OK boomers, the small business world is ready for you to move on | Gene brands


lI’m not exactly a baby boomer, but I’m getting pretty close. The standard definition of this generation is that they were born between the years after World War II and 1964. I was born in 1965, close by, so go ahead, call me a boomer if you will. I’m not ashamed. But there’s one thing I do know: the small business world will be much better off when the boomers ride off into the sunset.

According to Wilmington Trust data, baby boomers own 2.3 million businesses in the country and employ about 25 million people, meaning a third of Americans depend on these businesses for their income and tens of millions more – vendors, suppliers, freelancers – also depend on these companies for their livelihood.

This generation of entrepreneurs has overseen one of the greatest expansions of wealth in human history. And yet – typical of my generation – we have also created many problems for the next generations.

For example, we have selfishly not thought about the future. A Wilmington Trust survey found that more than half of us (58%) have no transition plan for our businesses and 45% of us have nothing saved for retirement. You would think that with all this wealth creation we would have stashed away a few bucks for our golden years, but no, we pretty much spent it all, leaving our children and grandchildren with huge debts and responsibilities to take care of us.

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For those of us stashed away, the good news from a Bloomberg report is that when we die, we will pass on up to $73 trillion in wealth. But let’s face it, according to the same report, that won’t happen for a very, very long time – 2045 – which means that, thanks to advancements in health care, current generations will face the costs of keeping us alive and well for the next 20 years. That is in addition to taking care of themselves and their children. I feel sorry for young parents. They have a lot on their plate.

I also feel sorry for the workplace problems my generation has caused in their company for the Gen Xers, millennials, and Gen Zers.

Thanks to our stubbornness, much of our technology is still steeped in the 1970s. Recent data shows that between 86% and 92% of businesses still write paper checks to make payments. Paper checks! Not only that, but many of my clients continue to rely on older, clunkier systems instead of migrating to cloud-based applications that create value and productivity. Does this come as a surprise when Small Business Administration data shows that more than half of the nation’s entrepreneurs are over 50? This problem will require future generations to spend billions to get up to par.

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Our workplaces also linger in the past. At the majority of the boomer companies that support the US economy, workers have to fight for the kinds of benefits enjoyed by companies run by younger generations, such as home working, flexible schedules, extended paid time off, mental health coverage, and protection against harassment and discrimination. All of these things are foreign concepts to many people of a certain age who themselves never enjoyed these benefits when they were younger and don’t understand why today’s generations should.

So what happens to these boomer-led companies? Hopefully some of these owners will wake up and take their time over the next few years to build systems, implement processes, and create a friendlier workplace that will attract younger, better talent. By doing so, they can create value that is attractive to a potential buyer, which may include their workforce in the form of an employee share plan or similar arrangement.

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But don’t hold your breath. That kind of forward thinking hasn’t been practiced much in the past and it’s going to take a lot of investment and sweat that I’m pretty sure my generation won’t be ready for. My justification: data shows that the vast majority of boomer entrepreneurs have ignored the need for a transition or succession plan, a whopping 75% of them intend to continue their business, guaranteeing years of torture for those who do choose to take over the company with or for them in the hope of one day.

My advice to my generation: let’s think about the next generation once in a while. To invest. Labor power. Creating value. Take the next few years while you can still stand and build a legacy worth passing on to the next generation. Let’s do something good for the future. Let’s do something that benefits someone other than ourselves. I know, that’s contrary to our behavior in the past. But you are never old to change.


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