Lessons Learned: How My Father Sold His Business

Posted by Rock LaManna

An innovator in large format graphics
When I started working for my father at Vomela in 1975, I knew virtually nothing about the business. But through the years, he would teach me countless life lessons about owning a company and creating a vision to successfully sell a business. (This is part one of a three-part series about my personal experience building and selling a profitable business.)

My father, Carlo LaManna, entered the print label and converting industry before it was really even an industry. In fact, converting equipment wasn’t even manufactured back in 1947 when he joined the company. Vomela had to develop it entirely on its own.

However, staying in our own lane afforded us an advantage: No competition. So, when businesses like 3M Company (Minnesota, Mining and Manufacturing) needed to convert raw materials into innovative products, we were their go-to source.

Over time, our relationship with 3M strengthened into a partnership. They would invest their raw materials, and in return, we invested our innovation in time, labor and equipment.

Moreover, this partnership wasn’t forged with attorneys or contracts. It was established through trust, handshakes and mutual respect. Together, we created and shared intellectual property without lawyers, like a closed-door marriage between two cutting-edge industries.

As our loyalty with 3M grew, so did their company, which began to evolve into a household name. Meanwhile, we remained behind the scenes, running the specialty printing and finishing services show. For 25 years, we enjoyed a sweet ride without any competition.

In 1980, when Jack Vomela retired, it was only natural that my father purchase the entire company. During his tenure from the 1960s through the 80’s, the company experienced ups and downs. But through a “can do” attitude and an innovative mindset, Carlo expanded the company from 32 employees to more than 200, grossing upwards of $5 million in contract business with gross margins of over 80 percent.

Six years later, after 40 years of employment for Vomela, my father decided it was time to sell the business. Our four-year selling process opened my eyes to a new way of thinking, which I hope can provide perspective to other business owners looking to sell.

Deciding to Enter the Selling Phase

I’m fortunate enough to still have my father in good health. So, when I grew curious as to what drove his decision to sell, I simply had to ask.

His answer was double-pronged. First, he didn’t feel comfortable with the technological shift towards digital printing. That’s understandable for a 40-year veteran of an industry that was on the brink of sweeping changes.

However, the refreshing simplicity of the second part of his answer surprised me: He was satisfied with his career.

Today, it seems that business owners are never satisfied. Their business becomes a part of them that they can’t possibly imagine living without. Morbid as it sounds, some decide to practically work until they die at their desks.

But things were different for my dad. His clients were happy, he was happy, and my mother was ready to spend more time with him. Plus, he was able to provide all 11 of his children a bigger and better home than the one in which he grew up. These were his signs that it was time to move on.

At first, selling seemed like it was going to be a relatively easy process. Although my father didn’t know how to sell, he already knew his buyer: Me. Working with him for the previous 11 years had transformed me into an enthusiastic young protege ready to take the reigns.

Unfortunately, the process didn’t run as smooth as we hoped. As soon as we announced our succession plan, our entire family became upset. My siblings couldn’t believe that even though I was the only child to have successfully graduated college, I was receiving the whole pie.

To overcome this emotional hurdle, we brought in an outside consultant named Tom Hubler, who remains part of the LaManna Alliance today. He helped my family air their grievances, providing the emotional counseling we needed to come to terms with the monumental change.

And wouldn’t you know it? All of us siblings are still talking today. I guess that means we did something right.

A Simple Vision for Retirement

Business owners often struggle to formulate a post-retirement plan. After all, what could possibly fill the void of their professional life?

For my father, that plan was simple. He wanted to throw horseshoes, spend time with his wife, and enjoy living in Florida. His focus was to live a healthy lifestyle filled with appreciation for his family and friends.

Today, he never talks about money. He looks out for his children and loved ones, teaching us the importance of living a “pay it forward” lifestyle that includes giving to charity, the community and church.

Current business owners can learn a lot from this attitude. Too often, sellers hold out for that extra million dollars that they may never receive before closing a deal. They’re so focused on meeting certain financial goals that they forget about the truly important aspects of life.

Life isn’t about money. It’s not about your business, either. It’s about the people who helped you achieve success: Your family, friends and community.

If you’re struggling to picture your life after retirement, I suggest you talk with transitional expert Paul Cronin of The Platinum Years. He can help guide you through the sales process and form a fulfilling post-retirement plan. (Click on the special offer below.)

My father was an innovative giant who inspires my professional and personal life. As you grow and eventually look to sell your own company, remember that hard work and passion build a successful business, but your loved ones and community build a beautiful life.

To read Part 2 of this series, click here.

 Click here to find out what your business is really worth

 

Topics: Selling Your Business, Succession Planning, Family Business, M&A, Rock's Story