By John Finegan, founder and owner of Beck Ag and a member of EO Sacramento
Divorce after 22 years of marriage turned my world upside down! The ordeal which lasted more than two years inspired me to reevaluate what it’s all about: relationships, mission, purpose, beliefs, family, friends, career and simply, life in general.
From the early stages of this odyssey, my EO Forum was an invaluable resource that I used extensively. A few of my Forum mates had been through the divorce ringer themselves. Their experience-sharing, friendship and words of wisdom were quite helpful to me during an extremely stressful time in my life.
One thing that was strongly reinforced to me during this process is why I started my business in the first place and what my ultimate objective is. I started Beck Ag in 1997, and we’ve grown steadily to provide careers and income for over 50 employees and contractors while generating over $6M in annual revenues. Over the years I’ve toyed with the idea of selling the business and cashing out. But I always come back to how important it is for me to provide opportunities for others who are also passionate about agriculture and thrive in a fast-paced entrepreneurial environment. Perpetuating an ongoing legacy has been more important to me than cashing out and leaving.
This point was clearly validated within a divorce mediation-directed report by a forensic accountant who completed a thorough (and costly) valuation of the business and expressed my philosophy as follows, “Mr Finegan’s philosophy puts longevity, succession to the next generation of leaders, and the legacy of Beck Ag ahead of personal gain.” I’m not sure I could have expressed it any better myself!
Rather than cling to 100% of “my” company, I’ve chosen to facilitate our legacy and develop the next generation of Beck Ag’s leaders/owners. I’ve accomplished this through an ownership structure that includes both voting and phantom stock shares. Given the success that I’ve had with this approach, including the deep loyalty it’s inspired in our people, it’s a bit confusing to me that more business owners don’t share ownership to this extent. Some in my EO Forum think I’m a little crazy.
In addition to solidifying our long-term legacy and garnering strong loyalty to the company by my equity partners, this approach has helped afford me the ability to work “on” my business and not get too constrained by working “in” it. Our EO Forum did an exercise a little while back in which we shared with the group what each of us believed would happen to our companies if we were “hit by a bus”. Everyone’s business would dramatically suffer from the demise of its founder; my business, on the other hand, would not be too greatly impacted by my death. I’m convinced that my being hit by a bus would have less of an impact on Beck Ag’s success than if one of my key partners were to succumb. That allows me to sleep a little better at night, yes, with less ownership, and lower stress!