InSight

Exit and Growth Strategies for Middle Market Businesses

Archive for the ‘Exit Strategies’ Category

Why George Didn’t Accept The Highest Offer

By Dean Durbin | Nov 12, 2019

How Sometimes Less Is More When Selling A Business

Well, there we were…..after months of hard work marketing his company, reaching out to over 1,000 potential buyers, obtaining over 100 signed Confidentiality Agreements (CA’s), several dozen Indications of Interest (IOI’s) and a handful of management meetings, we, along with the owner, scoured with a fine-toothed comb through seven printed Letters of Intent (LOI’s) laying on our conference room table.

The only thing left for our client to do was to pick the LOI with the highest price and let us push this deal across the finish line so he can cash his check and retire, right? After all, who in their right mind would take less than the highest offer? But as the old football coach Lee Corso says every Saturday morning on ESPN GameDay, “Not so fast my friend!”

It’s true that some owners care only about the maximum monetary payout. However, it’s been my experience that more often than not it’s a combination of price and terms that determination which buyer to choose. Every client has different objectives and perspectives on what they want their exit, or in some cases partial exit, to look like.

The owner, let’s call him George, was approximately 65 years old accurately be described as a humble, gentle and wise human being. Fortunately for George, there were numerous quality offers ranging from $34M to a high offer of $47M.

The CFA Team constructed a decision matrix, which is just a fancy word for a table containing the pertinent data, pros, cons, and comments on a large one page chart. It was at that point, we let George lead the conversation and we primarily listened to him as he went through the offers. Within, five minutes, four of the offers were pushed to the side and that was the easy part, it was the “Final 3” that took a little more time and discussion.

Among the 3 remaining offers, there were many differences in price, terms, future objectives management teams and numerous other categories. In the end, George elected to sign an LOI with Company Y for about $6M less than the $47M offer from Company X. But why?

George is not unlike a lot of other sellers.  While I can tell you that the ultimate sales price was a factor, it absolutely was NOT the primary factor. The reason George chose Company Y’s offer was because it most closely resembled his “mental image” of his post-sell world. Although not the highest offer monetarily, I personally believe that Company Y was overall best fit after getting to know George throughout the process and it didn’t surprise me in the least.

The key decisions that drove George’s decision, in what I perceive to be order of importance were as follows:

  1. Employees were treated well – moving the factory out of state or large-scale layoffs would’ve been a deal-breaker regardless of price, yes regardless of the price. The buyer gave written assurance of the employees’ job security and actually improved some of their pay and insurance packages.
  2. Price and Terms of the payment – during negotiations, the $41M price remained constant. However, due to the competitive nature of the engagements we were able to negotiate several improvements: –
    • George’s rolled forward equity went from 15% to 19%, thus allowing George or his heirs a potentially larger “second bite of the apple”
    • The payout was all cash at closing, while the other offers were paid out over several years and structured as an “earn-out” and even some as seller notes
    • Distribution formula for George’s future equity payouts was greatly improve
  3. Management team – during the management meetings George had a wonderful connection personally with Company Y. It was obvious that they “clicked” better than the other buyers. Additionally, Company Y came to the management meetings with creative ideas, especially in the product marketing area to increase the company’s market share. It was clearly stated by George that “he felt like he could breathe easy for a change and was confident that Company Y’s team would put the company in good hands”. Confidence in the management team’s ability to continue the growth of the business was a significant factor in his decision.
  4. Opportunity to stay connected to the business – George now sits on the Board of Directors, helping to consult with operational and marketing issues from time to time. Today, he spends most of his time with his wife and family and is semi-retired, because he hates the word “retired”.

In the end, there were several items that George gave up that he didn’t even care about and very few that he did care about. He did sign a non-compete, however he’d never considered competing against his old company especially at 65 years of age. George was not interested in an earn-out. It probably cost him some money, but he was content to remove some risk in exchange for a slightly decreased payout.

The lesson we can learn from this case history (which was modified to protect client confidentiality) is that every owner is different and it’s typically a combination of factors that drive a decision, not just the final sale price.

As a final commentary, one of the things that make our job as CFA investment bankers so satisfying is to see people like George, that have taken risks, sacrificed time and worked incredibly hard to build a terrific business, get rewarded for their efforts when they end their journey as business owners.


Selling Your Business Is Not An Event… It Is A Strategic Process – Part III

By Terry Fick | Nov 15, 2018

Part III

Remember,
Selling your business is not an event… It is a strategic Process.

More Conversations
Now that the prospective buyers have reviewed the information in the Data Room,

  • Be prepared to answer questions that stem from their review of the information supplied.
  • There may be another round of Q&A.
  • Ask what information he needs to be able to at least discuss a value range (IOI). DO NOT let him corner you into giving him a price!

