InSight

Exit and Growth Strategies for Middle Market Businesses

Archive for the ‘Corporate Finance’ Category

“In Selling Your Business, It’s Not What You Get, It’s What You Keep”

By Jim Gerberman | Nov 29, 2017

After defeating the Romans in southern Italy at the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC, King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose invading army had suffered irreplaceable casualties, responded to congratulations by saying: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” To this day, the phrase “Pyrrhic victory” has been used in business, sports, politics, warfare and other settings as an analogy for victories that come at a great cost. Winning the battle- but, losing the war.

Like many business owners, you’ve built a very nice business that has provided a great lifestyle. You’ve set the direction, funded the growth, shouldered the risk. However, in order to pursue further growth, you’ll need to spend more and assume additional risk. Through the value that you’ve built, your net worth is considerable but your assets are not very liquid. Whether you’re contemplating taking a few chips off the table by selling a piece of the business, transferring ownership to employees, your children or your partner, or selling outright to a third party, the associated transaction may likely result in your future livelihood being supported by the proceeds (what you keep) from the transaction.

Starting with the end in mind, it’s important for you and your trusted advisor team to understand what a successful outcome looks like.

  • What proceeds do you need in order to have the lifestyle you desire?
  • What role in the business do you prefer going forward?
  • What kind of acquirer(s) will need or want what you have?

An earlier article about Business Readiness® describes how to prepare both you and your business to optimize that outcome. By starting early in putting together your team of trusted advisors and by addressing and mitigating those areas of risk that will devalue your business in the eyes of a potential buyer, you set the stage for achieving a successful outcome. More importantly, you set the stage for dealing with the vicissitudes and uncertainties that occur along the path. Inevitably, things happen that can potentially derail the best of plans. As the boxer Mike Tyson has been known to say “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. It’s important for you and your team to know what battles are worth winning- more so than attempting to win every battle (especially those that come at a great cost).

Back to “what you keep”. Too many business owners define their desired outcome in terms of the “selling price”. Even worse, their idea of the right selling price may be influenced by something they’ve heard from a colleague who sold their business, the sentimental value that naturally derives from years of sweat equity, or based upon some other form of intrinsic value that they’ve developed…is it realistic? Will this provide what I need? If not, we have work to do. We need to begin with realistic expectations about the value that the market will place on the business. We also need to understand that there are many aspects (not related to the selling price) that can add to or erode your proceeds from a transaction. Some examples:

  • Deal structure, timing and basis of payments
  • Structure and basis of contingent payouts
  • Holdbacks, escrows, assumed liabilities
  • Working capital adjustments
  • Key people retention
  • Where applicable, taking advantage of gifting or other tax benefits…well ahead of initiating any process leading to a transaction

Which battles are worth fighting? To be clear, you do not need to win every battle to come out well ahead- particularly if the transaction is one where you as the selling business owner will now have a new financial and operational partner while remaining in a leadership role with the business going forward- either in a short, defined transition period or as a co-investing minority shareholder as described in a 2-step or “second-bite of the apple” process. As advocates for your cause, your trusted advisor team can help you make informed decisions about what to fight for…and how- achieving the results you desire while preserving important relationships. In the spirit of the early 20th century Italian diplomat and author- Daniele Varè, “Diplomacy is letting others have your way.”


Management Led Buyout

By George Walden | Oct 23, 2017

Today we will continue our discussion on the different types of buyers for your business. If you have a management team capable of making business decisions and running your company, you might want to consider some form of management buyout. This was first popularized in the 1980’s. Since the existing managers are buying the company, they know the corporate culture and processes. They have the inside scoop on the business and in a transaction there should be, in theory, no learning curve.

Management teams rarely have the ability to fund the buyout through traditional bank financing alone without some outside capital infusion or owner financing. Said another way, the company can only support a fixed amount of debt. That difference between the debt limits of the company and the valuation of the company must be made up with an equity capital infusion. Enter the financial buyer, such as private equity groups and hedge funds. The MBO, like was done in the 1980’s, with a management team receiving a controlling interest in the company, has transitioned.

