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I Want to Sell My Business.  But How Can I Be Sure My Employees Are Taken Care Of?

As an owner of a business, there are often times when the employees of the business can become like an extension of the owner’s family.  Employees are often present during challenging times in the business owners professional and personal life and the owners of the business can often be a stabilizing presence in an employee’s life.  One of the biggest concerns of a business owner is what the welfare of their employees will be upon a successful sale of the business. Often times, the concerns can be placed into four broad buckets,

1.) Will the employees be keeping their jobs?

2.) Will the employees be keeping their same level of compensation?

3.) How will the insurance benefits change, if at all?

4.) How will our company culture change – do we still have team building events planned every    quarter and holiday bonuses we can count on?

The answers to these questions can go a long way in determining whether a buyer is the perfect fit for a business, outside of the fundamental valuation and transaction structure.  Mergers and acquisitions are complicated endeavors, involving an incredible amount of work and attention to detail.  While in the midst of an acquisition, HR Departments are the group tasked with managing perhaps the most valuable part of a company – the human capital.  Granted, some aspects of the transaction are unavoidable, including the letting go of employees in an underperforming division or in a role that will be redundant within the acquirer’s organization.  But, if both buyer and seller can get on the same page and formulate a plan for informing the employees of a change, this will ease the transition and mitigate the fear of the unknown. 

Now, to address the first question that will come to an employee’s mind upon finding out their firm is being acquired – am I going to keep my job?  In the vast majority of transactions, employees will retain their roles and often times an acquisition can be an opportunity for upward mobility within a larger organization.  Timing will be of the utmost importance when it comes to making any type of announcement regarding an employee’s employment status, whether positive or negative. One hurdle to avoid at all costs is raising alarms unnecessarily.  In order to avoid this complication, it’s best to announce a merger or acquisition upon execution of a Definitive Purchase Agreement and the transfer of funds. This ensures that the deal is closed and official and will eliminate the risk of pulling the rug out from under the employees of a recently acquired company.  

When the topic of compensation arises, there are numerous factors at play, including the performance of both the buyer, seller and individual employee as well as the defined compensation structure that already exists within the buyer’s corporate infrastructure.  Having a discussion regarding compensation can also take a different tone – perhaps a buyer can offer employees a more compelling work/life balance, an office space that offers the opportunity to exercise, eat healthy or be in a location that is convenient and offers easy access to post office hours entertainment.  Being able to pitch potential employees on all of the value that a buyer offers aside from the number on their paycheck can help bridge any perceived gaps
in compensation.

Beyond the importance of staying employed and maintaining the current level of earnings, individual employees will also be concerned with their benefits package and whether the buyer offers a more compelling insurance package or one that could be considered a down grade.  In any event, being completely transparent about the pros and cons of the new benefits package will be important in mitigating the fear associated with change.  A buyer who makes themselves available to answer questions that are both qualitative and quantitative in nature will be able to ensure a smoother transition.  This would include providing feedback mechanisms such as one-on-one interviews, focus groups and anonymous surveys.  In most cases, there is not a need to turn everything upside down immediately – buyers should not expect for all the new employees to join their new health insurance plan immediately, buyers should also consider letting the new employees keep their old PTO until the end of the year, if a new employees has already reserved PTO, a buyer can still honor that time and garner a little morale. 

 Ultimately, communication will be key - giving employees an opportunity to feel seen and heard will give them the sense of feeling valued by their new employers.  Additionally, this will bring a level of comfort to the seller that those individuals who helped them achieve success will continue to be taken care of and that the culture of a company that takes years to create will remain intact and continue to permeate throughout the new company.

Author:
JP Santos
Senior Associate
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (512) 861 3309
E: Santos@benchmarkcorporate.com

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Benchmark International Successfully Facilitated the Acquisition of FulfillPlus to The Balwa Group

Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the acquisition of FullfillPlus, Inc to The Balwa Group.  Benchmark International worked diligently to find a Buyer that was a good cultural fit for the business and would allow for the owners of FulfillPlus, Inc to achieve their personal and professional goals.

FulfillPlus, Inc is offers a wide range of fulfillment, warehousing, order processing, kitting, assembly and shipping services tailored to meet their client’s exact marketing needs. They are a single source supplier for all services related to delivering client’s products to their clients in a timely and cost efficient manner. Centrally located on the Gulf Coast, near the Port of Houston, they are ideally situated to handle large and small clients that manufacture in the United States or import products from as far away as China and India to reach their clients efficiently.

The Balwa Group is a company with investment holdings in diverse market segments including hospitality, real estate development and manufacturing.  With a large international presence, the firm was looking to diversify their holdings in both market segment and geography and had a particular interest in the logistics business. 

