I’m on my hands and knees in front of the main Mercedes Benz World building, fighting the physical urge to be sick.
I was driving a track version of my own car (at the time), round the handling circuit with a race instructor. I suddenly felt very dizzy and nauseous, so we stopped, and he took over, dropping me back to the main building. He told me that I shouldn’t be embarrassed and that it was a very normal reaction to racing on a track for the first time. “Gets easier with practice,” he said.
I learned to drive when I was seventeen. Passed my test first time and have been behind the wheel for a few hundred thousand miles or so since. I’ve always loved motor racing and to finally get the chance and fail so completely, was a real disappointment.
I was looking forward to left-foot braking and drifting while looking out of the passenger window and instead I was on my way home, doing 60 in the slow lane on auto-pilot. I wanted to get over it, but at the time, that would have been a very expensive process.
Out of the comfort zone
I find myself playing the part of the race instructor when I’m working with business owners selling their business.
There is almost always a moment where they come over all dizzy, feel sick and admit to feeling totally overwhelmed. This reaction is often caused by a feeling of being completely out of control, too much information, not enough time to process it, and an absolute requirement to make decisions at speed. And they are frequently as surprised and disappointed as I was with motor racing.
As a business owner, you get used to consuming information and making decisions; it’s part of the day-to-day of running a business. You can start and run a business for many years, while staying in the relative comfort of your own capability. When you come to sell the business, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s just another part of the process. But by the time you’ve gone through the financial challenges of understanding valuations, getting offers and selecting one, battling through due diligence and on into documenting the deal from a legal standpoint, you might be feeling a little differently.
There are two forces at play here: incentive and perspective
If I can drive down the shops, I can probably drive round a racetrack. Well, the incentives are very different. To and from the shops is all about getting there and back safely and without breaking the eggs. The racetrack is about having the quickest time, beating the competition. That requires a very different approach to both the car and the driver.
And then there’s perspective. A company can be described as one or more people, coming together to solve a problem for a group of people. But it can also be described as a time-saving expression for a collection of financial interests. You and the buyer will probably focus on clients and the team, the corporate finance guys will see you as a company from a balance sheet and cashflow point of view and the lawyers will look at it from a risk management perspective. All are correct, all must be considered, understood and brought together in order to get a deal done.
If I wanted to get over the motion sickness of racing a car, I could take laps around the track, or I could use a simulator. These days, racing drivers spend hours in simulators, as they’re much cheaper than the real thing, safer and lighter on the environment too. And the same applies to selling a business. There is plenty of information online and you can educate yourself, plan properly and prepare yourself for the real thing.
It may not stop you feeling sick from time to time, but it should lessen the frequency and intensity, which can only be a good thing.