Business Succession Planning Tips for Roofers

Business succession isn’t as simple as choosing someone who will run your roofing company after you decide to hang your contracting hat up — or an unfortunate event cuts your time as the owner of your business short. Business succession requires you to put into place a plan that will ensure the success of your company after you’ve moved on. Business succession planning is time consuming, complicated, and dependent upon your business’ structure. It is therefore wise to begin thinking of what you want to do with your business long before you will need your plan.

One of the more obvious questions that need to be answered in business succession planning in the roofing industry is who will be the successor. Do you plan on training an employee to take over the company? Is it best to keep the company in the family and to name a family member as the successor? Are there multiple owners and succession will remain within the company? The answer to this question will vary from roofing company to roofing company. For some companies, they may already have a family member who is an employee, making the decision relatively simple. Some newer companies may not have the option to appoint a family member as a successor because the family member is too young or not willing.

Business succession planning is complex, but it can still be broken down into manageable segments to help owners better understand the process. Some of the common components of business succession planning include: buy-sell agreements; gifting; merger and acquisition transactions (M&A); employee stock option plans; key-man life insurance; and management buyouts. A basic understanding of these components will give roofing contractors a good place to begin their business succession planning.

Buy-Sell Agreements

Buy-sell agreements are especially useful in a multi-partner business to ensure there is an agreed upon plan in the event a partner dies or there is a dispute. Also known as buyout agreements, these types of agreements have control over when someone can sell their interest in a business, who can buy that interest, and the amount which is paid for said interest. What triggers a buy-sell agreement varies, but typically an event such as retirement, bankruptcy, disability, or death will be the triggering event that creates an automatic offer to the current owners of the company to buyout the departing members’ interest in the company.

A good example of a buy-sell agreement is the cross-purchase agreement where owners typically purchase insurance policies on one another. Different triggering events (death, incapacitation, age, or something similar) cause the Agreement to go into effect. In a hypothetical cross-purchase agreement arrangement, Owner B, who owns 30 percent of the business, would carry insurance equal to 70 percent of the business value. This allows the remaining partners to continue business as usual without the need to fill the vacant position within the company’s ownership.

Gifting (Family Succession)

Before the recent tax overhaul, if your estate was above the $5.6 million ($11.2 million for couples) estate and gift tax exclusion, then gifting was an incredibly powerful tool. However, in 2018 the IRS announced that the 2018 federal estate and gift tax limit has been elevated to $11,180,000 for individuals and $22,360,000 for couples, which makes gifting helpful for a smaller subset of business owners. It should be noted that there are some 15 states that impose estate taxes at a lower level than the federal government, and a prudent business owner should consult a professional to see if his or her state enforces their taxes in such a manner.

Depending upon the vehicle chosen and size of your company, taxes will vary from unaffordable to little or nothing. If family succession is the vehicle chosen, states have varying amounts of money which can be gifted without being subject to a gift tax. Certain trusts also allow you as a business owner to transfer in the neighborhood of $10 million without being subject to a gift tax. The amount of taxes due when succession takes place will depend on you and your company’s finances and your state’s tax laws.

Merger and Acquisition Transaction

A merger or acquisition transaction with a competitor or company or individual is another method of maximizing the value of your company and retirement as you look to transition away from your business. Oftentimes you won’t know if the person that you are handing control of the roofing company over to is going to maximize the value of the company once you leave or if they’re going to run the business into the ground and leave your former employees out of a job in the process. By merging with or selling to a larger, proven roofing company with similar culture to your current business, an owner can assure that his or her business will continue to thrive, albeit with a different name, and continue to serve both employees and clients suitably.

Some professional business owners often encounter issues that force them to make the tough decision to sell his or her roofing company and decide that the time has come to pursue other ventures. A sale would allow him or her the freedom (and cash) to pursue other business opportunities, and if he or she so chooses, he or she could still retain a minority ownership in the business so that if the business measures fail, he or she still has a profitable asset in the form of his or her minority position.

Employee Stock Option Plans

An employee stock option plan is also an excellent method for monetizing your business outside of its traditional cash flow and often gives you time to transition out of the business over the course of several years. An employee stock option plan, also known as an ESOP, is a tool that business owners can create to incentivize current employees, all while planning for a smooth transition once the owner exits the business. In its most basic form, an owner seeking to transition out of his ownership role sells the company to a trust (the ESOP), designating key employees (hard-working managers, promising family members, etc.) as beneficiaries, and receives full payment for the business as a loan from a lender (who now controls the ESOP). Over time, the company can make tax-deductible payments to the principal on the loan, which slowly releases equity control from the ESOP to the employees who are listed as beneficiaries.

Management Buyout

A management buyout occurs when the management group of a business purchases the roofing company directly from the owner or parent company. The management group typically acquires a loan for the full value of the company, which compensates the transitioning owner for full value of the company without having to liquidate the company’s assets. The typical management buyout scenario occurs when an owner is ready to transition control to a group of committed managers, but also wants to ensure that he or she can provide for a spouse or child upon sale of the company. These acquisitions are particularly intriguing for many business owners, as they can be assured that those taking over the company have knowledge of the business and share the departing owner’s vision.

Key-Man Life Insurance

Finally, company paid key-man life insurance can be a good tool to ensure that the company can afford to redeem your share of the company upon your death. This provides cash to your heirs while helping you sleep better at night. Key man life insurance operates in a similar fashion to your run-of-the-mill life insurance policies. The company takes out a life insurance policy on a key member of the business (often an owner) and names itself as the beneficiary. The company pays the premiums on the policy, and when the owner dies, the company receives the applicable monetary disbursement. In a succession-planning context, you often see key-man life insurance policies utilized in situations where an owner is quickly aging or in poor health and wants to ensure that his family is financially stable upon his or her death, but does not necessarily want his family to take control of the company’s operations upon the owner’s death. When packaged with a management buyout, key man life insurance gives the owner the ability to do just that. It ensures a smooth transfer of control to a group of trusted employees and guaranteed compensation for the family upon the owner’s death.

As it should now be clear, business succession is necessary, time consuming, and requires a number of difficult questions to be made. If you do not have a business succession plan in effect, or you’ve come to the realization that your business succession plan isn’t as reliable as you believed, the time is now to start planning for the future of your roofing company.

About the Author: David Kronenfeld is an attorney at Cotney Construction Law who focuses his practice on a broad range of transactional matters. Cotney Construction Law is an advocate for the roofing industry and serves as General Counsel for FRSA, RT3, NWIR, TARC, TRI, WSRCA and several other industry associations. For more information, visit www.cotneycl.com.

Author’s note: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation. Regulations and laws may vary depending on your location. Consult with a licensed attorney in your area if you wish to obtain legal advice and/or counsel for a particular legal issue.

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