FulfillPlus, the Seller and Balwa Group, the Buyer, pictured together.

Benchmark International was able to procure for FulfillPlus, Inc a buyer that met their financial goals while also being an ideal cultural fit.  Benchmark International corresponded with numerous potential buyers and the owners of FulfillPlus, Inc had several in-person meetings and offers to choose from however once they had the opportunity to meet with the representatives from The Balwa Group, both parties knew immediately that FulfillPlus would be a great fit for both.  

Benchmark International’s Senior Associate, J.P. Santos, commented “The Benchmark International team is ecstatic that Chuck and Michele, the owners of FulfullPlus, chose a buyer that is going to contribute to the continued growth of the company. Chuck and Michele were communicative, responsive and collaborative through the Benchmark 360 process. Ultimately, the transaction will allow for Chuck and Michele to reap the rewards of years of hard work while continuing to focus on the positive trajectory the company is on and enjoy more leisure time.  This was a great result and we couldn’t be happier for all parties.”

Charles Gleason, CEO of FulfillPlus wrote a beautiful letter to the Benchmark International team regarding his experience working with us: 

Dear J.P. and entire Benchmark Team:

Michele & I would like to thank you for the great job your entire team did helping us sell our company. We selected Benchmark because of the professionalism shown by all of your representatives as well as the breadth and scope of your company.

Being the founder of this business, it wasn’t easy for me to decide to sell it. We had been so focused on running the company for so many years, dealing with day to day issues, we never had time to even think about selling, and I wasn’t quite sure I really wanted to. But we knew we needed some sort of exit strategy for retirement and decided to at least sit down and review the process with your team. Your team answered all of our concerns and made us feel comfortable enough to initiate the selling process. You re-affirmed to me that it would be my decision on who we sell to and there is no time limit on finding the right buyer. I was skeptical, but after going through the process, I now know its 100% true. You didn’t pressure us to make decisions and focused your efforts on guiding us through the valuation and sales process at our pace. Nowhere along the way did we feel that you were pressuring us for time or a quick decision.

When it came to meeting prospective buyers, you allowed us to review each prospective buyer’s background before they were allowed to see our financials or meet us. You let us meet (on the phone & in person) with each buyer on our own, then scheduled calls to review the meetings and get our feedback on each prospective buyer. When offers were made, you offered insights into buyer tendencies and how we should respond. It was truly a team effort.

We are now 2 weeks past the closing date and have been working day to day with the new owners. We feel we made the right decision and are now finding ourselves looking at golf course communities around the country trying to decide where we eventually want to retire. We’re looking at Anthem, Arizona, Palm Spring, Ca, San Antonio, Tx (Hill country), Austin, Tx, and Greensboro, Ga (Lake Oconee). All areas with beautiful homes and golf communities.

Thanks again for all your help and good luck with future sales,

Charles Gleason
CEO
FulfillPlus, Inc.
 

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The Benefits of Data Rooms (VDRs)

The due diligence process for an M&A transaction can be very cumbersome for all parties involved. The usage of a data room is one of the most valuable ways to mitigate the headaches that arise from the motions of due diligence.  There are generally two types of data rooms: physical and virtual.  The former is not the most practical in most larger scale transactions with moving parts in varying geographies. Thus, you will almost always see the usage of a virtual data room (VDR) in an M&A transaction. These VDRs provide organization and security for sellers, buyers, and advisors. 

Organization is probably the most easily identifiable benefit that VDRs provide.  They provide a repository for all documents pertaining to the transaction.  From a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment to the 2016 YE Income Statement to the buyer’s first draft of an Asset Purchase Agreement, it will reside in the data room. VDRs essentially eliminate the need to transmit documents through e-mail.  When there are 10+ individuals across parties needing to review documents, e-mail transmission is not practical in terms of time or organization.  Relying on e-mail may result in an organizational catastrophe, and many documents may quite simply be too large for e-mail transmission. Though it may be difficult to quantify in dollars, VDRs are undoubtedly a cost saver, particularly for sellers.  Many intermediaries such as Benchmark International use and administrate VDRs for their sellers at no additional cost, whereas many transaction advisors focusing on the legal or financial aspects of a deal are likely to charge additional fees for the usage and administration of a VDR. 

