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March 22. 2013 1:02AM

UNH speaker says leaders should have eyes on an exit

DURHAM - As part of every business plan Brad Sterl Jr. has ever created, how to get out of the business successfully is always considered.

Sterl was at the University of New Hampshire on Thursday to talk to other business executives about the importance of having an exit strategy during the monthly UNH CEO forum, an outreach program of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics and the UNH Graduate School.

The founder and CEO of Ever Better Eating has been in the restaurant and food industry since he was 15 years old. By age 20, he had purchased his first restaurant.

In 1996, he formed Ever Better Eating Inc. in Pittsfield. The company produces Rustic Crust natural and organic frozen pizzas and in 2010 acquired the worldwide licensing rights to American Flatbread.

Sterl said in 2005 he started with eight employees in Pittsfield. There are now about 100 employees with a plan to add about 20 more.

When he began the Rustic Crust brand, he thought he would sell in three to five years. Ten years later, it instead continues to grow, but Sterl is always looking ahead.

The decision not to sell had everything to do with the economy, and as it improves and the acquisitions market improves with it, Sterl is keeping a closer eye on competitors, including Nestle and General Mills.

Sterl's message during the forum was clear.

"When you start a new activity, you better have an exit strategy before you start," Sterl said.

He said this can be especially hard to think about for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

"Sometimes we get attached to things," Sterl said.

There are many factors to consider, including how much money a business owner needs to retire or go onto the next business, whether a next generation is prepared to take over, or if there is a market for selling to a larger company.

Exits can take many forms, he said, whether through merger or acquisition, or death of an owner.

"These exits are going to happen. No matter what, you will exit your company," Sterl said.


gmacalaster@newstote.com



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