Join us on May 10 for a Lavelle Law Breakfast Briefs presentation in Schaumburg. Attend this free seminar as Lavelle Law attorneys Steve Migala and David O’Leary collaborate with Steven Ryan of GreatBanc Trust Company to discuss strategies for determining if an ESOP is the right structure for your business, or perhaps your client’s business. The benefits of an ESOP What makes a company a good ESOP candidate Tax benefits ESOP financing The parties involved in an ESOP transaction Transaction responsibilities Timing of an ESOP transaction Details and registration:

What makes an established business “bankable” as opposed to perpetually seeking investor capital? The standard suite of financials a bank looks for are pure data, such as the income statement, balance sheet, and AR-aging.  These are backward-looking, based on past performance.  However there are also a number of reports a client can create themselves that will help a bank grow comfortable with financing. Work In Progress (WIP) – this is a report with some standardized fields that will show current contracts a business is performing on.  It is typical to include total value, % completed, and anticipated extensions Profit and Loss projections – for any business requiring capital for expansion, two years of projections are a MUST HAVE, preferably with the first 12 months broken out monthly.  There should be detailed expense line items, and a list of assumptions.  Pro tip:  Don’t be too conservative as the bank will be conservative for you.  It’s common to see high / low / mid scenarios with projections. Contract waterfall – specific to government contractors, this is similar to a WIP with some additional contract related fields Business plan – for a new venture or business expansion, this includes some details for what the business hopes to achieve.  What business need will this solve?  Who will the new customers be?  What are the differentiators that make this company better than the competition?  What are the risks associated with the venture? In addition to helping justify debt service and cash flow, professional reporting can demonstrate that a business has competent management.  In case your client doesn’t know where to go for assistance, we have many professionals within XPX able to help!

BLUE RIDGE ESOP ASSOCIATES ACQUIRES CROWE LLP ESOP BUSINESS Crowe Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and certain tax-related 401(k) Plan services will transition to Blue Ridge CHICAGO (August 11, 2022) – Blue Ridge ESOP Associates, the nation’s largest independent ESOP administration and recordkeeping firm, announced today that it has acquired the ESOP services and certain tax-related 401(k) services of Crowe LLP, a leading public accounting, consulting and technology firm. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Following the transaction, significantly all assets and Crowe professionals associated with the Benefit Plan Services (BPS) business will transition to Blue Ridge. “We’re excited to integrate Crowe’s ESOP business and people with Blue Ridge,” said Bill Yoerger, Chief Executive Officer of Blue Ridge. “It’s a great fit for our organization, as the BPS team’s technical expertise and personalized client-centric culture mirrors ours.” “The Crowe ESOP and 401(k) plan administration practice offers true expertise in ESOP and retirement plan services.” said Tom Roback, President of Blue Ridge. “Together we form a powerful combination of thought leadership, high quality, technological innovation and customer service.” Pete Shuler, VP–Senior Consultant at Blue Ridge and a former Crowe partner who transitioned as part of the transaction, added, “We look forward to transitioning the BPS clients to Blue Ridge, where they can expect to receive the same exceptional service to which they’ve become accustomed. Given the nature of our complementary businesses, clients will benefit from the expertise provided by both Blue Ridge and BPS. This is a win for our clients, a win for our people, and a win for both organizations.” About Blue Ridge ESOP Associates Founded in 1988, Blue Ridge ESOP Associates is the largest independent ESOP and 401(k) Third Party Administration and Recordkeeping firm. Blue Ridge provides high quality, technically proficient independent plan administration and repurchase obligation forecasting. Blue Ridge administers over 1,400 ESOP company clients servicing over 500,000 participants along with thousands of 401(k) plans. The Blue Ridge family of companies employs over 165 talented professionals and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia. Crowe LLP is a leading public accounting, consulting and technology firm with offices around the world. Crowe uses its deep industry expertise to provide audit services to public and private entities. The firm and its subsidiaries also help clients make smart decisions that lead to lasting value with its tax, advisory and consulting services. Crowe is recognized by many organizations as one of the best places to work in the U.S. As an independent member of Crowe Global, one of the largest global accounting networks in the world, Crowe serves clients worldwide. The network consists of more than 200 independent accounting and advisory services firms in more than 130 countries around the world. # # # Contact: Bill Yoerger, Blue Ridge, +1 434 443 2137, byoerger@BlueRidgeESOP.com Tom Roback, Blue Ridge, +1 434 220 7947, troback@BlueRidgeESOP.com Mark Semer / Sara Widman, Gasthalter & CO, +1 212 257 4170, llcp@gasthalter.com  

