Know When to Get Out

Entrepreneur Scott Fischer is reaping the rewards of a successful exit strategy

BEST PRACTICES: One of Scott Fischer’s fundamental business philosophies has always been to surround himself with a strong team.

 

Scott Fischer

For almost 50 years, Scott Fischer lived the motorcycle enthusiast’s dream. He started working in a motorcycle shop at 14, sweeping floors. By the time he was 18, he had moved up to the sales department. Soon he rose into management and leadership roles. By 27, he was offered the opportunity to move from Columbus, Ohio, to manage a Harley-Davidson dealership in Fort Myers.

Fischer, now 61, spent the next 30 years expanding his business. At its peak, he owned seven Harley-Davidson dealerships across the country, with yearly revenue topping $100 million. And the perks? As a bike lover, Fischer lived in a Harley fantasy. Any time he headed out for a local bike night, he got to take his pick from the motorcycles in his showroom—hot rods, boulevard cruisers, tricked-out custom bikes. It’s the kind of sweet setup many business people would struggle to walk away from.

“It’s very hard to get out,” Fischer admits. “That’s one of the problems most entrepreneurs face. You’re leaving behind something that took years and years to build.”

But one of Fischer’s fundamental business philosophies has always been to surround himself with a strong team. “I don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room,” he says. “I’d like to be the most prosperous guy in the room. The only way to do that is to surround yourself with great people and to listen instead of being a know-it-all.”

Professional advisers cost money, he knows. Sometimes a lot of money. But for entrepreneurs, Fischer said, the investment is well worth it. He employs a business coach, a personal coach and an estate coach on his team, among others. When Fischer turned 50 years old, these team members advised him that it was time to start planning his exit strategy. It didn’t mean he was required to leave, they said. It just meant that in 10 years, Fischer would be able to leave if he was ready.

When Fischer was 57, his team began to implement his exit strategy. The company sold all but one of his dealerships over the next three years. Today, Fischer believes putting his liquidation strategy in place long before he needed it was one of the smartest business moves he ever made, and he advises all entrepreneurs do the same.

One of the upsides is that he now has time to savor his success. “I smell the roses more now than when I was in it,” he says. “And I like reflecting on the business. When you’re in it, you can’t reflect as much.”
But too much time for reflection makes someone like Fischer antsy. That’s why he’s already started building a new business, a digital lead follow-up service for dealerships. It keeps his schedule more full than he’d like it to be, but Fischer said he’s having a good time. And he’s learned this about himself over the years: It may be possible to successfully exit a business, but it’s impossible to exit being an entrepreneur.
“Entrepreneurs are always entrepreneurs,” he says. “The taste of it is in our DNA.”

Photo Credit: Kevin Bires; Courtesy Scott Fischer