Legacy: The final frontier for entrepreneurs

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In photo from left: Colleen Killen-Roberts, Nancy Crews, Yan Ness, Barbara Stankowski, Barbara Lamont, Kathie Fuce-Hobohm, Phil Roos, Tom Martin and Dave Galbenski.

By Colleen Killen-Roberts

Leaving a legacy was a big deal for our founder Ed Lowe. In fact, he wrote that “I’d rather be remembered when I’m gone than known while I’m here.” Legacy was also something he struggled with. It took him several years to define a clear vision for helping future generations of entrepreneurs, create an operational structure and find the right people to execute his vision.

With that in mind, we have created the Legacy Council, a one-year program for a group of select entrepreneurs who have either exited their companies or are near the exit stage. The idea is to help them move from success to significance, from being all about their businesses to becoming the people they wish to be remembered as. This transition is extremely hard for entrepreneurs because their identities are so wrapped up with their companies.

Last October our first cohort of Legacy Council participants started the program with a retreat at Big Rock Valley, our 2,000-acre home in southwest Michigan. Peer learning is an integral component of the Legacy Council, and this three-day retreat gave participants a chance to begin building relationships with each other. Our facilitator guided them through a series of reflection exercises to help them define what they’d like their legacy to be, and they began to draft a plan to make their vision a reality.

After the retreat we held virtual roundtable meetings. These quarterly sessions gave the group an opportunity to learn not only about the logistics and financial issues associated with exiting a business, but also to think about the emotional issues. They shared progress being made toward their goals as well as any setbacks they may have encountered. Rounding out the program, I hosted individual monthly phone calls with participants to provide additional support.

It’s been an amazing year, and here are a few of comments and takeaways from our first cohort:

Kathie Fuce-Hobohm of SPACE Inc.: “The Legacy Council program gave me the tools and support to redefine my definition of self and move forward into the next phase of my life. My biggest takeaway happened during the kickoff retreat when I realized that each defining moment in my life had begun with a decision — one that had been made purposefully. So, I created a legacy decision where I turned the daily leadership of our company over to my son and our management team — and it’s the best decision I’ve made in the past year.”

Yan Ness of Verge.io: “Prior to starting this program, I had sold my business (Online Tech), and the acquirers brought in their own management team and didn’t need me, not even for a day. The first six months were great — sailing, travel, doing all the things I had put off while building my business. But then I ran out of things to do. I found myself staring out the window looking at birds, watching too much Netflix, and stressing about what I should do with my time and resources. I needed help. Now I’ve taken another gig, but this time I’m investing the time and energy to think through what’s next and the ultimate purpose of my life. The foundation has helped me frame that and focus on it.”

Phil Roos of Upland (formerly Great Lakes GrowthWorks): “The word ‘legacy’ can be bit loaded and feel heavy, and the kickoff retreat helped lighten that. There was a lot of sharing about what was important in our lives, what we’ve done so far, and what we could do moving forward. While at Big Rock Valley, I had an epiphany, and as a result, we’ve transformed our business and rebranded to focus on the impact we’re having on the world. We’ve also strengthened our nonprofit practice, making it an official part of the company and bringing on additional leadership. This is where my passion lies — having direct impact on organizations that are trying to make a difference in the world. It’s given new life to my work in our current business and also set the stage for me when I decide to move on.”

Barbara Stankowski of Stankowski Advanced Strategies: “I sold my company in December of 2018 and have been working on the next chapter, trying to define who and what I am without running a company. I was a girl without a hobby as family and work were my passion. The opportunity to be part of the Legacy Council came at a time I was searching and pondering next steps. I am so glad I agreed and participated with an incredible group of other entrepreneurs going through a similar journey.  The connection was immediate, and the collaboration and facilitation helped to focus my thoughts and create a new and compelling vision for ‘the next chapter.’  For this time together, and for the companionship, I am forever grateful.”

On a final note, I want to add that the experience has been incredible for me. The entrepreneurs who went through this program are among the highest caliber of business owners the foundation serves, and it was truly an honor to spend time with them. Our conversations were meaningful, and I feel that I benefited more than they did. I can’t wait to launch our second cohort!

(Published Oct. 18, 2022)

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Colleen Killen-Roberts
Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship
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“Entrepreneurs need a bridge between their dreams and reality,” says Colleen Killen-Roberts, Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Edward Lowe Foundation. “And that’s where operational expertise comes in. Operations is about creating the necessary infrastructure to take the entrepreneur’s ideas and make them happen.” In this series of articles, Killen-Roberts shares insights gleaned from more than 25 years of operational and fiscal management experience at second-stage companies.