My life (and the life of my family) changed forever last week when we sold our flagship publication, Bottom Line Personal and our associated annual books to Belvoir Media Group. When I sent the announcement to our top experts and contacts, I received many heartwarming congratulatory messages, along with some condolences for the end of an era and the impact of my father and family’s legacy on the publishing industry, direct marketing industry and the many millions of customers whose lives we have impacted in our 49-year history.
Honestly…no condolences necessary.
My announcement included two paragraphs which are critical to understanding the process and priorities when making a decision like this: Guardianship of the business and brand…and the impact on the family.
“The family has always planned to transition the company to outsiders at some point due to challenges of succession to the third generation. For assorted reasons it is now an opportune time to transition the business and time for the Edelston family to enjoy being just a family for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Needless to say this is difficult and emotional for all of us…the Edelston family and the Bottom Line family. Based on the integrity with which Belvoir has taken on Bottom Line Health we can think of no better partner to be the stewards of the Bottom Line products and brand. They have done an outstanding and seamless job since their acquisition of Bottom Line Health in 2020.”
According to the Harvard Business Review, 70-90% of mergers and acquisitions fail. That’s horrifying. So I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a company that has a similar philosophy of content integrity, understands the newsletter business and has demonstrated in multiple ways their deep respect and appreciation for what my father created and what our family has built. We have a number of key players who will be joining the Belvoir team to ensure continuity for our customers.
As for the family, after a post-closing Zoom call between the Belvoir and Bottom Line leadership, Belvoir’s founder asked me if the smiles and ease displayed by my family was genuine or just a show, since there is so often infighting and other political battles that occur during transactions such as these. My answer: We are genuinely pleased and ready for the next part of life. And have planned it for many years.
Let me explain the lessons that can be learned from our process…
There’s not enough room in this town for all the grandkids: Twenty years ago or so, my siblings and I created a shareholder agreement and at that time we made an important decision: We would most likely sell the company rather than transitioning to the third generation. Why would we do that? Because while the stats on M&A successes are poor, there are significant challenges that are both wonderful and burdensome when it comes to family businesses. Having grown up in the business, my siblings and I—with a lot of coaching from experts on family business dynamics and interpersonal relationships—have a uniquely good and respectful relationship in spite of our very different skill sets and personal styles. These contrasts could be a tinderbox with other groups, but with a lot of commitment and love, my siblings and I learned to work with and appreciate our differences.
However, when you project these challenges into a third generation the formula gets far more challenging: there are nine grandchildren, none of whom grew up with the business in their day to day lives like we did, and they have a great array of skills and interests. We would need the business to be big enough to accommodate all of the grandchildren if they chose to be there, which would be a problem because the business was never big enough to do that. Should only some want to participate and others pursue their paths, then there is a significant challenge in having some family members in the business and some just “owners”…while an extreme case, just ask the Pritzker family, of Hyatt hotel fame, about the challenges of managing a family business and associated funds when some people are involved in the business and others are not.
Individuals are most successful when they pursue their dreams: More importantly, my siblings and I agreed that it is important for individuals to pursue their own life paths rather than to feel obligated to follow in the family’s footsteps. Our belief was that no one can be happy and successful if they are operating out of obligation rather than their own choice and inspiration. We wanted to allow each grandchild the freedom to pursue their dreams and have the pride of achieving their own accomplishments. Watching the varied paths that the first eight post-college children have pursued tells us that we made the right choice. Aside from several who are involved in the business world in assorted parts of the country, we also have a teacher, a stage lighting designer, a budding (and very talented) singer-songwriter, a software engineer in big tech and one who will be entering graduate school who is still creating her path.
What an exciting process it’s been to watch each of them form from cute little bits to interesting and passionate individuals. It’s what life should be.
Which leads me back to me and my siblings and our own personal changes. I’ve written before about how Bottom Line formed structure and connection for my family—it was our family activity. Now, after nearly fifty years of a single-minded purpose, it is time for each of us to also fly as individuals and to do it as simply family, rather than with the overlay of co-workers and superiors/subordinates. Just family.
One other vital lesson: Communication. Through the whole process, my siblings and I have been in clear and honest discussion about the business prospects as well as our individual desires. We’ve talked. We’ve listened. We’ve debated. We’ve researched assorted options and even talked to some other potential buyers along the way who weren’t quite right. Communication, as always, was key. We talked among ourselves, including my mother who has been a significant part of the business since day one, needing to ensure that all felt good about this decision. And one other group that needed to be part of the conversation—our spouses. The business has been part of their lives as well for the entirety of their being part of the family and it was important that they too were part of the conversation and had the opportunity to ask questions about the process. In the end, everyone had their chance to speak and everyone supported the decision and the process.
The question is what do we do now? Where do we go from here?
Anything we want! That’s the really exciting part. With the Bottom Line philosophy of helping others to have great lives deeply ingrained in each of our value systems, don’t look for any of us to be spending our days on the golf course or playing mah-jongg. Rather, we each have the privilege of taking a moment to reset, reflect and identify the next place where we will help people be happier and healthier. My sister will at last be able to complete some books that she has had simmering for years. And, for music lovers, check out my incredibly talented brother, Sam, who has taken the mountain dulcimer to places no one ever imagined.
As for me personally, this blog will continue as will some media interviews on behalf of Bottom Line. And, needless to say, I have a long list of other possibilities for which you will have to stay tuned or follow me on social media (@sarahhiner on Twitter or @sarahhiner705 on Instagram). First, I will take some other advice of my own and do some self-care, reconnecting with myself as simply a person and with my family as simply a wife, mother, sister and daughter. As I wrote several years ago, sometimes you just need a rest.