With their NDA in place and having received his request for information for their IOI,

  • Populate the data room with the additional data requested, as long as it does not reveal truly sensitive information. You might segment the Data Room to manage the release of that data.
  • Once you have made the decision to give the buyer access to the data room. If there is a broker on their side, do not directly give him access to any of this information.
  • Answer questions about the data provided and wait for his indication of value.

Controlling the Negotiations

Assuming you get multiple indications of interest (IOI’s)in the right range, you will want to orchestrate this process so that visits by these prospects are around the same time. That should lead to getting multiple LOI’s at about the same time, so you can compare them before accepting one LOI.

LOI’s

  • Solicit multiple initial LOI’s before negotiating a final agreement
  • You are exclusive with one party while under LOI
  • LOI’s are mostly non-binding, but:
    • Price and Terms are obviously spelled out in detail.
    • Capital Structure to be employed
    • Your and maybe some of your management team’s roles and compensation should be addressed.
    • Structure of the transaction (stock or asset), how your debt will be eliminated, working capital, escrows
    • Timeframes, 90 days?
    • No Break Up fees!
  • Full disclosure after agreement

Suggestions:

  • Involve your CFO very early in the process. He or she can often access and provide the information needed more efficiently than the owner.
  • Involve your other top-level managers when you start to have substantial calls or visits with potential buyers. They will be important to the buyer. Let those managers know you plan to find a deal that is good for them. Before that, you may want to consider if and how you might want to reward them when a deal closes.
  • Think one step ahead so you can be prepared to give timely responses to questions, offers, situations and obstacles.
  • Do not be afraid to identify your company’s “shortcomings or issues”. If you identify them, they are just warts, if they find them, they are cancers.

Summarizing Some Do’s and Don’ts:

Do’s:

  • Have an idea of what your company is worth before you even start responding.
  • Make sure you are talking to an actual buyer, not a “broker” on a fishing trip.
  • Qualify the buyer before you start giving up information.
  • Always get an NDA in place prior to giving up information.
  • Create a sense of competition even if you are only talking to one party.
  • Make sure to spend some time preparing. Get your information ready and organized.
  • It’s more than OK to brag about your business and talk about your plans for growth. That is what all buyers are interested in.

Don’ts:

  • Never give a price or directly state the value you expect.
  • Don’t Let a broker gather information to “give to his client” unless his client directly asks you to do so.
  • Don’t give out competitively sensitive information like customer names until you are under LOI.
  • As earlier suggested, talk to multiple buyers at one time rather than one at a time sequentially.
  • Try to avoid bi-lateral NDA’s. You gain nothing by signing one.
  • Do not sign an LOI until you get legal advice. While they are non-binding for the most part, a well written LOI can save much time and aggravation down the line. It gives you the chance of previewing how a buyer will negotiate.

In Summary:

  • Take control of the process. By simply responding to all of their questions and demands, you lose that.
  • Keep thinking like the buyer. It is like selling your product or service, always determine what they want/need before you start your sales pitch.
  • I would assume this would be the largest financial transaction of your life, don’t take it lightly.
  • Remember:

  Selling your business is not an event… It is a strategic Process.


Selling Your Business Is Not An Event… It Is A Strategic Process – Part II

By Terry Fick | Nov 14, 2018

Part II

Remember,

Selling your business is not an event… It is a strategic Process.

Like most successful outcomes, selling your company starts with the right preparation!

  • Set your expectations of value.
  • Prepare an NDA so it is ready at the appropriate step below.
  • Set up a virtual data room and populate it with the basic information anyone will need to see. Since you may present your information to multiple parties, this eliminates a duplication of efforts, creates an air of professionalism and gives the impression you are, or plan to, talk to more than one party. Your Attorney or Investment Banker will manage this if you prefer.
  • Look at your company through the eyes of a buyer. Ask yourself what aspects of this company would be attractive to you and what aspects would give you pause. Plan to accentuate the positives and minimize any negatives.
  • Develop a growth plan. Always sell the Future!

Now, prepare some more!

Are you ready to answer the typical questions they will ask?

  • Are your financial reports up to a buyer’s standards? If you aren’t sure what is expected, ask a professional.
  • Can you answer questions about your market position, your customer concentration, your competition (and how you stack up), which of your products are the most profitable, what are your strengths in the Marketplace, What role you want after a transaction, etc.?
  • Who would take your place if you are ready to retire?
  • Prepare a supportable projection for 3-5 years.
  • The list goes on, but a little preparation will give you a significant advantage.

Dealing with buy-side Brokers

They may or may not be credible.

  • Ask them to name their client
    • If they will not, politely tell them you are moving on.
    • Caveat: If they say they will if you give them some info, tell them your revenues and what you sell to who. Period.
  •  Only talk directly with their buyer. If they want the broker on the phone, O.K.
  • Do not give the broker any more information until the buyer signs your NDA and says the broker is covered.
  • DO NOT allow the broker to introduce you to more buyers Be adamant!

