Student forum addresses selling businesses

Buying and selling businesses can be hard, even emotional, but in the end, business is business.

That's the advice three veterans of the Wichita business world gave to Wichita State University students on Thursday at the Entrepreneurship Forum series.

Participating were Bill Phillips, once CEO of the Coleman Co. and now CEO of Vornado Wind; Dave Nesbitt, president of Devlin Enterprises, among other interests; and Steve Hayes, founder of the Hayes Co.

One thing they learned is that when selling or buying a company, feelings can get involved.

Phillips said when he and his investors evaluated Vornado, they found that it was generally a sound company, but needed new senior management.

He acknowledged there were bruised feelings among the ousted executives. But senior business leaders understand the rules, that business is business and sometimes owners make changes they think will improve the business.

"Everybody moves on," he said. "It needs to be done and should be done."

They also agreed that starting a company may be sexier, but buying a company is more likely to succeed.

Business works by building relationships with suppliers, customers and financial backers. An existing business can get a product to market faster, with less risk, and establish cash flow.

"It makes ramping it up and turning a profit so much easier," Hayes said, who has helped start five or six new companies within the Hayes Co. over the years.

Besides, said Phillips, starting a business takes a great idea.

"I never had any great ideas," he joked.

The three agreed that the aftermath of a sale or purchase is fraught with second-guessing.

"You can be sure that at 3 in the morning of the night after, you'll wake up thinking of every question you forgot to ask," Nesbitt said.

They also agreed that the aftermath of a sale or purchase can be difficult.

Hayes stayed on for a year after the sale of the Hayes Co.' s lawn products business. It was difficult, he said, because the new guys ran it differently than he did.

"Even though I may have known those guys for 10 years, you don't know them until you're inside," Hayes said.

In the end, they agreed, business is business and you can't let emotion get the better of you.

"You're in business for one reason — to make a profit," Hayes said. "Don't let rose-colored glasses cloud the picture of what you want to sell."