Employee stock ownership plans (ESOP) give ownership interest to employees in the form of stock shares. We’re going to break down what this complex deal looks like, including the potential benefits and risks, and why it’s critical to have a strong team in place to successfully guide you through the process and to the finish line. What is an ESOP? When a business reaches a certain maturity point, an ESOP can be an attractive substitute to an outside sale. If majority owners are weighing the possibility of an exit strategy, typical options include 

Internal Revenue Code Section 401(a)(28) allows employees to diversify a portion of their stock once they meet certain eligibility requirements. There are specific age and service requirements outlined by the IRS to determine who is a Qualified Participant, however your plan may allow for rules that are less restrictive. Statutory Requirements: 

When an employee terminates employment with the company due to a disability, his or her ESOP account may be subject to certain procedures and additional benefits. Before these procedures and benefits can be applied, it is important to understand how your ESOP Plan Document defines disability and whether or not the employee’s circumstance meets that definition. How is Disability Defined? 

Why are business owners and their advisors talking about ESOPs? With capital gains taxes on the rise, ESOPs are playing an increasing pivotal role as an exit strategy. Come join us on October 19 for an important webinar on Tax Reform & ESOPs. We will provide an overview of Employee Stock Ownership Plans, including the structure, mechanics and benefits – to selling shareholders, employees, and the business itself. Special Guest Shane Lieberman of the US Office of Public Policy at UBS will also share his perspectives on tax reform and other issues impacting business owners and investors. To register and for more information, please view the attached invitation. Or contact David Fasi (david.fasi@ubs.com; 860-275-8006).

This recorded webinar introduces ESOPs as an exit strategy for business owners contemplating a sale. Lavelle Law attorneys Steve Migala and David O’Leary describe the structure of an ESOP, when it makes sense for a corporation and its shareholders to consider an ESOP, its typical use cases, and an ESOP’s unique tax advantages for corporations and their shareholders. If you have any follow-up questions or to set up a consultation, call Steve or David at 847-705-7555 or email us at info@lavellelaw.com.

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I once had the thrill of interviewing Jerry West on management. He was “The Logo” for the NBA, although back then they didn’t advertise him as such. Only the Laker followers knew for sure. In 1989 the “Showtime” Lakers were coming off back-to-back championships.  Pat Riley was a year away from his first of three Coach of the Year awards. 

Can you Offer Too Many SKUs to Your Customers? The short answer is YES! A SKU, or Stock Keeping Unit, defines each different product version that you sell and keep inventory of.  There may be different SKUs of the same overall item based on size, color, capacity (think computer or cellphone memory), features, and many other parameters.  For build to forecast businesses, that number of variations can quickly explode and become difficult to manage. Your customers are busy and want ordering simplified. Of course, they may need (or want) more than one variation of a product. That is reasonable and a common aspect of business – one size does not fit all! But there is a point where too offering too many SKUs is not value added either for your customer or your business.  In his April 30, 2013 article “Successful Retailers Learn That Fewer Choices Trigger More Sales” in Forbes, Carmine Gallo discusses his experience and a study about “choice overload” by other authors. He writes about a retailer that “has discovered that giving a customer more than three choices at one time actually overwhelms customers and makes them frustrated…when the customer is faced with too many choices at once, it leaves the customer confused and less likely to buy from any of the choices!” Choice overload is well-documented in consumer studies but can apply in B2B as well. While customer satisfaction is important, another key concern is the often-hidden costs associated with a business offering and managing a large number of SKUs for a given product type. These costs include holding inventory, S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning) team time, small production runs, and scrapping inventory. Holding inventory takes up space, which may come with a cost or utilize racks that could be used for other products. Scheduled inventory counts take up employee time and may result in blackout periods when the warehouse is not shipping product.  The more SKUs there are, including extra SKUS, the greater the potential impact. The Sales team’s forecasting and the Operations team’s purchasing reviews that are part of the S&OP process can occupy more of their valuable time if they need to consider these times. If small orders or forecasts require a new production run, this could be costly and create excess inventory. Whether from this new production or past builds, eventually it will make sense to write off and scrap old inventory, another cost impact to the company. How do you know which SKUs to focus on if you wish to look at reducing your total number of SKUs? Start by examining SKUs that have: Low historic sales over a period of time Small variations between SKUs that customers do not value Older technology or model when newer option SKUs are available This requires a true partnership between Sales and Operations. It starts with educating both teams on the costs involved – neither group may be aware of the money and time impact to the company. Periodic (such as quarterly) reviews of SKUs that meet the above descriptions should become a fixed part of the calendar. A review of the data and other available for sale options should result in the identification of SKUs which may not be needed. At that point, it is helpful to have a customer friendly EOL (End of Life) Notice process by which you inform customers of last time buy requirements for this SKU and alternates available. It is usually best to provide some time for the last time buy in the interest of customer satisfaction, although that may not always be necessary. At a company that designed and sold electronics, a robust SKU rationalization process was implemented to help address these issues. A representative from the Operations team analyzed SKUs that met a version of the above criteria and suggested candidates for the EOL process. Next, a member of the Sales team reviewed them and, where appropriate, issued product change or EOL notices to customers, providing them time for last time buy orders when needed. These steps helped reduce the work involved in maintaining these SKUs while not leading to any customer complaints. A final note – sometimes it makes sense to continue offering low selling SKUs – to support customers buying other items (hopefully in larger quantities). It may be worthwhile to encourage them to keep coming back to you for all of their product needs and this may be a way to accomplish that. But it helps to understand that this is truly the case and not assume that this customer would not be equally happy with another, more popular, SKU.   Steven Lustig is founder and CEO of Lustig Global Consulting and an experienced Supply Chain Executive.  He is a recognized thought leader in supply chain and risk mitigation, and serves on the Boards of Directors for Loh Medical and Atlanta Technology Angels.

When it comes to careers, business owners are a minority of the population. In conversations this week, I mentioned the statistics several times, and each owner I was discussing it with was surprised that they had so few peers. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), there are over 33,000,000 businesses in the US. Let’s discount those with zero employees. Many are shell companies or real estate holding entities. Also, those with fewer than 5 employees, true “Mom and Pop” businesses, are hard to distinguish from a job. The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Association, lists businesses with 5 to 99 employees at about 3,300,000, and 123,000 have 100 to 500 employees (the SBA’s largest “small business” classification.) Overall, that means about 1% of the country are private employers. Owners are a small minority, a very small minority, of the population. Even if we only count working adults (161,000,000) business owners represent only a little more than 2% of that population. So What? Where am I going with this, and how does it relate to our recent discussions of purpose in business exit planning? It’s an important issue to consider when discussing an owner’s identity after transition. Whether or not individual owners know the statistics of their “rare species” status in society, they instinctively understand that they are different. They are identified with their owner status in every aspect of their business and personal life. At a social event, when asked “What do you do?” they will often respond “I own a business.” It’s an immediate differentiator from describing a job. “I am a carpenter.” or “I work in systems engineering,” describes a function. “I am a business owner” describes a life role. When asked for further information, the owner frequently replies in the Imperial first person plural. “We build multi-family housing,” is never mistaken for a personal role in the company. No one takes that answer to mean that the speaker swings a hammer all day. Owners are a Minority We process much of our information subconsciously. If a man enters a business gathering, for example, and the others in the room are 75% female, he will know instinctively, without consciously counting, that this business meeting or organization is different from others he attends. Similarly, business owners accept their minority status without thinking about it. They expect that the vast majority of the people they meet socially, who attend their church, or who have kids that play sports with theirs, work for someone else. There are places where owners congregate, but otherwise, they don’t expect to meet many other owners in the normal course of daily activity. This can be an issue after they exit the business. You see, telling people “I’m retired” has no distinction. Roughly 98% of the other people who say that never built an organization. They didn’t take the same risks. Others didn’t deal with the same broad variety of issues and challenges. Most didn’t have to personally live with the impact of every daily decision they made, or watch others suffer the consequences of their bad calls. That is why so many former owners suffer from a lack of identity after they leave. Subconsciously, they expect to stand out from the other 98%. “I’m retired” carries no such distinction.       This article was originally published by John F. Dini, CBEC, CExP, CEPA on

