Several weeks ago, the 25th annual Chicago Triathlon was held on a cloudy, but warm Sunday morning in August. The Chicago Triathlon is an “international” distance race. This means the racers begin with a one-mile swim in Lake Michigan. The swim is followed by a 26-mile bike ride on Lake Shore Drive, and the race finishes with a sixmile run along the lake front. More than 8,000 men and women participated in the race this year; some as members of a relay team, most as individual athletes competing in all three “legs” of the race. The vast majority of the participants are amateur athletes, hoping to finish in the top ten of their age division, or looking to achieve a “PB” (“Personal Best”) finishing time. To accomplish these goals, athletes train hard for several months to shave just a few minutes, or even seconds, off their swim, bike, and run times.

Because the bike ride is the longest part of the race, you might expect that athletes will spend most of their training time on the bike, since a good “bike-time” provides the best opportunity to improve your race performance. You also might expect that amateur triathletes, having limited training time, often focus their race preparation on the event they enjoy the most, or the event at which they excel.

But you might be surprised to learn how much time, energy, and preparation goes into planning for the race “transitions.” What are the triathlon “transitions?” Well, it could be said that the triathlon actually begins in the “transition area;” this is a spot, about the size of a football field, where thousands of triathletes set up their bikes, shoes, helmets, and other race gear, so that they can quickly switch from swimming to biking, and later go from biking to running. A triathlon may be the only sport in which how fast you can change your race gear will have a serious effect on your results. All athletes arrive at the transition area just before dawn on the morning of the race -- for most of the athletes, this is hours before they will begin their race. They will spend at least half-an-hour setting up their bike and biking gear in a favored spot on the sloping hill that stands just north of Monroe Harbor. The race begins with the one-mile swim in the harbor. As the racers emerge from the water, they run back to the transition area. Once there, they will put on their bike gear; including bike shoes and a helmet. At the first transition, an athlete can allow him or herself only a few minutes to find their bike and gear among the thousands of nearly identical bikes. Obviously, an athlete’s transition “set up” is critical to their race time.

More importantly, the transition is where the athlete must recommit their mental game and/or adapt to changes in their performance, the course, or the weather. Many triathletes will tell you that the race is often won or lost in the transitions. There is no question but that the first transition is the most challenging. It is no easy task to come out of a cold lake after a one-mile swim; run three blocks in your bare feet while trying to remove a wetsuit, and then locate your bike among the thousands -- all hanging from rows and rows of bike racks. The athletes must put on their socks, shoes, a shirt and a race helmet, and then avoid several hundred other racers who are jogging their bikes toward the transition exit along with you. The whole process of transitioning yourself from “swimmer” to “bicyclist” may take several minutes. So, working to eliminate a minute or two from your transition time might be easier to accomplish than taking a few seconds off your swim time. And, the results are usually greater.

It is no wonder then that racers arrive at the transition area hours before they begin their race to make sure their transition set-up is smooth and efficient. Transitions might not be the “race,” but they are critical to a triathlete’s success.

Similarly, business transactions often involve “transition” periods for which your company must plan. Like a triathlete, you must prepare for these transitions long before they arise. Thus, while it is important to keep your focus on the main elements of the business transaction, a well-planned transition will help ensure the overall success of the business project. For example, a manufacturer that has decided to terminate an exclusive sales representative in one territory and appoint a new sales representative for that territory, must plan for the transition that will occur. The company may feel it has its hands full already with legal issues to address. First, the company will want to make certain that termination of the current sales representative is done in accordance with the law of the controlling states and is consistent with the representative’s rights under the Sales Representative Agreement. In addition, the company will want to make certain that the new appointed sales representative has no legal or business obligations that will prevent it from representing the manufacturer in the territory, such as non-compete or non-disclosure agreements.

But beyond these important legal considerations, management also must think about the transition period that will cover the weeks or months when the former sales representative starts to wind down its sales efforts on behalf of the company and the new distributor begins its sales calls. Very seldom does the termination and appointment of sales representatives occur without some overlap between the former representative’s sales activities and the new representative’s sales efforts. How will the company handle sales that were initiated by the former sales representative that are not “closed” until after the new representative is on board? Which representative is entitled to the commission? Unless the company has planned for these transitional disputes, the representatives and the company might end up in litigation -- and this kind of litigation invariably involves customers. Deciding in advance how best to manage this transition period is critical to maintaining good customer relations and to avoiding unnecessary legal fees.

Similarly, where a company is acquiring the stock or assets of another company, plans must be agreed upon with regard to the transition period that will occur just before and after the transaction closes. How will the acquiring company protect its investment in the acquired company’s “soft” assets such as key employees, customers, contracts, and the acquired company’s good will? How and when will news of the “transition” from old-to-new business be communicated? There are just a few of the important “transition” questions that must be considered, in addition to the many legal issues that have to be studied.

Anybody who has participated in the Chicago Triathlon will tell you that it is tough to recover from a “bad” transition no matter how much you have trained for the race. When planning your next important business transaction, make sure your plans provide for the transitions you’ll be encountering.