Cashing out: An entrepreneur's dream or nightmare?

October 31, 2011
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Some would say Larry Howald accomplished every small-business owner’s dream: Selling his company to a big competitor for “good” money.

Many entrepreneurs aspire to do just that, then use the proceeds to live on—or start over.

As IBJ reported this week, Howald didn’t spend much of the cash he got when he sold Broad Ripple Heating & Air Conditioning to Lennox International in 2000. Instead, he stayed at the company for more than a decade, trying to preserve the family atmosphere his dad created when he founded the firm in 1962.

That’s a long time for someone used to calling the shots, experts say. It’s not unusual for owners to stick around for a while after a sale to ease the transition, but Indianapolis attorney Eric Manterfield advises his clients to keep it short.

“You need to be able to walk away,” he told IBJ.

Howald left Lennox in February, then spent the spring and summer working to launch Howald Heating & Air Conditioning. It opened Sept. 1.

He’s far from alone. Tom Godby sold his HVAC firm to American Residential Services in 1997, then started Godby Heating and Air Conditioning seven years later. He also owns a stake in a several other local companies.

At 56, Howald has a new enthusiasm for his job. He starts his days early and works late. And he can’t even fathom retirement—let alone another sale of the business.

“I don’t ever want to quit, really,” he said.

Howald learned from his experience, but is there a lesson here for other entrepreneurs? How can business owners cash out of the enterprise they built and move on without looking back?

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