In a recent research study by The Value Builder System™, they analyzed data from 20,000 business owners who completed a Value Builder assessment of their business and discovered that owners who have businesses dependent on them, known as Hub & Spoke owners are facing a 35% discount on the value of their businesses and part of the problem may be the degree of customization they offer. For the purposes of the study, a Hub & Spoke owner is someone who answered the question “Which of the following best describes your personal relationship with your company’s customers?” with the response, “I know each of my customers by first name and they expect that I personally get involved when they buy from my company.”  One reason customers want the owner to personally attend to their project is the degree of customization Hub & Spoke owners offer.  In fact, the study shows that Hub & Spoke owners are more than twice as likely to say they offer a complete custom solution for each customer.  Since the owner is usually the person with the most subject matter expertise inside their company, it’s not surprising customers want the owner’s full attention on their job. The secret to making a business less reliant on its owner is to stop offering a custom solution for every customer.   How Ned MacPherson Built More Value By Doing Less   Ned MacPherson is a digital marketing guru, so it’s not surprising that when he first started offering his time, it was in demand.   In the early days as a consultant, he offered all sorts of growth hacking services. But when demand outstripped his supply of time, Ned had a decision to make. He could either turn away prospective clients or build a team of consultants underneath him.  As a growth guy, the idea of treading water didn’t appeal to Ned, so he opted to build a team. However, to ensure his team could execute without him, Ned decided to focus on one service offering: post-click analysis. Rather than help optimize a website for the entire customer journey, Ned’s company would become one of the world’s leading firms on optimizing a customer’s journey after they opted in to a website.   Most digital marketing consultants offer a wide range of services, but Ned knew it would be impossible to remove himself if they offered help in too many areas. By specializing in post-click analysis, Ned and his team were able to streamline their offering. Demand for Ned’s time started to diminish as his employees became some of the world’s leading experts in a narrow slice of the analytics market.   Within seven years of starting Endrock Growth & Analytics, Ned had 70 employees, more than $2 million a year in EBITDA, and multiple acquisition offers.   

The sale of a business marks a major life event. It’s emotional, stressful, and exciting all at the same time. And unfortunately, it’s often a lot of work. Most business owners will only experience the process of selling a business once in their life. This is both good and bad news. On the bright side, you only need to get through it once. But many business owners aren’t ready for the process and risk leaving money on the table as a result. With many sellers relying on the sale to fund their retirement and lifelong financial goals, getting it right from the start is critical. Here are tips from sell-side business advisors on what to do (and not do) when selling a business. What to do (and not do) when selling a business Start thinking about selling your business early — really early One of the top mistakes sellers make when selling their business is not starting the process early enough. There are many reasons starting last minute can really hurt your bottom line. It’s not uncommon for business owners to assume they’ll never retire at some point during their life. But as often happens, life changes. Perhaps health concerns for you or a spouse make continuing to run your business difficult. Or maybe you eventually lose the excitement when getting up every day and want a change of pace. Sudden sales or immediate retirements Unfortunately, when business owners want to sell with a tight timeline (or fire sale), they may have fewer options to exit. It’s not uncommon for some buyers to want the owner and/or members of the management team to stay on for a period to help with the transition. If there’s an earn-out, it’ll usually require the seller to stick with the company for different milestones (time, financial, or otherwise) to earn the full purchase price. Earn-outs aren’t ideal for sellers, but if you’re unwilling or unable to consider deals with any continuation component, it could impact the sale price, timeline to find a buyer, or both. Make your business more sellable later by getting advice now Business brokers often recommend getting a valuation done years before expecting to sell the company. Sarah Grossman, Principal of BayState Business Brokers in Needham, MA, says this helps sellers “shape their timeline and any financial planning that needs to be completed prior to a sale.” Understanding the fair market value of the company is critical to setting expectations for the seller, but understanding the drivers of the valuation can help increase the sale price over time. Grossman says, “a [business] broker can advise them on things they can do in their business over the next few years to make it more saleable when it does go on the market.” How to maximize your cash at closing Aaron Naisbitt, Managing Director at Dunn Rush & Co, an investment bank focused on sell-side M&A in Boston, MA, emphasizes the importance of going to market and knowing what your business is worth. He says, “the biggest mistake many businesses owners make is not running a competitive process when the business is capable of attracting interest from a broad number of buyers. This mistake most often occurs when the owner has already made the second biggest mistake – not taking the time to educate themselves and prepare adequately for the process.” Not every business will be able to run a competitive process. But those that can, and don’t, “Will leave money and terms on the table if they do not do so” he adds. Getting professional help is key here as trying to negotiate a sale directly with a buyer might be short-sighted. Grossman says it’s not uncommon for sellers to be approached directly by competitors. She cautions sellers considering working with buyers directly as “They could be leaving significant money on the table without a clear understanding of the valuation of their company. Sellers also need to work with a broker and their advisors to understand a typical deal structure so that they can maximize their cash at closing.” The importance of understanding the terms of the deal cannot be overstated. This is where money is made or lost. Naisbitt cautions that sometimes terms can sound really good, but aren’t always common sense. He adds that without an advisor, sellers “Don’t know where to argue.” During negotiations, you have to consider “What is it that’s important to you and what are you willing to give up” he says. Exit planning is not time to DIY — assemble your team of advisors When selling a company, gathering your team of advisors early on is key to getting a successful outcome. Again, odds are you haven’t sold a business before and probably won’t again. We don’t know what we don’t know…and you only have one shot to get this right. Your team of business and personal advisors will be instrumental in getting the deal over the finish line. Your business advisory team may consist of: a business broker or M&A advisor, accounting and tax advisors, and transaction/M&A attorney. On the personal side, your sudden wealth advisor who focuses on helping individuals experiencing a transformative liquidity event. Be sure to involve your wealth advisor in discussions around deal terms too. For example, when considering deal structure, it’s important to ensure alignment with your objectives or financial needs. What are your income needs after the sale or do you have plans for a big purchase? Your advisor can help determine how much cash you need at closing and whether to consider the pros and cons of arrangements like an installment sale. And at closing, a financial advisor can help you determine Section 1202, realizing the gain over time with an installment sale, asset versus stock purchase, or state tax implications such as the charitable goals, legacy objectives for heirs, or estate tax planning strategies. Brokers explain what sellers are most unprepared for during the process Selling a business is a lot of work. In addition to running the company in the usual course of business, sellers also need to comply with a host of due diligence requests from the buyer’s team and the lender financing the transaction. The magnitude of this process is by far the most 

