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An exit strategy is a means of leaving one's current situation, either after a predetermined objective has been achieved, or as a strategy to mitigate failure. An organisation or individual without an exit strategy may be in a quagmire. At worst, an exit strategy will save face; at best, an exit strategy will peg a withdrawal to the achievement of an objective worth more than the cost of continued involvement.
The term was used technically in internal Pentagon critiques of the Vietnam War (cf. President Richard Nixon's promise of Peace With Honor), but remained obscure to the general public until the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia when the U.S. military involvement in that U.N. peacekeeping operation cost the lives of U.S. troops without a clear objective. Republican critics of President Bill Clinton derided him for having no exit strategy, although he had inherited an active military operation from his predecessor, President George H. W. Bush. The criticism was revived later against the U.S. involvement in the Yugoslav wars, including peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo and the Kosovo war against Serbia.
The term has been adopted by critics of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and especially Iraq. President George W. Bush was said to have no exit strategy to remove troops from Iraq, and critics worried about the number of Coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians who would suffer injury or death as a result. President Barack Obama also has not yet publicly announced an exit strategy for the troops in Afghanistan.
In entrepreneurship and strategic management an exit strategy, exit plan, or strategic withdrawal, is a way to transition one's ownership of a company or the operation of some part of the company. Entrepreneurs and investors devise ways of recouping the capital they have invested in a company. The most common strategy is the sale of equity to someone else through a trade sale.
Transition companies are professional mergers and acquisitions companies that assist Middle Market business owners with their exit strategy. Services offered are often referred to as Transition Management services.
Other types of exit strategy include Management buyouts or employee buyouts (common in the manufacturing industry).
There are several books dedicated to the Business Exit Strategy