Security is a highly underrated and less thought of benefit to using a VDR.  E-mail isn’t the best vehicle to transmit sensitive employee information, tax data, or any other sensitive diligence documents.  While we all will use e-mail frequently to communicate over the course of diligence, it should be a last resort for the transmission of sensitive data.  One e-mail in the wrong hands could easily derail not just the transaction, but the going concern of the business.  Professional VDRs are also more secure than free or low-cost cloud hosted repositories such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive.  These repositories are excellent for personal use or small B2B transmissions, but they don’t provide anywhere close to the same level of security as a VDR.  VDR data centers provide physical security (people and cameras), backup servers and generators, and top of the line digital security by way of multi-layered firewalls and 256-bit encryption.  Another security benefit of a VDR is the ability to layer.  Layers or levels allow administrators to dictate which individuals or parties have visibility to certain documents.  It’s quite possible that certain information will not be accessible until diligence milestones are met.  Layering the data room helps provide accountability, but most importantly: security.  

There are countless other benefits, but these are some of the most crucial that impact all parties involved in an M&A transaction.  Benchmark International, through its vendor, provides a tailored VDR experience and service to all of its clients to help facilitate seamless due diligence processes and successful deal closings. 

Author:
Robert West
Senior Associate
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (615) 924 8511
E: West@benchmarkcorporate.com

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When Is The Right Time To Retire And Sell My Business?

Over 88% of business owners think their business will stay in the family. In fact, only about 30% of family-owned businesses survive into the second generation, 12% are still viable into the third generation, and only about 3% of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond. As baby boomers are heading for retirement, who is going to take over the businesses the boomers are looking to sell? 

Today’s business owners are faced with multiple factors when deciding the right time to sell. The perfect time can be tricky to predict as several economic considerations need to be weighed. The majority of business owners begin this thought process when nearing retirement age, but is this too late? The most important considerations are current economic statistics, market conditions, and industry trends. These are good predictors of a sellers’ market and shows the types of buyers and private equity companies ready to invest. Buyers are looking for businesses in the growth and maturity stages of their business life cycles. During these stages, operational bottlenecks are becoming managed and demand, profits  and lasting customer relationships have been built. Business owners sometimes have the tendency to postpone selling until operations and profits begin to decline. This is a costly mistake for any business owner wanting to maximize their company’s value.

Schedule a call to speak to an Analyst

Sellers should strive to put aside personal feelings anchoring their decision-making process when considering their exit strategy. When considering selling, business owners should focus their attention on asking is my business in a financial incline, is my staff in place able to succeed without me, do I have a diversified client structure, and are my capital expenditures under control?Business owners need to consider these objectives now and determine if a sale is the right decision. Economic environments quickly change and in order to achieve a premium sales price, a favorable market is the key. Currently, multiples are at a historic high with limited quality businesses available for sale. Baby boomers are holding on to their businesses and aren’t willing to sell until they have to. 

This can be a hard-personal decision to make for owners who have built their companies from infancy. Owners are conflicted with their decision, asking did I do the right thing, did I maximize my company’s value, will my employees be taken care of, and what is next in my life.Before considering the sale of your business, define both the internal and external factors and remove any hidden traps that cloud your decision-making process and can result in missed opportunities. By having a written exit plan, an experienced team of advisors, and patience, business owners will realize the full value of their life’s work.

Here at Benchmark International, we understand the emotional and physical stress that accompanies the decision to sell. Our experienced advisors assist by providing an outside perspective to business owners and by identifying suitable conditions in the M&A sector. Our responsibility is to ensure our clients are presented with all the facts and strategies to move forward. Benchmark International values close relationships and ensures that our clients are fully prepared to make the right decision when the day comes.

Author:
Kendall Stafford
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +44 (0) 1865 410 050
E: Stafford@benchmarkcorporate.com

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Understanding EBITDA

In arriving at a valuation for their business, many managers come across the term EBITDA.  For some this term is Greek and for others it’s a term they vaguely remember being mentioned during their days in business school. For many business owners it’s a completely new term, with no context, and why it is important is a complete mystery to them.  But to buyers, EBITDA seems to be an incredibly important term.  So what is EBITDA?

To begin let’s spell out the acronym.  EBITDA stands for “Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization,” that is, a company’s earnings before items which can be disassociated from the day to day operations of the business.  EBITDA is therefore a measure of the financial strength of the business, and presents a proxy for the total cash flow which a potential buyer could expect to garner from the purchase of your business.

Let’s break down each part of the acronym, beginning with Earnings. In the case of your business, Earnings is represented by the bottom line income, what is labeled “Ordinary Business Income,” on your tax returns.  This is the number arrived at by subtracting all expenses from Revenues and adding or subtracting any additional cost or income.  Distributions and dividends are items which occur after “Earnings” is calculated and are therefore not included in this equation.