In March 2022, Florida enacted the politically charged Individual Freedom Act, informally known as the STOP WOKE (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act. Less than two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Eleventh Circuit blocked the enforcement of the Act on the grounds it violates employers’ right to free speech. This decision directly impacts employers in the Eleventh Circuit and will have a ripple effect on employers nationally.   How did the Individual Freedom Act (Stop WOKE Act) affect employers? The Act attempted to prevent employers from mandating training or meetings for employees which “promote” a “certain set of beliefs” the state “found offensive” and discriminatory. There are eight prohibited beliefs each relating to race, color, sex, and national origin. According to the Act, employers must not teach the following: Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex, or national origin. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin. Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect due to race, color, sex, or national origin. An individual, based on his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin. An individual, based on his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion. An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, and were committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin. Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex, or national origin. Employers still had the ability to mandate employees attend sessions that either refute these concepts or present them in an “objective manner without endorsement.” This dictates how an employer deals with its employees and is particularly limiting in how employers address discrimination training. Employers who failed to adhere to the law were liable for “serious financial penalties—back pay, compensatory damages, and up to $100,000 in punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees—on top of injunctive relief.”   The Ruling – Honeyfund.com Inc. v. Governor [2024] In March 2024, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Eleventh Circuit served an injunction preventing enforcement of the Act. Despite the state insisting the Act banned conduct rather than speech, the court ruled the Act unlawfully violated the First Amendment’s right of free speech by barring speech based on its content and penalizing certain viewpoints. While certain categories of speech such as “obscenity, fighting words, incitement, and the like” are traditionally unprotected, the court pointed out that “new categories of unprotected speech may not be added to the list by a legislature that concludes certain speech is too harmful to be tolerated.” Florida is keen to appeal against the decision.   What does this mean for employers? Regardless of one’s opinions on the matter, this can be viewed positively from an employer’s standpoint. Employers in the private sector can control speech in the workplace, and this ruling confirms their autonomy will continue. Whether or not the rest of the country will follow suit remains to be seen. This case, in tandem with the US Supreme Court’s ruling to ban race based affirmative action, signals today’s intense political climate is likely to continue to impact how employer diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are approached. Employers should continue to review their DEI initiatives, ensuring they are in line with the latest precedents. Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with the latest local, state and federal employment laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560      

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