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Three Offers for a Business -- Which to Accept?

Money isn't the only consideration when selling a business. Plus, is it ethical to bring your spouse on a business trip?

My siblings and I own a business that was founded by our late father. It's been struggling, and we've decided to sell it. The highest offer, by far, is from a private-equity investor. The middle offer is from a direct (and tough) competitor, who would probably fold our company into his.

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The lowest offer is from a respected firm in a related field that says it will retain our product line, brands and employees. It won't pay us as much because it plans to invest heavily to revive our franchise.

What are the ethical considerations here?

The top two bidders are most likely to slash costs to recover their high purchase price as quickly as possible. If you care most about protecting your company's culture and brand, your loyal employees, and your father's legacy, you'll take the lowest offer -- and cross your fingers.

There's no guarantee that the low bidder, honorable though its intentions might be, will stick to them if conditions worsen in your field. If you take the low offer, consider keeping a stake in the firm or getting a performance-based price escalator so that you may share in the upside if the turnaround works.

Business trip tagalong

A colleague at my office takes his wife on a lot of his business trips. Is this ethical?

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Yes, as long as he gets his work done and pays the added costs of her accompanying him -- her airfare, meals, side trips for pleasure and so on. If traveling alone, he would still need a hotel room and rental car, so he doesn't have to reimburse the company for her sharing in their use.

If the business travel entails entertaining clients -- including their spouses -- it is sometimes appropriate for the spouse's expenses to be covered, too. It's always best to check with one's supervisor first.

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