Today’s most common structures, more of a hybrid, with minority equity interests going to the management team in exchange for continuing to run the company or a buy in at a percentage of the capital structure. Private equity groups and hedge funds often support this type of structure in exchange for the financing and capital needed to underwrite the transaction. The financial group gets a strong operational management team with solid industry knowledge. The management team gets ownership, committed capital and usually, thoughtful oversight with a strategy for future growth.

There can be drawbacks to management led buyout. Not every executive can make the transition from employee to owner, from the managerial mindset to the entrepreneurial. Not every team can handle the risk profile. It is one thing to receive a salary. It is another to take on the debt responsibilities and obligations of ownership. Another conceivable problem is the management team could become a competitor in the deal. This potential conflict of interest could work against the seller and lower the value of the company, even sabotage the deal.

There should always be an M&A adviser investment banker in this type of transaction to litigate the pitfalls. As a rule, having a management team capable of running a company makes a business more valuable to most prospective buyers. This best business practice is a goal owners should strive for.


Generational Family Succession – Mergers & Acquisitions Minute

By George Walden | Oct 17, 2017

Today we’re going to talk about generational family succession. Companies are sometimes passed on to the next generation. They can be the perfect vehicle for continued legacy transition. I grew up in a family business in the plastic extrusion and machining industry. I started working in the business when I was 14 I ran my own shift by the time I was 17. It was how I put myself through college, working four to midnight, and going to school during the day.
I love the business and grow up thinking I would be the owner one day. I went off to finish my master’s degree and when I came back, I found the company had been sold. Not the transition I expected nor wanted. Part of it was because it hadn’t really been discussed, but most of it was because, like most business owners, there was no thought or plan for a transition in place that addressed succession.

According to Forbes only about a third of family business survive the transition to a second generation. Fewer still make it to the third generation. Family business failures can essentially be traced to one factor. According to The Family Business Institute, that is a lack of succession planning.

Here are a couple of points I believe should be considered in evaluating family succession planning. Number one, the transition should be structured in advance and be thought of as a long term process. Just because you were born into a business does not make you the best qualified to run it. Family members should be honestly evaluated just like you would any other employee. Before being considered the recipient of the company, the family members must show a competence worthy of taking over the reins. That not only requires a succession plan but it requires a way to measure family member development and educational needs. This requires time, thoughtful milestones, and key performance indicators.

While it is important to be technically and tactically proficient on how the company operates. Family members also need to demonstrate leadership and managerial skills. If family members aren’t ready to take on all the roles necessary for success, consider outsourcing the gaps and work towards filling the voids through further training, education, or hiring practices.
Number two the company should be purchased by the next generation. The most common mistake I see in this form of transition is not treating the next generation as a true buyer for the company. If you were to ask most next generation family members that question they would unanimously agree the company should be gifted to them. That however does not create wealth for the parents. Family members should be required to buy into the company. They should have skin in the game. There is a place for gifting and the best structure actually has a component of both capital requirements and gifting.

Number three, have a system in place to handle conflicts and additional capital needs. Address in the beginning with a unilateral agreement or pact, how family members are to be treated. Establish for all members the terms and restrictions for a family member to be able to buy in, leverage, or transfer their shares of stock. Rules should be established in the beginning on how conflicts will be resolved.

Finally, establish the compensation and promotion policies of the company for all family members and how distributions will be handled in advance. In closing, transitioning your company to the next generation should be a thoughtful process designed to remove as many risks up front to avoid family conflict. There is nothing wrong with wanting to pass on your legacy to your descendants.


