Every business owner will likely face this decision: What is the future of my company without me?
For the past few decades, Berks County resident Paula Barrett has been helping many owners find those answers. Sometimes, the client is receptive to her advice, and other times they walk away in professional disagreement.
Barrett is a partner in RKL’s Business Consulting Services Group in Berks County. Her expertise as a credential valuation expert and business adviser has helped her guide clients throughout central and eastern Pennsylvania.
She has three decades of experience assisting companies and their owners with exit strategy formulation, ownership interest transfers and succession plan development. She is credentialed as a certified exit planning advisor.
“I enjoy the analytical side of accounting, using the information as opposed to creating the information,” she said.
Barrett sat down with Lehigh Valley Business recently to share how her business path took her to help others find the best ways to advise her clients.
LVB: How important is developing relationships in your business?
Barrett: Developing relationships and getting to know people and really trying to understand what their goals are? That sounds like a basic thing, but it’s one of the most difficult aspects to really helping people define what their goal is, and also what they are opposed to because there are so many options out there in ownership transition. All of that takes time.
If I could craft the perfect business relationship, it would be getting to know the business owner 3 to 5 years (before the succession transition) Because it does take an amount of time. More times than not, we get consulted when they are already in their journey and they are getting ready to sell.
LVB: What would be the best path forward for a business succession strategy?
Barrett: My goal is to try to get the conversation started earlier rather than later and working with a team of advisers. More times than not people come to us with ‘This is what we want to do,” instead of let’s step back and be intentional. Let’s plan for it and let’s explore the various options and come up with the best alternative and maybe some estate planning opportunities to minimize taxes.
LVB: How do you convince an owner that you need to have that succession conversation?
Barrett: Most business owners only travel through this journey once. It’s mostly through storytelling. A lot of us learn by example and hearing stories, and a lot of it is asking questions. “Did you consider this?”
For a family businesses, I’ll ask, “Have you had those conversations with a son or daughter?” In my experience, you see where assumptions are made. The son or daughter may have different plans. Try to encourage communication and openness. It’s really being a keen listener, giving guidance and examples.
LVB: Best part of your job?
Barrett: Being exposed to so many different businesses and business stories, It’s fascinating to meet people who are willing to take risks. Working with the team internally, many of whom are much younger. I’m at the point that it’s really not about me. It’s about the team.
LVB: Hardest part?
Barrett: In some cases it’s not such a good story and you learn to improve things and salvage things. It’s not always roses and happy. The hard part is when there are situations that you can’t fix something and they may not be happy with the advice you are giving. It’s really learning to not to take it personally and not to get discouraged.
LVB: Do you think some of the time your gender does play to your advantage?
Barrett: I do think so, and I’m not prepared to quote resources, but some of the trainings I have attended I have found that our brains are constructed differently: the male brain and the female brain. We tend to view things a little more holistically, a broader view, which I think really helps in this area. There is also support that shows when our emotions are triggered, our minds can go blank and being aware of that, it has really been helpful for me to keep the emotions in check, pause and be able to think through things and not be responding in an emotional way.
There have been challenges when I started. Women were held to different standards. I think that has greatly improved. I have never allowed gender to be an issue and I’ve been in plenty of situations where I was tested. I am one who tries not to see a glass ceiling. I think sometimes we have to find our voices and advocate for ourselves, which might not always be natural or easy.
I have a daughter, who is 30 and is a CPA and followed a little bit in my path, but in a different industry. I see her negotiating and speaking up and finding a voice. … I think man, that is awesome to see that.