I didn’t think employee ownership would be the solution for finding a way to exit my business. My name is Peyton Leveillee, and I am a legacy business owner of an automotive repair business started by my father, Brad Leveillee.
To this day, over 90% of the customers from the business are residents of the same town where the company is located. The business was a labor of love for my father, who grew it from a single automobile bay with one employee to a 20-bay operation with 15 employees.
Unfortunately, my father passed away during the pandemic. Like many business owners, he was focused on building the business and taking care of his employees; he didn’t have the time to think about succession.
Many of the team at Brad’s Service Center worked with my father for 20+ years and were regular fixtures when I was growing up working in the business. In the few conversations we had about the future of the business, my father made clear that the people who worked with him deserved everything for helping the businesses’ success.
With my father’s passing, the only moral option for me was to step up and ensure the livelihoods of everyone could continue. In this article, I’ll share how Teamshares helped me put the business back into the hands of the people that built it while ensuring my father’s legacy.
Why I decided to work with Teamshares
My first day working as the CEO of the business was a disaster. While I had worked summers behind the register, I wasn’t ready to take on the reality of small business ownership. Prioritizing fixing water heaters, roofs, and the IT system while also trying to figure out why the state’s auto inspection system had been down for weeks was not something I had the muscle memory for.
Despite the rocky start, I found support in the community of other local small businesses and leaned on the expertise of the employees. We invested more in team meetings, employee safety, and efficient workflow. Gradually, team morale improved.
Seeing the business from my father’s vantage point, I found a deeper appreciation for his accomplishments and a newfound protectiveness over the business and its employees. Dismantling it was not an option.
Despite this appreciation for what my father had built, automotive repair was not my passion, and taking over the business was never my long-term goal. I needed to find a partner that would carry on the integrity of the business and retain our hard-working employees.
That partner was Teamshares.
When my lawyer introduced me to the Teamshares model, I thought it was too good to be true. Teamshares would give stock ownership to employees immediately at acquisition, at no cost to employees, gradually increasing employee ownership from 10 to 80% within 20 years.
The employees would also have access to employee owner education to learn how their day-to-day work impacts the financials and growth of the business. These same employees would be able to retire and cash in on the equity that they deserved. Teamshares also had no intention of selling the company again, which was crucial for me.
Those points led me to set up the first call with Teamshares.
Structuring the transaction
After sharing some information about the business, I scheduled a call with Teamshares. On the call, I was greeted by members of the transaction team with specializations in finance, legal, and business transitions.
It was a lot of faces, but I learned quickly that everyone was there to make employee ownership a reality and move the transaction forward. Within weeks of talking, I received a letter of intent (LOI) from Teamshares to purchase the business.
Receiving the LOI from Teamshares was astounding. My expectation was that closing on the business would take six months, and when I heard we would close in under 60 days, I was blown away.
The immediacy of the transaction didn’t hit me until this point. While I felt the nerves of my eventual transition out of the business, I was lucky enough to be connected to other former owners and employee owners at current Teamshares companies.
Those conversations felt surprisingly unfiltered, and each left me confident in Teamshares’ abilities, especially knowing that they have partnered with 80 other small businesses across 28 states and 40 industries.
Shortly after receiving the LOI, I signed it, and the door to completing the financial and legal due diligence was opened. Not having a financial or legal background, I was nervous that I would get questions I couldn’t answer.
Luckily, working together with my lawyer, CPA, and Teamshares, we moved through structuring the deal without a headache. There was a schedule from the beginning, and the requests were always easily accessible through email or phone. I was grateful for the straightforward approach that Teamshares took to learning more about my business.
While structuring the acquisition I continued to talk to other former owners of businesses Teamshares had purchased. The most important thing the former owners said to me was to ask questions. They helped reinforce that I was ultimately leaving the company, and asking more questions up front would ensure my comfort post-transaction.
They also helped me understand that since Teamshares won’t sell the businesses they acquire, their success depends on companies like my father’s continuing to succeed, meaning growth and stability was just as important to them as it was to my father.
Teamshares answered all of my questions, which left me feeling good about the transaction, an attitude that the employees picked up on, helping them feel more comfortable.
Are you a broker or business owner that needs an exit plan to keep your company and employees in place?
Once we had completed the necessary due diligence, the final step was to sign the documents and announce the transition. Signing was done digitally, and being “done” with the deal brought forward a mix of emotions.
I was incredibly excited about the future of the business and the people supporting it. But at the same time, I was sad about leaving something that was one of the only remaining connections to my father.
At this point, I decided to announce the sale to my family. I was surprised that many of them weren’t immediately excited. I found that with a family business, everyone has a relationship with the company, even if they aren’t working there.
You have to be ready to handle the fact that everyone responds differently.
Despite knowing the benefits of selling to Teamshares, I felt nervous about telling the team. Teamshares recommended announcing the sale to key employees first.
To my surprise, instead of excitement, they expressed fear. In response, Teamshares met the key employees with advice and empathy.
After Teamshares’ response, I witnessed an incredible mental shift toward trust and buy-in. By the time the larger team announcement came, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many employees were fully supportive and ready to stand behind my decision.
The critical piece that kept the announcement smooth was that employees looked up to the key employees I spoke with first, who clearly stood behind Teamshares and me.
The final announcement of the sale was to the community, and I was blown away by the positive response. My favorite post said plainly, “This was family taking care of family.”
Seeing it still brings tears to my eyes. The reaction made me feel like everything I had done to preserve my father’s legacy and protect the employees at the business was being appreciated and respected.
The support from the community served as another testament to the hard work and dedication my father put into the company and that I had worked hard to continue.
One crucial post-transition task with Teamshares is identifying a suitable new president to lead the business forward.
Teamshares has a dedicated team that finds candidates and has developed a strategy for seamless transitions between owners and the new president. While this change may pose challenges for employees still adjusting to the sale, the support and expertise provided by Teamshares helps create a thriving environment.
The president who stepped into my business had a generalist background like me. I’m excited to say that during my last visit the employees told me “it has not wrecked the vibe at all” and that “everyone has realized that efficiency is what’s going to make us more profitable.”
The generalist model emphasizes the expertise of existing employee owners and places trust in them. The new leader is able to look at the business in a totally different way than an industry expert. I believe this model is the future for these businesses. As a generalist myself, I was able to raise salaries, invest in equipment, and grow the business by 7%.
I knew there was so much potential for even more.
Now a year out, the company is nearly 20% employee-owned, which makes me feel so proud that the new president has continued momentum. As we look ahead, there’s no doubt that exciting times are on the horizon for employee ownership.
If you’re a small business owner looking to transition out of the business, be prepared for an emotional journey. Connect with other business owners to seek out advice. Lastly, consider different models of employee ownership, such as Teamshares’ unique solution to the succession problem in America.