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Waiting for the day you can finally leave

How does it make you feel when someone resigns?

In my last company, accepting someone's resignation felt like a break-up. I would go through a predictable cycle of feeling rejected, then angry, then finally settle on a twinge of jealousy as the departing employee set off to do new and interesting things.

Inwardly, I was envious of the sense of excitement that comes with reinventing yourself, while, outwardly, I was left to try to steady the ship, reassuring my people we would get on just fine without the person heading for the exit door.

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Over 10 years of running my last company, this cycle played itself out many, many times. One employee left to pursue an MBA, another took a job in Geneva, another went to Silicon Valley, a handful started a new business, and several left to work for the Fortune 500 clients we served.

It's ironic that many of us start businesses for the freedom to do what we want, only to find ourselves imprisoned by the very thing that was supposed to set us free.

Running a business has many perks, to be sure, but one of the steepest downsides is the time it can take to create something great.

For example, founder Chip Wilson opened the first Lululemon Athletica Inc. store in Vancouver in 1998, but it took almost 10 years until the company made its initial public offering. Chris Griffiths founded St. John's, Nfld.-based Garrison Guitars in 1993. After 14 years of hard slogging, he sold it to Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp.

By contrast, these days, employees typically remain in a job for two or three years. Those staying longer than five years in a single role will have career counsellors cautioning they are pigeon-holing themselves.

For the average business owner to create something valuable - and sellable - usually takes more than a decade. That's 10 or more years of your life dedicated to one job, one mission. For many who thrive on the new new thing, that can feel like Groundhog Day, but even the best entrepreneurs dedicate at least a third of their working lives to creating something that someone will buy.

Of course, there are always going to be exceptions to the 10-year rule (a young fellow named Mark Zuckerberg comes to mind), but, in general, most business owners count their job tenure in decades, not years.

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This brings me to the day when you can finally get out. There are a lot of wonderful things about selling a business - the sense of accomplishment, the validation that your creation is worthwhile - but perhaps the best is the sense of freedom you have when you finally get to be the one who is leaving for a new adventure.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable - sellable - company. He is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which will be released in April.

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About the Author
Founder, The Sellability Score

John Warrillow is the developer of The Sellability Score software application . Throughout his career as an entrepreneur, John has started and exited four companies. He is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, published by Penguin in 2011. More

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