In this edition of EAGLE TALK, I believe you will find the insights of my good friend, Sheila Spangler, useful, beneficial and valuable. I first met Sheila when she was a client working for Zions Bank here in Boise. Drawing upon her wisdom in my business career, has helped me in the role as a Trusted Mentor and Advisor.  Happy Spring!

— Bob

Sheila Spangler
Sheila Spangler

Sheila Spangler has spent her career in finance as a business broker, commercial lender, business appraiser, and valuation analyst. She is a professional business intermediary and business appraiser with Murphy Business & Financial, specializing in business sales, business valuation, financial analysis, negotiation, deal structure, and financing. Prior to joining Murphy Business & Financial, she launched and led and her own business brokerage firm for over six years. Additionally, she founded and launched the Zions Bank Business Resource Center, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) funded Women’s Business Center, two business-consulting organizations focused on financial counseling and training for aspiring and existing entrepreneurs seeking to start, grow, and finance their companies. She received a master’s level degree from Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington, and has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boise State University. For 20 years she held the position of Vice President-Commercial Lending with several large banking institutions.

It is our nature as human beings to be inspired by stories. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a fallacy.  Our spoken and written words stir emotions that can lead to destruction or creation.  We know this instinctively.  However, sometimes, this knowledge is temporarily forgotten. Let me explain. 

I work as a business broker and appraiser focusing primarily on business owners who want to sell or buy businesses. Generally, the first step in that process involves asking questions and listening to the owner’s “origin story” about various successes and challenges along the way.  This story typically follows the mythological “hero’s journey” which is as follows.  The hero goes on an adventure, survives a decisive crisis, and returns “home” victoriously or is somehow transformed by the experience. This “hero’s journey” applies to business owners who either start a business and build it from scratch or purchase one and grow it.  They all suffer gut-wrenching challenges both real and imagined.  Somehow, they persevere when all seems hopeless.  A big customer is lost; there is no money in the bank; employees must get paid; a partner embezzles; a bank denies financing; a key employee takes confidential information, etc.  Through grit and determination, these obstacles are overcome and the owner steers the ship to calmer seas and for a time sails smoothly along until once again, a sea monster emerges.  Yet this time, our hero is an experienced warrior, who handily slays the leviathan and heads home arriving to the roaring appreciation of family and friends.  Okay, perhaps that’s a little dramatic yet my point is all business owners have a hero’s journey story and it’s important to know and appreciate this when selling (or buying) a business The owner’s final adventure is the business exit where the wheel is turned over to a new captain. Perhaps it’s a family member, perhaps someone unknown and not yet trusted.  This new someone must sufficiently appreciate the struggle and sacrifice that the business seller has endured and must commit to continue the journey while not marring the seller’s legacy. At least, that is what the seller believes.

The business selling process is an emotional journey for the owner not unlike a parent whose child has grown up, left home and no longer wants advice from the parent. The parent, like the business owner, has little control of what happens in the future yet often feels proud, excited, scared, angry, unappreciated, hopeful, forgotten, while eventually reaching acceptance and some degree of happiness. 

Recently, a client asked if there was some way he could avoid spending time answering a prospective buyer’s questions.  I wondered “how did that perception come up?”  So, I said, “Spending time with the buyer develops trust between the two of you which helps the buyer determine if she wants to move forward and buy your business.  I’m not aware of another way to accomplish this without talking.  What do you think?”  The owner’s response was “Yup!! Sounds fine.  Thanks.”  Hmmmm.  I’m not sure that he is fine and I’ll be following up to find out what caused him to ask this question. The “story” he believes about my answer or the reason for his question may or may not be the truth about the situation. 

The word “truth” reminds me of a college course on rhetorical theory that I enjoyed.  The gist of the course was to examine the meaning of rhetoric throughout recorded history.  According to Merriam-Webster, rhetoric is “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.”  Rhetoric is used to teach, sell, encourage, defend, motivate, hurt, control, manipulate, or frustrate among other things.  Words are used by humans for good or evil purposes. In this case, the professor explained that the purpose of rhetoric was to uncover the “truth” of something.  However, “truth” as described by Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and others was not the same as “Big T Truth” later divined under monarchies and various religious factions.  In other words, the truth changed over time depending upon who was telling it. The Greeks encouraged discussion and debate to determine the possible “truth” of a situation, person, or event. Whereas, later in history, a king or a church leader informed the masses that there was only one “Truth” and that all must accept that or face the consequences.  My purpose in sharing this is not to stir up any religious or philosophical debate, it is to illustrate the point that perception (i.e. truth) is often a matter of opinion.  Sometimes “truth” is backed by reason and discourse and sometimes by edict and force.

In my line of work as a business broker and appraiser, I’ve discovered that “truth” is often relative.  The first question a business owner generally asks me after I’ve heard the origin story is, “what is the value of my business?”.  My answer is, “That depends upon the situation”.  The value of a business is affected by more than the revenues and earnings.  The valuation also must consider the current economic environment, future opportunities for the company and its industry, its operational structure, financing availability, ease of transferability to a new owner, and continuance of revenues and profits into the future, to name a few.  Further, the business value varies depending upon the buyer.  For example, an individual financial buyer, replacing a corporate career may pay a different price than a private equity firm or strategic buyer.  So, what is the value of the business? It depends upon the buyer, the seller, the particular situation, and the flexibility of the buyer and seller and willingness to tell each other their relative “truths” about all of that.

Words are powerful. Our perceptions are formed from reading or hearing words.  Perceptions become beliefs and opinions which generate thoughts and actions regarding ourselves and others. The stories we tell ourselves and others determine the outcome of most things.  What stories are you telling?  What would happen if your story changed?  How would that impact your life or that of others?  That’s something to ponder whether you want to sell or buy a business or make any life choice.

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