Serena Williams recently announced her pending retirement from tennis in her own words, as published by Vogue. Serena explained, “I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.” She continued, “I’m going, to be honest. There is no happiness in this topic for me. I know it’s not the usual thing to say, but I feel a great deal of pain. It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.”

How many small business owners can relate to Serena’s sentiments? Probably, a lot. Many business owners created their businesses from scratch, with lots of love and tremendous amounts of hard work, and feel reluctant to have it “be over.” What can these business owners learn from Serena’s exit from tennis?

  • Be Realistic. In September, Serena will be 41 years old. She already holds the record as the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam title. She was 36 (and pregnant!) when she beat her sister Venus Williams to win the 2017 Australian Open. Before that, the record was held by Flavia Pannetta, who won the U.S. Open in 2015 at age 33. Serena, in her decision-making process, undoubtedly took account of her age and the fact that with each year that passes, her chances of winning another Grand Slam title dramatically diminishes. Similarly, business owners need to be realistic about how long they can work at their present capacity and exhibit the leadership and passion required for the continued success of their business.
  • Have a Plan for What Comes Next. For Serena, “the balance has been slowly shifting toward Serena Ventures” (her venture capital firm). In addition, Serena has expressed a desire to add to her family. Similarly, when small business owners plan their business succession, they need to think about what ignites them in the next step of their journey. Is it taking on something completely different? Is it working part-time in the business once you step down from the helm to assist the new generation in the transition? Or is it simply taking it easy? Once you refine your plan, you need to employ the appropriate professionals to help you execute it. For example, a business attorney can help you negotiate an employment relationship with the new owner of your business that matches your desires for work hours and level of involvement.
  • Exit On Your Terms. Serena’s exit involves playing a few lead-up tournaments and one final U.S. Open. She stated, “I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try. And the lead-up tournaments will be fun.” What will your exit look like? What do you want those last years to represent for your legacy?

Business succession involves tough personal choices. A business attorney can help advise you during all the steps required to navigate successfully through your “evolution,” as Serena would put it. We’d be happy to help.

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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