Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Exit: John Warrillow

Would you sell out staff for an extra $1 million? Add to ...

At the Vancouver airport not long ago, I bumped into an old friend I’ll call Melanie. She runs a successful marketing firm in Toronto, and we were both flying home.

I had come to know Melanie a decade earlier after I’d invited her to sit on the advisory board for one of my companies. At each meeting, Melanie would sit quietly and periodically ask questions — good questions. She didn’t grandstand or pound the table, she just listened and offered the occasional opinion based on her experience.

The most animated Melanie ever became was when the conversation turned to the impact my decisions had on my staff.

I can remember one meeting in particular at which I was describing my long-term goal to sell my company for a specific amount of money. Melanie listened for a while and finally interrupted: “John, how do you think your employees would feel if they heard you right now?”

Her question made me realize how self-centred I sounded and how unappealing I appeared at that moment. “Your employees need to know you have a vision and goal for your company beyond just the money you stand to gain when it sells,” Melanie continued.

From that day forward, I came to count on Melanie to be my conscience and checked in with her on key decisions that would affect my employees.

When I saw Melanie a few weeks ago, a decade had passed since that fateful meeting. Her kids are going to university next year, and Melanie has built a capable management team to run her business day-to-day. With her life evolving, she was starting to turn her attention to exiting her firm.

I asked Melanie if she planned to sell to one of the big multinational holding companies. Her response was in keeping with the Melanie I had known years ago: “Why would I want to sell out to a large agency holding company and report to some boss in New York or London for the next three years?”

“But isn’t that the typical exit plan for a business in your field?” I asked.

“Yes. But I’m not going to sell out to some soulless multinational just to have another $1 million in the bank. I plan to be financially independent before I sell my company, so I’d rather sell it to my employees over time and see them preserve the culture we’ve built.”

Both then and now, I marvel at Melanie’s unwavering ability to put her people first.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell: Turn Your Business Into One You Can Sell . Throughout his career as an entrepreneur, Mr. Warrillow has started and exited four companies. Most recently he transformed Warrillow & Co. from a boutique consultancy into a recurring revenue model subscription business, which he sold to The Corporate Executive Board in 2008. He is the author of Drilling for Gold and in 2008 was recognized by BtoB Magazine’s “Who’s Who” list as one of America’s most influential business-to-business marketers.

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @JohnWarrillow

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular