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SME owners delay retirement or sell outside family, finds global survey

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Four in 10 owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who are aged over 50 have delayed their retirement as a result of the financial crisis, according to global research.

A survey of 1,245 respondents from around the world by cloud-based software application company, Sellability Score, finds entrepreneurs are waiting longer than originally planned to leave their business. One in three owners expects to fund at least half their retirement through the sale of the business, while 40% would walk away tomorrow for less than £500,000.

John Warrillow, founder of Sellability Score and author of Built To Sell: Creating A Business That Can Thrive Without You, said: “The global financial crisis has had a profound impact on SMEs across the UK. Older business owners are delaying their retirement, desperately hoping for better trading conditions ahead.”

Despite high-profile large-company entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch favouring passing the business to the next generation, this strategy is becoming less popular with SMEs. Only one in 10 surveyed expects to pass their business to their children.

Roger Smith, MD of Stirling, a business broker that specialises in business transfers, said his business had seen an uptake in enquiries from baby boomers looking to exit the business rather than pass it down. “As business owners start to turn 60, their attention starts to turn to looking at ways to exit the business,” Smith said.

The survey was conducted between 6 September and 8 October. Some 90% of respondents ran companies with less than £10 million in annual turnover, while one-third of respondents was based in the UK.