Don Wiggins Shares Expert Insights From 15 Years of Being a CEPA

In 2007, EPI released and hosted the first Certified Exit Planning Advisor® (CEPA) credentialing program. The curriculum followed the principles found in The $10 Trillion Opportunity and was designed to educate professional advisors who worked with business owners on the specific process for exit planning. The course exposed advisors to the diverse disciplines contributing to an effective exit plan and the tools needed to execute the work. 

Since its inception in 2007, over 4,000 professional advisors have earned the CEPA credential in the past 16 years. 

We spoke with Don Wiggins, a CEPA since 2007 to learn more about his growth through exit planning over the past 16 years and how the exit planning profession has evolved. 

Meet Don

Don Wiggins is president of Business Valuation, Inc., a firm specializing in business valuations, and president and CEO of Heritage Capital Group, a firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions of middle market companies. His primary focus since joining both firms in 1989 has been on merger and acquisition transactions in the U.S. and abroad, as well as conducting valuation, strategic planning, and value enhancement analysis for clients.

Don has over 30 years of experience successfully advising domestic and international clients regarding various M&A and financing transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, sales and divestitures, capital placement, value enhancement, exit planning, and related corporate finance. Don has conducted more than 3,000 valuations of closely held companies and has served as an expert witness in cases involving the valuation of closely held businesses and limited partnerships, portfolio analysis, and estimation of economic damages. He has been a CEPA since 2007, has the professional designations of ASA, CVA, and CPA/ABV, and is a licensed real estate broker and registered securities principal.

Don is a Professor Emeritus of accounting and finance at the University of North Florida and has wide-ranging academic and consulting experience in business valuation, corporate finance, accounting, and computer-based financial modeling. He received his B.B.A. and M.B.A. degrees from Georgia Southern University and a D.B.A. from Louisiana Tech University in 1976, and has been published in such journals as Valuation, Business Valuation Review, Financial Analysts Journal, The Appraisal Journal, The Journal of Wealth Management, and Management Accounting. Before coming to Jacksonville, Don taught at Clemson University for nine years and has also conducted numerous executive development and training programs for business, government, the healthcare industry, and professional associations.

Don is a member of the American Society of Appraisers, the Financial Executives Institute, the Association for Corporate Growth, the AICPA, and the Florida Institute of CPAs. Don previously served as the Chairman of Oaklins, a global investment banking group. 

What Led Don to Earn the CEPA® Credential?

Before Don entered the world of exit planning, he was a college professor for over 25 years. He grew up in a small family business and had experience in valuation and transaction services. Don has been working with businesses full-time since 1998. He had a passion for working with small family-owned and owner-controlled businesses. 

Don read Richard Jackim’s book, The $10 Trillion Opportunity, and saw the value of exit planning. He shares, “Exit planning is the single most valuable process an owner can go through.” Don earned his CEPA credential in 2007 and states that he wanted to gain a “more formal structure and process to what I was doing. The CEPA program would make our process repeatable for our clients.”

How CEPA Helped Build Don’s Practice

As one of the first CEPAs, Don felt it was an obvious next step in his path to help business owners execute successful and significant exits. Since earning his credential, Don shares he marries exit planning with his traditional valuation process. 

The education Don gained during his CEPA program allowed him to notice patterns in his clients’ businesses. He states, “Businesses are more similar than different and I have a story for every situation.” 

The CEPA program highlights that exit planning is a team sport and an owner is best prepared for their exit if they incorporate a team of advisors and exit planning professionals into their exit strategy. Don shares that his CEPA education helped him to better communicate the needs of the owner to other members of the exit planning team. He says, “The three most dangerous words in business are, ‘Oh, I thought…’ It is imperative that every member of the team knows what everyone is doing and does not have to guess what is happening.” 

The Evolution of Exit Planning 

The immense growth of the exit planning industry highlights the need for this important and life-changing work. Don was one of the first CEPAs certified and has continued to renew his credential for over 16 years. He now is one of almost 5,000 CEPAs in our ever-expanding community. Don says, “The level of sophistication in valuations and exit planning now compared to the rudimentary resources in the 1970s is astounding. With more advisors involved in the exit planning industry, the processes continue to become more sophisticated.”

When Don became a CEPA, the Value Acceleration Methodology had not yet been created by Christopher Snider. By remaining in the CEPA community for the past 15 years, Don has seen firsthand the evolution of exit planning and the increased resources and tools at a CEPA and business owner’s disposal. He shares, “the Value Acceleration Methodology resonates with owners. It shows them where they are in terms of business value and where they could be if they implement exit planning strategies.” 

Don shares, “As more people know about exit planning and are doing it, the more companies will be amenable to exit planning practices.” 

Advice to Business Advisors and Owners

For business advisors looking to improve their practice and gain the trust of their owner clients, Don recommends they, “Get as much knowledge as you can on exit planning and understand the process.” He has seen owners face common challenges that his expertise in exit planning has helped to resolve. 

Don shares that, “Owners are successful many times because they are strong-minded and stubborn. I recommend that they at least listen to their advisors with an open mind and consider what changes may help them prepare for exit.” One of the biggest pieces of advice Don offers his clients is that it is impossible to begin the exit planning process too early. Exit planning is simply good business planning      

Are You Interested in Becoming a CEPA?

The Certified Exit Planning Advisor credential is for those advisors who want to expand their expertise and differentiate themselves from the competition. 

  • Differentiate yourself from the competition
  • Gain better access to business owners
  • Become more engaged on a business owner's advisory team
  • Have deeper and more holistic conversations with business owners
  • Grow your referral network of professional advisors
  • Access hundreds of marketing and business development tools tailored for owners

Learn more about the CEPA program and become your client’s Most Valued Advisor today!