Talking with the prospective Buyer

Once you are talking directly to the decision maker at a buyer, then pay attention. Let them know you are considering your options and are discussing those options with your professionals. This gives them the impression they may have competition. Not being objective, we suggest you engage an Investment Banker to either work on just one prospective deal, or to assist you on any contact and create real competition. Qualify that buyer by determining if he can make an acquisition this size (without giving up your desired value.) Pose questions like,

  • What do know about my company?
  • Why are you interested in my company?
  • What other acquisitions have you made? Be industry specific with a PEG.

Now it is time to get your NDA signed before giving any more information

Creating Competition

  • Now, hopefully you still have more than one viable dog in the hunt and you have established the appropriate sense of competition. As you move forward, note the following:
    • Always let the elephant in the room be “other buyers”, but never name those buyers.
    • Never reveal specifically what other offers or value discussions may be.
    • Never let a buyer tell you that you should only be talking to him. It is perfectly ethical and appropriate to talk to multiple parties at once prior to your signing an LOI.

Hiring Professionals

It is obviously hard for me to stay objective when discussing this option because it involves employing an intermediary. Some form of an M&A professional whether it is an Investment Banker, a Business Broker or an M&A attorney. An Investment Banker can manage your process whether you choose to speak with one or multiple prospects and he will be able to bring even more buyers to the table.
An Investment Banker will:

  • Give you a realistic valuation
  • Respond and cull the herd without those parties knowing you might consider a sale.
  • Create a credible environment of competition
  • Be in a better position to look at your business through the eyes of the buyer.
  • Bring “Been there and Done that” expertise to the table
  • Save you and your team countless hours
  • Bring even more valid buyers to the table
  • Negotiate as a third party, preserving the relationship with the buyer
  • SELL your company so you don’t have to sound braggadocios.

Moving Forward

  • With their NDA in hand, have another informal phone call and answer most of their questions. The caveat is making sure you do not give specific customer or employee names. You can also avoid giving up any IP.
  • Let them know you have a data room prepared and that many of their answers will be there.
  • Be prepared to give up fairly detailed financial information, customer information (no names), growth plans, management staff, etc.
  • Talk about his plans for you. Would he want you to stay or phase out?
  • Now you give him access to the data room and give him some time to review that information before moving forward.

To be continued in Part III of this three-part post.


Selling your business is not an event… It is a strategic Process – PART I

By Terry Fick | Nov 13, 2018

PART I

Remember,

Selling your business is not an event… It is a strategic Process.

WE START WITH A FEW GOLDEN RULES

  1. Always establish a sense, or better yet, a reality of competition for your company.
  2. Never, unless… No Never, give a prospect a price or tell them what you think the company is worth.
    1. Giving a price only sets a ceiling from which to negotiate downward.
    2. Terms are as important as price, and giving a price ignores this all-important element.
    3. Even in negotiations, until the very end, your response to a formal or informal offer is “I don’t think that offer will get you to the pole position…”
    4. At the very end you may have to counter with a definite value and set of terms.

First, let us define the possible responses to unsolicited offers to buy your company by type of buyer.

Individuals

SELLING TO INDIVIDUALS? Unless your company is so small no private equity group (PEG) or corporation buyer would be interested, do not even talk to them.

Corporate Buyers

  • There are direct competitors and those that do not butt heads with you. Non-competitors are better buyers than direct competitors.
  • Ask them why they are interested. If they have a good reason, they may well be your best bet.
  • They usually want 100% and often allow (or even want) you to leave soon after a sale.
  • Don’t assume they are well funded enough to make this acquisition. Ask the right questions.

Private Equity (PEGs)

  • PEGs come in many flavors and can be very good buyers for those that would like to stay and continue to run the business… on their dime. A large majority of them are “The good guys” and can make great partners going forward. Their success rate for growing companies is outstanding.
  • A great vehicle that allows you to take almost all your chips off the table, eliminate your debt and still manage and grow your company.
  • They allow you to take, say, 90% of the true value of your business out in cash, but keep 20-25% of the equity for your second bite of the apple.
  • A good vehicle to allow you to pass on some equity to your management team or kids.
  • Make sure they are funded. There are thousands of PEGs out there that have millions and billions of cash. Be careful of relying on those that must raise the money after you committing to a sale.

Regardless of the type(s) of company you seek, there are three different paths to take:

  1. One is to be reactive and consider each contact one at a time, starting with the one that looks most likely.
  2. Another is to reach back out to all of them at once, and once you have culled the herd, open dialogues with multiple options at the same time until you eliminate all but one.
  3. The third is to let a professional quarterback the process of talking to one, several or even reaching out to more.

