Exit and Growth Strategies for Middle Market Businesses

Archive for 2009

Acquisition Strategies: Are You a Sheep or an Eagle?

By Jim Zipursky | Dec 17, 2009

While working on a recent transaction where we represented a seller who was looking to complete a Management Buyout sponsored by private equity groups, one of the potential equity sponsors told us,  “We will only invest in this transaction if there is another investor group who invests along side us.”  “Is that to minimize your risk,” I asked.  “No, it is our requirement to have a co-investor because it validates our investment philosophy.”

In other words, like sheep who flock together, this investor group was satisfied with an investment so long as someone else came to the same conclusion.  “But what if you like the opportunity but do not find a co-investor,” I inquired of the group.  “Then we walk away from the opportunity,” I was told.

This group, and many others with same investment criteria, are not willing to trust their own instincts but need validation from others.  Ultimately, this is a sheep mentality… following others at all costs.

Eagles, on the other hand, hunt and soar alone.  They find their prey and seize the moment.  Eagles have the courage and temerity to make their own decisions based on their own standards and criteria and seize the moment regardless of what others around them are doing. Read more »

Successfully Executing the Optimal Exit Strategy – The Solution

By Peter Heydenrych | Dec 07, 2009
Part 2 of 7: The Solution – Know the Endgame

The Issue is how to Extract yourself and your Wealth

We’re looking at how business owners can most successfully extract themselves and their wealth from the company they own and, typically, run, recognizing that the success of this critical process will have a direct and significant impact on their family, associates, employees and, of course, themselves. Business owners want to know that their legacy is assured and that a wealth transfer can be effected to assure their life-after-business goals, including the protection of their loved ones.

In Part 1 I noted that my Business Owner clients are encountering a challenging and demanding market, partly because credit has been tight, and partly because buyers are already anticipating the boomer exit era which will give them multiple acquisition options and the ability to be selective, pursuing only quality opportunities. I also noted that this “oversupply” does not appear to have an end in sight, which means that business owners expecting to exit in the next decade need to be systematic, employ a professional team, plan, prepare and execute a selected “optimal” exit strategy.

It will take a Military Campaign to engage and overcome this Market Condition

Not a single day goes by without someone in the media asking how it is that we’re engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan without an Exit Strategy. i.e. without knowing when, why and how we will ensure an endgame.

Don’t be reactive or opportunistic about selling your business! Be proactive, methodical and in control! Read more »

Now Is the Time to Buy!

By Jim Zipursky | Dec 04, 2009
Singing In the Rain

No doubt, for the past 18 months, the current economic crisis has hung over our heads like a summer storm over the Great Plains.  We are certain it will pass, but its rains and winds can produce lasting damage for all in its path.  In times such as these, we can either seek the comfort and security of shelter, or, more aggressively, we can learn to sing and dance in the rain.

Recently, I was invited to attend a recent summit of CEOs of mid-market companies.  I heard many CEOs who literally shouted: “Now is not the time to seek acquisitions because we do not know if we have hit bottom yet,” “Banks are not lending like they once did,” “How can we consider an acquisition now when we have our own business challenges?”  These were common themes and common statements during presentations, around the lunch table, and at the bar during cocktail hour.

However, a few of CEOs, those who I will call the “enlightened elite” embraced an alternative approach, exclaiming for all who would listen: “There has never been a better time than now to make acquisitions. Read more »

Successfully Executing the Optimal Exit Strategy – The Challenge

By Peter Heydenrych | Nov 19, 2009
Part 1 of 7: The Challenge

In advising business owners during this past year, I have seen, firsthand, how unforgiving the market has become. In one case, rather than wait to sign an LOI, a seller invested in audited financial statements simply to increase the odds of being shortlisted. In another, a business owner accepted the buyer’s premise that a full-price deal required that he stand behind his projections in the form of a significant contingent payment.

Is the “unforgiving market” just the recession, or a reflection of a long term reality?

Boom-er Bust

I read daily about the challenges facing boomer business owners expecting to sell in the coming years. Frankly, it’s not just boomer business owners, it’s ALL business owners who are affected by this extraordinary situation. My clients are finding that it takes perfect planning and execution to reach the finals of the beauty contest. Good enough just doesn’t cut it any more … and won’t, for the foreseeable future!

According to an article published by Robert Avery of Cornell University in February 2006, “the majority of boomer wealth is held in 12 million privately owned businesses, of which more than 70% are expected to change hands in the next 10 to 15 years.” Read more »

Are You Overleveraged But Too Undervalued to Sell?

By John Hammett | Nov 13, 2009
Mezzanine Debt

Today’s economy has put many private companies in a tight spot.  Companies end up with too much bank debt as business volume and profits contract.  But lower earnings mean that company owners who would have been ready to sell their companies now can’t do it because they end up with too little after paying off their banks.

So, how can you reduce your bank debt, improve your cash flow, and stay tough while you wait for the outside economy and your earnings to recover?  One answer is mezzanine debt.