In-between

By Dan Halvorson | Oct 17, 2017
Selling My Business

While a company owner, and before joining CFA, I thought that with regards to an exit strategy it was simply ‘all-or-none’.  That I either retained ownership of my company, and perhaps position it for the next generation, or sell it and walk away.  Unless they’ve taken the time to research this (and surprisingly few have), most owners of lower-middle market companies feel the same way.  This leads to a natural hesitation and, at times, delay in planning their exit until.. Read more »


4 Reasons the Timing is Right to Sell Your Business Now

By Brian Ballo | Jun 30, 2017

Time to sell your businessBusiness owners inquiring whether the timing is right to sell their business, often start by asking: “What are business valuations in the market today?” EBITDA multiples can provide a quick thumbnail answer to this question. However, just focusing on today’s industry numbers, does not wisely evaluate the risk of whether the business will be worth more or less in the future, as compared to selling the business now.

 

Savvy business owners, who are attuned to macro factors impacting business valuations, such as the aging population, financing terms and tax reasons, understand that several conditions exist today, that point to selling your business in 2017. In addition to these macro factors, the question of when to sell your business also depends on the life-stage of the company, as well as compelling personal reasons and family situations.

1. Due to Aging Boomers, the Supply of Businesses for Sale will be Increasing

In 2017, the massive generational shift in wealth is underway, as hordes of boomer business owners are motivated to retire. In the next 5 years, 40% of family-owned businesses in the United States will be sold, due to baby boomer retirements. By 2019, the boomer’s sale of their closely held businesses will create nearly $6 trillion in liquidity.
Most M&A professions view the tidal wave of baby boomer retirements as resulting in a potential glut of businesses coming on the market. This mounting supply of businesses for sale, means downward pressure on valuations for years to come. When that tipping point may occur is not known. What is known, is that every day for the next 12 years, another 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65.

2. Slowly Rising Debt Costs Would Decrease Purchase Prices

How fast interest rates rise will affect the M&A sector. Typically, the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), which is connected to the Federal Reserve’s short-term rate, determines the debt financing rate. Although the Federal Reserve did not raise rates recently, the consensus is that the Federal Reserve will increase rates sometime in 2017.

A rise in LIBOR would make using debt more expensive when funding an acquisition, resulting in buyers offering to paying less for companies. If rates rise too quickly, business owners may have trouble getting the prices they want.

3. Your Company’s Life-Cycle Timing indicates a Strategic Reason to Sell

Each company has life-cycles, and the challenges of passing to the next developmental stage, can often be strategically improved through a sale or merger. Companies in the initial development and emerging growth stages, require debt and minority equity capital, but, generally, are not good acquisition candidates. On the other hand, companies in later stage growth, that have reach a stable, mature level, or that are declining, are attractive to both strategic corporate acquirers and Private Equity Groups (PEG).

Companies that are earning profits, and that have promising projections for increasing revenues, need financial resources to sustain growth. The right Buyer can provide needed working capital, management expertise, competitive strength, and expansion into new markets. For mature companies, the right Buyer can provide more effective distribution channels, improved operating margins, as well as fresh management, to return the company to growth.

Companies in the declining stage of their life-cycle, typically resulting from owner burn-out, can also be attractive acquisition targets. Corporate and PEG Buyers have the money and other resources needed in order to achieve a turnaround. In addition, the right Buyer provides a renewed sense of direction, while working to solve the reasons for decline, defend the company’s market share, and improve competitive performance.

Unlike the macro factors discussed above, where your company is in its’ life-cycle is specific to your company. Usually the best time to obtain the highest price occurs when sales and earnings are good and trending upward, with a history of good performance. This gives buyer’s confidence in projected future earnings.

4. As an Owner, You have Compelling Personal Reasons to Sell

The emotional bonds of an owner to his business can be strong. In American culture, being an owner is an important part of how we define ourselves, part of our self-image. Ownership provides a general sense of self-esteem, pride, and a feeling of control. As result, for many owners, their business and social lives are interwoven, making letting go of the business, all the more difficult.

