The Wizard of Westwood: Lessons for Business Owners

Jun 15, 2010, 10:00 ET from Odin, Feldman & Pittleman

FAIRFAX, Va., June 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Coach John Wooden recently died at age 99, having lived a full and rich life.  Without question, he was the most successful college basketball coach ever, with 10 NCAA championships between 1964 and 1975.  As Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said, "You can have a pretty good argument about who is the second-greatest college coach of all time.  There's absolutely no argument about who is the greatest." Arguably, Wooden is the greatest coach of any team sport, college or professional.

Despite Wooden's coaching accomplishments, it became apparent as the tributes poured in that he will be remembered for far more than his NCAA titles. What mattered most to those who knew him best were the lessons they learned from Wooden – lessons that went far beyond the advantages of using the backboard or proper positioning to set up the UCLA press.  As Bill Walton said of Coach Wooden, "Never let us forget what he learned from his two favorite teachers, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa, that a life not lived for others is not a life." Coach Wooden's positive influence on those fortunate to know him would have impressed even President Lincoln and Mother Teresa.

"So, what can Coach Wooden teach business owners?" asked John Dedon, Trust, Estate & Tax Planning attorney and principal with the law firm of Odin, Feldman & Pittleman.  "Take a look at Wooden's 12 Lessons of Leadership, outlined in his 'Pyramid of Success' (you can Google it).  The Pyramid of Success is a blueprint of values to build a basketball team, a closely held business, or live a life."

Dedon continued: "Coach Wooden also was a strong believer in industriousness, a cornerstone of any business owner.  As he said:  'True success comes only to an individual by self-satisfaction in knowing that you gave everything to become the very best that you are capable of.' "

Walton said last week in his comments: "John Wooden represents the conquest of substance over hype, the triumph of achievement over erratic flailing, the conquest of discipline over gambling, and the triumph of executing an organized plan over hoping that you'll be lucky, hot or in the zone.  John Wooden also represents the conquest of sacrifice, hard work and commitment to achievement over the pipe dream that someone will just give you something, or that you can take a pill or turn a key to get what you want."

"So what do Walton's comments have to do with estate planning?" asked John Dedon. "If you are waiting for Congress to solve your estate problem by eliminating the estate tax – the "pipe dream" that there will be a magic "pill" -- it is not going to happen." Dedon continued, "In 2011, there will be estate tax, we just don't know the exemption amount. It could be $1 million, $3.5 million, or $5 million.  But it is a virtual certainty that, if the value of your assets, including your closely held business, real estate, retirement accounts, other liquid assets, life insurance and miscellaneous property exceed the amounts listed above, anywhere from 45% to 55% of your assets will belong to the IRS upon your death.  (This does not include state estate tax, where in some states the exemption amount already is set at $1 million.)  And if the bulk of the assets are tied up in your closely held business or in real estate, there may not be the liquidity necessary to pay the tax when the IRS bill is due, which typically is 9 months after death."

"So you do need an organized plan over hoping that you'll be lucky. Without commitment to a plan, your family will be the losers and the business may be lost," Dedon concluded.

John Dedon is a principal in Odin, Feldman & Pittleman's Trust, Estate & Tax Planning practice group.  His practice focuses on preserving wealth for high net worth individuals from estate and income tax, potential creditors, and probate costs.

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