The year 2020 has certainly been interesting. Owners of companies in the PCB and PCBA industries are used to ups and downs, but yeesh, 2020 has been tough. The good news is most owners have survived all kinds of stressful situations in the past, and hopefully, better days are ahead. Meanwhile, when an owner is faced with constant, elevated levels of stress, it is easy to feel burnt out.
We hear from many owners who are as burnt out as an old DES line or leaded reflow oven, and it is time for them to sell and retire. That is great, as we like getting new clients! However, if it is just a knee-jerk reaction, and/or the owner is not really prepared to sell, then we could be spinning our wheels. It is best to plan the sale of the company well in advance, as opposed to deciding to sell the day after a 50-year high school reunion or a string of bad days.
We have talked with a variety of owners on how they deal with their own burnout. Most said that they engage in sports like golf or other activities, such as fishing, boating, gardening, and drinking. Many do not take real vacations, but they might take a few days off at a country home or somewhere warm. A fair number of owners arranged their businesses so that they do not need to be there all the time, which takes off a lot of pressure. A few owners put a lot of time into charities, and many spend time with children and grandchildren.
One popular way to deal with stress, burnout, and work issues is to be involved in a formal or informal peer group. A formal group is run by an experienced mentor or coach, often with several business owners from non-competitive industries. An informal group might be made of golf buddies, school friends, or a networking group. Some owners participate in both formal and informal groups.
These groups help owners see that all owners go through similar issues. It is truly lonely at the top. The business owner’s significant other may not want to hear about their problems, employees have their own agendas, kids want cash, friends just want to talk about sports, your attorney gladly charges $500+ per hour to listen to your issues, and your dog’s best advice is to chase after squirrels. Peer groups can be a great way to step away from the business and hear how other owners solve issues. Avoid negative or low-energy people as much as possible.
Another form of burnout is deal fatigue. Some deals drag on due to seller, buyer, or external factors, which causes a lot of stress. Meanwhile, the owner has a business to run, and their significant other already booked an around-the-world tour and put a deposit down on a new luxury car. The keys to avoiding burnout during a deal are to communicate with advisors and peers, take time to step away from the business and the deal (golf, fishing, other activities), realize that it’s not personal (“it’s just business”), stay positive, and always have another alternative in case the deal falls apart.
Business owners need to not only recognize and admit burnout in themselves but also recognize burnout in their employees. The company can only perform well if the team is performing well, and this often starts at the top. The owner needs to create a culture in which employees can address and resolve stress and burnout. In these days of COVID-19, it is harder than ever to manage teams and recognize stress. If an owner wants to grow the business and increase value, this is a challenge that needs to be met with innovative ideas that are customized to the business and individuals. Asking peers and/or golf buddies or brainstorming with a networking group could generate good ideas.
One of the keys to addressing burnout is not to bring stress home, which is tough to do in the current work-from-home environment. Owners need to take the time to relax, put any issues on the back burner, and then go downstairs for dinner. Also, be sure to exercise, socialize responsibly, eat well, and do not let issues snowball.
It’s good to remember that no one is a hostage in a “Stockholm syndrome” type of situation. If an owner is truly “cooked” and cannot stand the thought of going into work on Monday, take an “F-it” day. Do something fun, and talk to an advisor on how to start the business sale process.
Tom Kastner is the president of GP Ventures, an investment banking firm focused on sell-side and buy-side transactions in the tech and electronics industries. GP Ventures has offices in Chicago and Tokyo, with five people in total. Tom Kastner is a registered representative of, and securities transactions are conducted through StillPoint Capital, LLC—a Tampa, Florida, member of FINRA and SIPC. StillPoint Capital is not affiliated with GP Ventures.