The mystery of Stonehenge and ESOPs

Last summer our youngest daughter, Sarah, had the opportunity to spend about six weeks in England on a study abroad program through Iowa State University (Go Cyclones!). Like good parents, we wrote checks and boarded an airplane to check out our investment.  I could spend the rest of the year blogging about what we saw (I won’t, but you should probably anticipate one about Universal Studios and the other sites where the Harry Potter franchise was filmed).


We saw so many sights including Winsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, and the Churchill War Rooms to name just a few. But one stood out from all the rest – Stonehenge.  Stonehenge is intriguing about what we know (which is ever evolving) but equally importantly what we don’t know. Who built it?  Why?  When?  Archaeologists have filled in some of the blanks but there is more left to learn than we know today.

What can business owners learn from Stonehenge? Quite a bit actually.  Two big areas to highlight include:

  1. The need to plan for successor management is critical. One of the reasons we don’t know a lot about Stonehenge is we don’t know a lot about the people who built it and where they went. We can’t ask them as we don’t know who they are. Sure, there have been a lot of theories – such as they were Druids – but most of them have been dismissed as inaccurate or implausible.

Business owners face the same challenge. When the selling owner retires, a lot of institutional history is lost.  This is much more than the “what” that occurred but more importantly the “why.”  Owners should have a successor management plan in place so this important legacy can be maintained and carried forward.  This important step is often minimized which can delay an owner’s succession plans.

  1. If in doubt, write it out. As time passes our frame of reference changes. Without context, knowing what happened may not be enough. It is important to capture the other elements – such as company culture – that played in key decisions. This is a shared history and business owners can engage all staff in this effort.

The physical effort required to construct Stonehenge is amazing by itself (the big stones were moved hundreds of miles). But that effort pales in comparison to understanding the why it was done.  Business owners should make sure their successors don’t have to theorize.

In addition to blogging here, I also tweet regularly about topics of interest to ESOPs.

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