When his father was 67 years old, an unforeseen financial crisis forced the succession. Patrick Bermingham, Bermingham Construction, knew his father did not have the appetite to fight for the company’s survival; in one moment, his father shook his hand and Patrick was put in charge.
“My father was the supreme leader, but after that handshake, he never questioned my decision making.” Stepping into a precarious financial situation meant that Patrick had to make rapid decisions and get a plan for survival.
“I needed money. I bought a new suit from Harry Rosen. I got on a plane to Japan. I sold a patent. It enabled me to stabilize the business,” he says.
Then he set his long-term plan which meant looking at the hard truths.
Patrick needed a family succession plan, but knew that his children were much too young to take over. He could also see the valuation was too low to sell the business. He eventually decided to transition the business to outside owners by allowing the employees to buy shares , and not to do succession planning for the next generation of the Bermingham family.
When it comes to the family finances, structuring existing money can be done several years before a sale of a business or any other significant liquidity event. Trusts can be structured more favourably in times of low interest rates and low valuations for company stock.
At the time of Bermingham’s low valuation, when a sale is not possible, it may be suitable to transfer ownership in the family business to a trust at favourable terms. You can allow for a more tax effective transfer of ownership than during times of high interest rates or high stock valuation.
Patrick decided to do an estate freeze for his family. Then Patrick began the transition process by allowing employees to buy shares in the company. The company’s debt-equity ratio was still too high though, and the company needed more investment capital. Again, Patrick brought in experts to help organize and manage a partnership with private equity.
Eventually, after four years, the company was bought back from the private equity firm. When it came time to sell to a world class, strategic corporation, a few years later, Mr. Bermingham said the company was polished from all the steps taken along the way. “The secret of transitioning your business is that it is a long term process. You hedge your bets and maximize your value by buying and selling and then buying back parts of the company. It is not something you do suddenly.”