However, smart business owners appreciate that businesses are in business to make money, and they view at their companies primarily as assets. With the right investment and tax planning, the proceeds from the sale of the business, can be utilized to achieve retirement goals, and be distributed to heirs pursuant to properly structured trusts. Talk about these issues with your investment banker, wealth manager, attorney, and accountant.

Yet, selling impacts the owner’s lifestyle, as well as the lifestyles of other family members. With work-outs common, the owner will often have to adjust to the more restrictive responsibilities of being an employee of the new owner.
With certain macro conditions pointing towards selling now, do compelling personal reasons also exist for a transition to “life after sale”? Talk about these issues with your spouse, and your family, and then you will be better prepared to decide if the timing is now right to sell your business.


4 Ways to Maximize the Proceeds from the Sale of Your Business

By Brian Ballo | Jun 27, 2017

Naturally, business owners believe that their business can be sold at the higher end of the pricing range. However, an attractive Letter of Intent to purchase a business typically does not come unsolicited. Therefore, to increase the odds of maximizing the price and proceeds from the sale of your business, the following tactical steps can be taken:

1. Focus on Increasing EBITDA

If corporate and private equity group buyers are focused on EBITDA, then you should be also. Cash flow is king. That means, improving your income statement is the best way of maximizing the price at which the business sells.

Owners who have structured business operations to benefit themselves and their families, through above-market salaries or tax treatments, should prepare recasted financial statements to exclude certain perks in order to present the company as a profit-generating engine to potential new owners. Items such as personal expenses, charitable contributions, and significant non-recurring expenses can also be added-back to earnings.

Real EBITDA can be bolstered by focusing on the business’ core competency, or the most profitable income streams, which is also more appealing to a buyer than a company going in many different directions at once. Obtain profit and loss statements by division, or by customer-type, then address weaknesses, before such risks are identified by potential buyers.

Buyers seek a return on investment, and pay a premium for a company with a healthy growth trend. A strong brand, loyal customers, and competitive market positioning, are all attractive. Mitigating risks such as customer concentration and product diversity will also enhance value.

2. Assemble Accurate Financial and Operational information

Buyers pay more when they are comfortable that historical and pro-forma financial statements are accurate. Three years audited financial statements is a best practice, although some buyers may accept reviewed financials instead.
Having updated and accurate financial and operational information will also enable you, as a business owner, to understand and make pre-sale improvements. In addition, good documentation will also permit your advisory team to identify relationships or transactions which could have purchase price implications, such as assets on the balance sheet that have been valued on a historical basis that need to be adjusted to reflect market prices.
The buyer’s due diligence requests are coming. To give the buyer confidence, and to assist your advisors in responding to the buyer’s requests, having accurate financial data assembled, will make the buyer feel he knows what he is getting, and likely result in an increased purchase price. Your investment banker will summarize the company’s numbers and story in an initial Confidential Descriptive Memorandum, then, organize the data in a Virtual Deal Room password protected access.

3. Strengthen the Management Team and Operational Systems

Buyers pay more when they are comfortable that the company’s earnings trend will continue post-transaction. The challenge is that if the seller CEO – who has been making all the key decisions, and has the primary relationships with key customers – will be transitioning out of the business, with part of the purchase price paid an earn-out.

The CEO owner can mitigate the risks to the company, and himself, by strengthening the management team, including, identifying a replacement CEO, who will remain with the company post sale. This way, the existing CEO can move to a less demanding new position, while the probability remains good that projected earnings estimates will be to hit.

Part of improving housekeeping should also focus on systems and procedures, particularly, the information technology network. Outdated technology and processes, will negatively impact value. A good IT system will create the favorable impression that the company is poised to move into the future. The procedures manuals should also be updated, so the buyer is able to operate the business without you.

4. Achieve Teamwork Throughout the Sale Process

Corporate Finance Associates, a major investment banking services firm, works to implement NextStep, a systematic, team-driven, sale of business program, which guides business owners through the process of extracting both themselves and their wealth from the business. CFA approaches exit planning in a systematic way, working as part of a team of advisors to ensure that the process addresses all options, and is focused on pursuing the goals and objectives established by the business owner.