To be continued in Part II of this three-part post.


Buying Out A Controlling Partner

By George Walden | May 14, 2018

As an advisor for companies, I regularly encounter the situation of a minority owner wanting to buy out a controlling partner. This scenario, if handled poorly, can end in significant value destruction to the company. Owners should have a buy-sell agreement in place defining the actions that need to occur for one partner to buy out the other. Depending on the buy-sell agreement, there are a number of things a minority owner can do to make a smooth transition. Remember, this is not a situation where you’re trying to discount the value of the company. Fairness to your partner should be your first thought.

Number one, agree in advance how you both are going to measure the value of the company. What is the fair market value, should be assessed constantly? Number two, how will you and the company be able to pay for the buyout? This is an interesting dilemma for the business. This is not a situation where you’re borrowing funds to improve the company by adding equipment or funding a growth initiative. This is capital to be exchanged for equity. Banks don’t like situations that aren’t accretive. Is the company buying out the stock of the controlling shareholder or is the individual buying the stock?

A common solution to handle this situation is to have the company buy back the shares from the controlling partner in some form of structured payout, usually cash, a long term note, and occasionally, a performance upside. Another solution is to look at private equity to fund the buyout. Done with the right people, this can be a very attractive alternative because PE groups often have access to additional capital, providing financial stability, and they usually initiate growth strategies to accelerate company value.

Finally, the third, keep the conversation civil and positive. Strive to make the situation a win-win. Change is difficult for all parties in a negotiation. A poor attitude and arrogance can be very destructive to the company and to the current relationship. In closing, this is a situation where I advise using a third party negotiator such as your investment banker to facilitate the process especially if both principals trust the intermediary.


Collaborative Transactions

By George Walden | May 09, 2018

Recently, I was asked the question, “Can a transaction be a WIN/WIN?”

In sport’s we see winners and losers and assume business is that way. If someone wins then someone must lose. Too many sellers go into a transaction with the mindset, it is my company so it is my way or the highway. Strangely enough that mindset introduces risk into the equation. Risk is usually associated with a lower valuation. Unfortunately, for sellers with that mindset buyers have other options and tend to take their moneys somewhere else.

So, what can you as a seller do to make a transaction Win/Win.

1. Know your objective:
Before you decide to sell, get the expertise and advice needed to understand what you are trying to accomplish. The sale of a privately held company is a complicated process requiring knowledge, expertise and strong negotiation skills. Few business owners possess these traits at a level sufficient to complete a transaction. Have your company evaluated and prepared for the process of going to market. Understand,” what is” a fair market value for your company. Understand in advance what is important to a buyer. How they look at your business. Surround yourself with your team of professionals, accountants, attorneys, wealth advisors and M&A advisors before you go to market. Use them to assist you in filling in the gaps in your company. Allow them to do their job.
Remember: Negotiations commenced from a position of knowledge have a greater probability of achieving the desired outcome.

2. Full Disclosure:
Be an open book. If you have prepared your company properly you should be able to provide detailed information that is both accurate and verifiable. Be candid about the strengths and reveal early in the process any weaknesses.

3. Collaborate:
Be collaborative. The best deals are those where buyers and sellers are working together for the greater good. Negotiations about price are certainly a part of all transactions. But once price is established there are many things that can usually be done to facilitate the ease of transition and ensure additional value creation.

In closing, know your objective, be candid about both the strengths and weaknesses of your company and then work collaboratively to facilitate a better outcome.


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 »


What is a Strategic Buyer?

By George Walden | Jul 05, 2017

A strategic buyer is typically an operating company that usually has some relationship in the product line or service sector you are in. You would often consider them a competitor, supplier and perhaps even a customer of your company. Bottom line is they usually have strong industry knowledge.

Strategic buyers are looking for synergies or additions. These synergistic benefits are often the motivation behind the acquisition. As a result, valuations can be higher for a strategic buyer, because the synergies created can bring greater returns. There is an expression in my industry, solve a problem for a strategic buyer and the solution can create very different valuation math.

    • 1. Expansion can be vertical, such as acquiring a supplier or customer or
    • 2. Horizontal, expanding in news markets or products.

Strategic acquisitions tend to be accretive. Economies of scale and scope usually come into play in strategic acquisitions.

As I implied during the last M&A minute. The Strategic buyer doesn’t always need your management team, personnel, facilities, or back room services. They often bring their own capabilities to the table. Where there is duplication, those positions, services and processes are often consolidated or eliminated. Their goal is usually one of integration to their existing systems. As a general rule, they tend to be all or nothing in the acquisition meaning they will typically buy only a 100% of the company.

Strategic acquirers are just one of the two primary types of buyers. Next month we will dig deeper into the other primary group and that is Financial buyers.