Mezza-what?  Mezzanine debt gets the name because it’s half way between senior bank debt and equity.  Because it’s kind of both, it serves really well in the right situation.  Mezzanine is semi-permanent capital, like equity, so the company does not have to make monthly or quarterly payments of principal.  It usually has a 5 to 7 year term. Read more »

Transparency in Earnings

By Jim Zipursky | Oct 19, 2009
Not Just For Big Companies

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of CEOs of mid-sized companies regarding EBITDA and its importance to them as business owners. Several questions from the group centered on what I will loosely call “tax avoidance” and “tax deferral” practices commonly employed by owners of privately held companies. The questions focused upon the impact of these practices on the value of a business. The common theme from the audience was, “buyers understand owners do not want to pay taxes and they are willing to adjust for these practices.”

I reminded the group that buyers, or anyone who is reviewing the performance of their companies, will only be able to evaluate what they can see. If you are writing off inventory, expensing personal items, or employing any of the myriad other “tax avoidance” practices, you do a nice job of lowering your tax burden, but you may not be able to get a return on this “investment” when you look to “withdraw” these funds. All of these practices impact your cash flow positively for you, but not necessarily for those evaluating your company. Read more »

Business Valuation: Continued!

By Lee Crawley | Sep 30, 2009

Another look at “Valuation: Getting the Right Price When Selling Your Business”, an article by Gary Parker.

I think Gary has done an excellent job of summarizing the valuation process. However, I feel that he and many others that have written about “valuing” your company have made the explanation too complicated or mysterious.

This writing is an attempt to simplify the explanation of this process and to provide a conclusion that hopefully gives potential clients more comfort that professional “intermediaries” like CFA can provide very reasonable estimates of what their company will be worth.

I am “certified” by NACVA (National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts), which required a great deal of study, testing and experience and as such, I feel I have learned to navigate the valuation “maze” more effectively.

The first and in many respects the most important question of a valuation is “what is its ‘purpose?’” While there can be many reasons for a valuation, the purpose for our clients is the sale of their company (all or part) and as such we will be using the Fair Market Value Approach. This is defined to mean “willing buyer, willing seller both acting with the same information and no compulsion to act”. While academic it is very practical when combined with the market experience of professionals like CFA that have seen hundreds of transactions during their careers. I will only say that other “purposes” such as estate planning will use different approaches, which lead to different methods mentioned in Gary’s article.

The second important point is Read more »

Management Buyouts: An Optimal Investment and Exit Alternative

By JP Balestrieri | Sep 21, 2009

Middle Market investment banking activities felt the effects of the financial crisis.  M&A deal volume for the middle market fell 39 percent in 2008 compared to 2007 and has fallen even further into 2009.  The harsh credit markets have left their mark on the middle market.  The average deal value in Q1 2009 was $64.1 million, down from $93.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2007.  The decrease in average deal size can be accredited to conservative valuations due to the added risk and limited debt funds available.  The incentive for an owner or principals to sell their business has sharply decreased and left many waiting for a more optimal, but indefinite exit timeline.

Traditional business models and financial investments have lost effectiveness, allowing a higher demand for alternative strategies and investments.  Private Equity groups are tentative to invest because of the risk coupled with difficultly accessing debt to leverage the scale of their investments.  An alternative investment like a Management Buyout (MBO) presents an appealing opportunity to private equity. Why? Read more »

So Where’s the Silver Lining?

By John Hammett | Sep 01, 2009

For companies with valuations less than $100 million, deal volume for the first half of 2009 was down 58% compared to 2008 as reported by the Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors (AM&AA).

Those numbers don’t sound like good news for company owners who are ready to sell their companies, but that’s past.  The question is, what is coming?

While the history is dark, the silver lining is in the external market factors, like these:

  • Strengthening public stock market values are waking up strategic buyers who need to make acquisitions to grow
  • Low buyouts over the last 18 months mean that private equity investors are more hungry than ever to put their $400+ billion of uninvested funds to work by doing deals
  • It is beginning to look like the worst of the recession may be behind us
  • Valuation multiples, reported by AM&AA at 4.7X EBITDA can only go up

The market for under $100 million companies has always been cyclical.  This may indeed be the bottom and we are in the beginning of the upswing.

posted by John Hammett

Five Winning Strategies for Early-Stage Companies

By Kim Levin | Jul 16, 2009

It comes as no surprise that some early stage companies get started with a bang because they are flush with capital from family, friends and early stage angel investors.  The excitement is palpable when some of this money has created “buzz” – articles in major newspapers and technical blogs, or TV coverage – all expounding on their products or services and how they will change our world.  By now, the management team, punch drunk on the good publicity, is convinced they are on the right track and expect the phones to ring off the hook from venture capitalists and other investors all clamoring for a piece of the action.  A major hiring and spending spree ensues, driven by the belief that outsized growth is quickly going to take over.  Forecasts and valuations are revised upwards to account for the fresh new optimism.  Concepts like “managing cash burn” and “increasing revenue traction” are fleetingly discussed at team meetings or around the water cooler in this “anything is possible” environment.

Reality Sets In

In 1999 or early 2000 at the height of the dot-com boom, this scenario may have ended with a happy outcome.  Venture Capitalists, having read all the publicity and anxious to get on the train, fund a Series A round based on generous pre-money valuations, little to no due-diligence and guidance that the money is to be used to expand hiring and spending at an even greater rate.  That was then – now we are in a different world. Read more »