Interest payments are associated with debt that the company currently holds.  Those interest payments whether they are on a Line of Credit to the local bank or for outstanding debt the company has taken on to purchase machinery or warehouse space, will likely be in some way included into the sales price of your business.  Meaning, that when a new owner takes over operations, or comes on board to help grow your business, the business will be starting fresh.  From the time of the sale going forward the new owners can expect all of the money previously paid to the bank, to flow through to bottom line earnings instead.  For this reason, in valuing your company it is important to add back interest payments to your bottom line earnings.

Next, we arrive at taxes. Each and every business pays taxes, but the amount is variable by state and subject to current legislation.  For that reason, we add back some, but not all taxes to your bottom line profits.  In most cases the only tax added back will be your Franchise Taxes. Franchise Taxes are those taxes charged by a state to a company, as the cost of a business in that state.  The tax varies based on the size of the business and the state in which the business is incorporated.  Because a company may be incorporated in a different state, or the size of the business may drastically change after an acquisition, these taxes are therefore variable and not a reflection on the business’ earnings.

Depreciation is a fancy accounting term for something we all know.  The amount of value your car loses the moment you drive it off the lot, is the most common form of depreciation we deal with during our lives.  Say you purchased new machinery ten years ago, and it is still running and in good condition, humming along each day spitting out all the widgets you can sell.  But your accountant may send you tax returns each year saying your machine is worth less and less.  This amount that gets deducted by your accountant isn’t an actual amount of cash leaving your business, but it decreases your bottom line earnings.  For this reason, we add depreciation back, to put back into your bottom line, an amount which was taken out on paper, but not out of your company’s checking account.  An additional note, as we are dealing with your company’s Profit and Loss statement, we ignore the total amount of accumulated depreciation which is shown on your Balance Sheet, in order to capture the expense associated only with one accounting period.

Amortization is Depreciations baby brother. If you purchased a business ten years ago, you may have paid more for that company than what it was worth at that very moment based on the amount of assets and business you were garnering by purchasing that company and its clients.  Let’s say that the business you bought was worth one million dollars, but you figured that the business’ client list and trademark was worth an additional half million dollars to you over the long run, and so you paid one point five million dollars for the business.  This additional half million dollars is sometimes referred to as “good will”. It’s a value which can be reflected on paper and then turned into cash over a period of time.  Just like your new car though, each year your accountant is going to take some part of this half million dollars and subtract it from your profits before he or she arrives at your bottom line net income.  Since this number is an adjustment made on paper, just like depreciation, adding it back gives a better picture of the amount of cash flowing through your business.

In sum, each of these components of EBITDA combine to create a clearer picture of your company’s true value to potential buyers, and is therefore something buyers are particularly interested in.  In order to understand Adjustments to EBITDA please see my coworker Austin Pakola’s piece on adjustments to EBIDA.

Author:
Patrick Seaworth
Analyst
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (512) 861 3314 
E: Seaworth@benchmarkcorporate.com

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A Seller’s Guide to a Successful Mergers & Acquisitions Process

The Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) process is exhausting. For most sellers, it’s a one-time experience like no other and a marathon business event. When done well, the process begins far in advance of the daunting “due diligence” phase and ends well beyond deal completion. This Seller’s guide summarizes key, and often overlooked, steps in a successful M&A process.

Phase I: Preparation – Tidy Up and Create Your Dream Team.

Of course, our own kids are the best and brightest, and bring us great pride and joy. Business owners tend to be just as proud of the company they’ve built, the success of their creation, and the uniqueness of their offering. Sometimes this can cloud an objective view of opportunities for improvement that will drive incremental value in a M&A transaction.

For starters, sellers must ensure that company financial statements are in order. Few things scare off buyers or devalue a business more than sloppy financials. A buyer’s Quality of Earnings review during due diligence is the wrong time to identify common issues such as inconsistent application of the matching principle, classifying costs as capital vs. expense, improper accrual accounting, or unsubstantiated entries. In addition, the ability to quickly produce detailed reports – income statement; balance sheet; supplier, customer, product, and service line details; aging reports; certificates and licenses; and cost details – will not only drive up buyer confidence and valuations, but also streamline the overall process.

Key in accomplishing the items above as well as a successful transaction is having the right team in place. Customarily, this doesn’t involve a seller’s internal team as much as his or her outside trusted advisors and subject matter experts. These include a great CFO or accountant, a sell-side M&A broker, a M&A attorney, and a tax and wealth manager. There are countless stories of disappointed sellers who regretted consummating a less-than-favorable transaction after “doing it on their own.” The fees paid to these outside subject matter experts is generally a small part of the overall transaction value and pays for itself in transaction efficiency and improved deal economics.