As the investment banker, CFA focuses on creating a competitive bidding environment amongst multiple buyer candidates. The other team member, including a Wealth Advisor, Tax Attorney, and an Accountant, provide expert counsel in their respective disciplines to help ensure the business owner is fully informed as to the merits and demerits of proposed strategies.

An effective team will support the ongoing performance of your company during the sales process. If the owner selects a capable team of advisors, then he can focus on maintaining the financial performance of the company, while the advisory team handles all the details of closing the sale transaction.


A Recent Example of the Strategic Benefits of Merging with a Competitor

By David Sinyard | May 03, 2017

Recently RLJ Lodging Trust (“RLJ”) (NYSE: RLJ) and FelCor Lodging Trust Incorporated (“FelCor”) (NYSE: FCH) announced that they have entered into a definitive merger agreement under which FelCor will merge with and into a wholly-owned subsidiary of RLJ in an all-stock transaction. According to the press release the merger will establish the third biggest pure-play lodging REIT by enterprise value, creating meaningful scale to capitalize on cost efficiencies, negotiate leverage and access to capital, and the opportunity to strategically recycle assets and optimize the portfolio. The combined company will have ownership interests in 160 hotels, including premium branded hotels located primarily in urban and coastal markets with multiple demand generators. The combination also provides significant penetration within key high-growth markets and broad geographic and brand diversity.

Summary of Strategic Benefits (per management):

  • Combination creates the third largest pure-play lodging REIT with a combined enterprise value of $7 billion

    – Increased shareholder liquidity and cost of capital efficiencies
    – Stock transaction allows both sets of shareholders to participate in the upside
    – Enhanced positioning with brands and operators

  • Leading upscale portfolio of compact full-service and premium focused-service hotels generating strong operating margins

    – Combined portfolio will include 160 hotels in 26 states and the District of Columbia, diversified across Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Wyndham flags
    – Broad geographic diversity and strengthened presence in key markets such as California, Florida and Boston

  •  Positive financial impact and positioning for future value creation

    – Accretive in first full year
    – Expected cash G&A expense savings of approximately $12 million and approximately $10 million of potential savings from stock-based compensation expense and capitalized cash G&A
    – Opportunity for additional ongoing operating and cash flow improvements through greater purchasing power, market leverage and capital expenditure efficiencies

• Future opportunities to unlock value from portfolio repositioning
• Potential conversion and redevelopment opportunities
• Opportunity to actively refine portfolio
• Strong and flexible balance sheet
• Significant liquidity, minimal near-term maturities and opportunity to lower cost of capital

Mergers such as these are predicated on these Strategic Benefits. The market will measure the success of this transaction in light of whether management ultimately realizes on these listed opportunities.


Buying and Selling – Beating The Odds

By Craig Allsopp | Apr 24, 2017

I was reading a study about private business sales the other day and came across a very startling statistic – only 20% of the companies put up for sale ever change hands.

This is a sobering thought – particularly if you are a business owner contemplating retirement and counting on the sales proceeds to fund it.

For some businesses it’s a matter of performance that makes a sale difficult, if not impossible. These companies may be losing money, or facing lawsuits or might be overly dependent on one or two customers.

For others, it’s a lack of preparation that creates the roadblock that prevents a transaction. Businesses with sloppy records, aging equipment and poorly maintained facilities fall into this category. Most investors aren’t looking for a fixer-upper and will quickly pass when they see one.

Still other companies never trade because their owners have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the notion of “transferable value.” They fixate on a number – without considering how their companies rank against their peers’ or the operational challenges and investment new owners will face.

So what is the solution to beating the odds in an environment where it is so hard to sell a company?

We believe it starts with preparation and a commitment to making fact-based decisions throughout the process.

