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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 20, 2019 1 month ago

Area company finds seamless way to transition to next owner — an apprenticeship program

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In July, Reba Rogers completed the sale of Bradenton-based Secure Aging to Melissa Leedom.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

When Reba Rogers sat down to lunch one day in December 2018, she didn’t know she was meeting the future owner of her company.

Rogers, who founded Bradenton-based financial and care management company Secure Aging, was getting together with Melissa Leedom. They’d been connected through Ashley Brown, president and CEO of the Women’s Resource Center of Sarasota, because of shared backgrounds and interests, among them that Rogers and Leedom are both CPAs.

Rogers had started thinking about retirement, her exit strategy and a new owner for Secure Aging. At lunch, she told Leedom about the business she’d built. Leedom was intrigued. “The senior population pulls at my heartstring,” Leedom says.

Soon Leedom and Rogers pulled a deal: In July, Rogers completed the sale of Secure Aging to Leedom and four other sibling co-owners. Terms of the deal for the firm, with eight employees, weren't disclosed. 

Not only has Leedom taken on a new career challenge, but along the way she's learned a bevy of business lessons. The pair, for starters, attributes the positive transition to an apprenticeship program that involved Leedom working as an employee and learning all aspects of the business from Rogers. “If anyone could do a transition this way, it’s much more likely to be successful,” Rogers says.

Soon after their lunch, in January 2019, Leedom started to work  part-time for Secure Aging. She had considered taking a big job in the area — with a big salary to match — but turned it down to pursue this new opportunity. “I decided I wanted to make a decision not based on fear of what I would not be making but based on excitement of what I would be doing,” she says.

Leedom then embarked on a nine-month apprenticeship process. “I had the benefit of sitting next to someone who’s getting ready to retire and built the company,” Leedom says. “It’s a great example of a Baby Boomer handing off to Generation X instead of doing ‘drop and go.’”

Rogers helped Leedom learn about the business, including how to manage the financial aspects of their clients’ lives, from paying bills and tracking income sources to gathering tax documents and looking for fraud. Leedom, who used to work in forensic accounting for PricewaterhouseCoopers, has found her prior experience useful, tapping into it to investigate potential scams for seniors. On the care side, she learned about Secure Aging’s many services, from interpreting doctors’ orders to helping place clients in assisted living facilities. “To work for us, you must have a caregiver heart and a financial brain,” says Rogers.

Rogers had a plan for Leedom’s training: learn back office procedures, do monthly billing, go on visits to clients’ houses with Rogers and other care managers and then have Leedom handle her own set of cases. “The last thing you want is any surprises,” Rogers says.

“If you want to transition to another small to medium business owner, having them on staff is great.” — Reba Rogers, founder, Secure Aging

Over a period of months, Rogers has tapered down her time at Secure Aging — 20 hours a week the first month, then eight to 10 hours a week the second month before handing off the business to Leedom in October. Moving forward, she’ll be available on a consulting basis.

Leedom’s apprenticeship gave staff a chance to adjust to the transition, too. Rogers says they started talking to staff in May, giving them a two-and-a-half-month period to start thinking of Leedom in a different light as the new owner. 

Another lesson? Rogers says it was important to involve the staff in the process and not just spring the changes on them. Including them has already paid dividends. “Everyone has stayed,” Rogers says. “We let them transition with us.”

Right now, 80% of Secure Aging’s clients are in Manatee and 20% are in Sarasota. The company’s short-term growth goal is to gain clients in Sarasota, including Venice. There’s also a vision for the company to have a national presence, possibly expanding through a franchise model.

The transition process has positioned the company well for the next growth steps. “Having her as an employee was probably the single biggest success factor in the deal,” says Rogers. “If you want to transition to another small to medium business owner, having them on staff is great.”

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