Phase II: On Market – Sell It!

At this stage, sellers that have enlisted the help of a good M&A broker have few concerns. The best M&A advisors are very hands on and will manage a robust process that includes the creation of world class marketing materials, outreach breadth and depth, access to effective buyers, client preparation, and ongoing education and updates. The seller’s focus is, well, selling! With their advisor’s guidance, a ready seller has prepared in advance for calls and site visits. This includes thinking through the tough questions from buyers, rehearsing their pitch, articulating simple and clear messages regarding the company’s unique value propositions, tailoring growth ideas to suit different types of buyers, and readying the property to be “shown.”

Most importantly, sellers need to ensure their business delivers excellent financial performance during this time, another certain make-or-break criterion for a strong valuation and deal completion. In fact, many purchase price values are tied directly to the company’s trailing 12-month (TTM) performance at or near the time of close. For a seller, it can feel like having two full time jobs, simultaneously managing record company results and the M&A process, which is precisely why sellers should have a quality M&A broker by their side. During the sale process, which usually takes at least several months, valuations are directly impacted, up or down, based on the company’s TTM performance. And, given that valuations are typically based on a multiple of earnings, each dollar change in company earnings can have a 5 or 10 dollar change in valuation. At a minimum, sellers should run their business in the “normal course”, as if they weren’t contemplating a sale. The best outcomes are achieved when company performance is strong and sellers sprint through the finish line.

Phase III: Due Diligence – Time Kills Deals!

Once an offer is received, successfully negotiated with the help of an advisor, and accepted, due diligence begins. While the bulk of the cost for this phase is borne by the buyer, the effort is equally shared by both sides. It’s best to think of this phase as a series of sprints and remember the all-important M&A adage, “time kills deals!” Time kills deals because it introduces risk: business performance risk, buyer financing, budget, or portfolio risk, market risk, customer demand and supplier performance risks, litigation risk, employee retention risk, and so on. Once an offer is received and both sides wish to consummate a transaction, it especially behooves the seller to speed through this process as quickly as possible and avoid becoming a statistic in failed M&A deals.

The first sprint involves populating a virtual data room with the requested data, reports, and files that a buyer needs in order to conduct due diligence. The data request can seem daunting and may include over 100 items. Preparation in the first phase will come in handy here, as will assistance from the seller’s support team. The M&A broker is especially key in supporting, managing, and prioritizing items for the data room – based on the buyer’s due diligence sequence – and keeping all parties aligned and on track.

The second sprint requires excellent responsiveness by the seller. As the buyer reviews data and conducts analysis, questions will arise. Immediately addressing these questions keeps the process on track and avoids raising concerns. This phase likely also includes site visits by the buyer and third parties for on-site financial and environmental reviews, and property appraisals. They should be scheduled and completed without delay.

The third and final due diligence sprint involves negotiating the final purchase contract and supporting schedules, exhibits, and agreements; also known as “turning documents.” The seller’s M&A attorney is key in this phase. This is not the time for a generalist attorney or one that specializes in litigation, patent law, family law, or corporate law, or happens to be a friend of the family. Skilled M&A attorneys, like medical specialists, specialize in successfully completing M&A transactions on behalf of their clients. Their familiarity with M&A contracts and supporting documents, market norms, and skill in selecting and negotiating the right deal points, is the best insurance for a seller seeking a clean transaction with lasting success.

Phase IV: Post Sale – You’ve Got One Shot.

Whether a seller’s passion post-sale is continuing to grow the business, retire, travel, support charity, or a combination of these, once again, preparation is key. Unfortunately, many sellers don’t think about wealth management soon enough. A wealth advisor can and should provide input throughout the M&A process. Up front, they can assist in determining valuations needed to achieve the seller’s long-term goals. When negotiating offers and during due diligence, they encourage deal structures that optimize the seller’s cash flow and tax position. And post-close, sellers will greatly benefit from wealth management strategies, cash flow optimization, wealth transfer, investment strategies, and strategic philanthropy. Proper planning for post-sale success must start early and it takes time; and, it’s critical to have the right team of experienced professionals in place.

The M&A process is complex, it usually has huge implications for a seller and his or her company and family, and most sellers will only experience it once in a lifetime. Preparing in advance, building and leveraging the expertise of a dream team, and acting with a sense of urgency throughout the process will minimize risk, maximize the probability of a successful M&A transaction, and contribute to the seller’s success and satisfaction long after the
deal closes.

Author:
Leo VanderSchuur
Transaction Director
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (813) 387 6044
E: VanderSchuur@benchmarkcorporate.com

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