Here are three basic concepts to get the sale process off and running toward a positive result.

  • Invest in a bench marking study. This will provide you with an objective look at your company’s position versus its peer group and provide you with a realistic expectation of its transferable market value.
  • Commit to spending time and effort to spruce up your business. Your company will stand out if you have a good management team, orderly books and records and well-documented customer relationships.
  • Hire a licensed investment banking firm to handle your transaction. Dealmakers at these firms are subject to FINRA testing and SEC regulation. You can see their dealmakers qualifications online and easily find out if they have been subject to any disciplinary action.

To sum up, there are no guarantees when it comes to selling a business. But proper preparation and committing to a professional process are more likely to beat the odds then leaving the details to chance.


When Is A Partial Sale Right For You?

By George Walden | Apr 04, 2017

When an owner comes in to my office to discuss selling their company they are often only thinking binary. Sell it all or keep 100 %. As you might guess, transactions take many forms and occur for various reasons.  There are times when is it appropriate to consider a partial sale of your company.

1.     When you need expertise: The private equity community has created tremendous wealth for many owners by adding operational systems, expertise in personnel and a strategic vision. If you listen to many M&A minutes you know that I preach systems based operational decision making to facilitate growing your company and its people. If you are having trouble building a sales team or developing organizational depth because you are too busy running the company, having a group that supports you in those efforts may be the best way to get your company to the next level. Private Equity Groups (PEGS) to support and protect their investment are usually very open to acquiring expertise and provide systemization. They will often assist you in a strategy for business development including future acquisitions and product development. Why should you try to invent the wheel when somebody else has not only done it before, they have done it serially, often multiple times?

2.     When you need access to capital: Having the right partner can not only make growing a company easier through system contribution and strategic planning, they will often facilitate your ability to get access to capital for growth.  Think of it this way. Not only have you become more bankable because as a shareholder or partial owner their balance sheet strengthens yours they often have access to sources of capital that can improve your rates.

3.     Many business owners have most of their wealth tied up in the company. The last five years for the oilfield industry has been brutal. Many very good companies have failed or barely survived. Don’t you bet those owners wished they had taken chips off the table when the company was doing well and diversified their risk. Everyone knows you shouldn’t have all your eggs in one basket. The old axiom, what goes up does come down! Most companies and all industries cycle.  Ask Sears if you don’t believe it. The best time to sell some or all of a business is when it is doing well. Because the company is doing well it often commands a premium in the market.

If you are concerned about losing control of your business, most business owners don’t realize good companies and I am defining them as positive cash flows greater then 2M ebitda are attractive to minority investors.  The system approach the right buyers bring to the table can help accelerate your company and propel it to the next level. Remember most buyers want to add value to the company and that should always be a consideration in shopping buyers.

In closing, a partial sell should be a part of your consideration when you need expertise, financial depth or liquidity diversification.

Posted by George Walden.


Second Half of 2016 – Marked Increase in M&A Activity

By Kim Levin | Oct 13, 2016

Marked Increase in M&A ActivityAccording to data published by international financial data tracker Bureau Van Dijk, North American deal volume and value declined significantly during the first half of 2016 following the global trend. According to Bureau Van Dijk, there were 12,298 transactions completed in H1 2016 (a decline of 17.3% over H2 2015) with a combined value of $692.5 billion (a decline of 41.3% over H2 2015). During H1 2016 the U.S. saw 10,147 US deals worth a combined $633.4 billion. Canada saw 2,152 deals worth$59.9 billion.

Private Equity

Falling in line with general M&A trends, North American private equity and venture activity also slowed on the value and volume fronts. Private equity and venture investors took part in 6,487 deals in the region worth $120.8 billion. In contrast, H2 2015 saw 7,792 deals worth $262. 6 billion invested in the second half of 2015.

Sector Activity

Sectors that saw the most activity were metals/metal products (981 deals) followed by general capital machinery (799 deals) and publishing/printing (791) deals. Read more »