It’d be easy to assume business owners are thrilled with today’s M&A environment. There’s a lot of activity and competition for deals is driving up prices for quality companies. However, from where Perry Maughmer sits as a Vistage Columbus chair, “thrilled” isn’t an accurate characterization.

“Most of the folks are apprehensive because they're getting many phone calls,” Maughmer says. “They're getting phone calls sometimes weekly. And so when anything happens like that, then everybody's shields go up, because it's too good to be true.”

But also informing this mindset is that owners don't have time to chase every inquiry because they're trying to run their businesses, and for most, business is booming.

“They're busy,” he says. “They can't find people. They're understaffed and overworked. And so the thought of this is interesting, but as far as them really digging into any of them, they’re just letting it run off their back a little bit.”

Talk of higher-than-typical valuations doesn’t seem to be all that tempting. According to Maughmer, an owner’s biggest concern is usually what happens after they sell? And not necessarily for themselves, but for their people. That’s led many to contemplate a form of exit that protects their employees, such as an ESOP.

“Because their real fear is somebody’s going to buy the business and then an adverse impact will happen to the folks on their team,” he says. “And that really is what's holding them up. The money is important. But even if that hurdle is met, this is still a pretty prominent concern of theirs.

Another issue that’s holding back owners from a rush to sell is an identity issue.

“Some of these folks, their businesses are them, they are their business,” Maughmer says. “And so the biggest struggle I see with some of the folks who are contemplating an exit is: What's next for them?”

Selling, he says, is easier when owners have a clear idea of what their next phase is. But a lot of them don't have that.

“They spent so many years running their business that they didn't really think about what they were going to do next because most of them are not going to go lay on a beach somewhere and play golf every day,” he says. “They've got to figure out what they want to do next. And I think that's what holds up some of it is they're not ready to be faced with that decision.”

Maughmer spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about the CEO mindset in a time of incredible M&A activity. Hit play below to catch the full interview.

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