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Post-Merger Integration Tips

Growth through acquisition is an excellent way to enhance and complement the growth trajectory of your business. But bringing companies together is about more than just increasing market share and profits. There are employees involved that can feel a range of emotions from excitement to anger to anxiousness about their future. Important decisions must be made when you are integrating people and teams. After all, while the project of closing the deal has come to an end, the process of operating, integrating and onboarding the business is just beginning for the buyer. Now is the time for the buyer to deliver on the intended results of the acquisition, and there are some important tips to keep in mind.

First, it’s always a smart idea to begin integration before the deal is formally announced. While due diligence will provide you with pertinent information about contracts, finances, customers, etc., the post-merger integration involves choices that should be made before a deal is closed. Managing and clearly defining post-merger integration is one of the most important factors to the transaction in the long run, as this will determine whether the deal will be a failure or a success. The planning should start months before the closing is even announced, and a team should be put in place to handle the intricacies of integrating the companies.

Each M&A deal is different due to unique challenges, business needs, and cultural benefits. In order to handle all of these differences, it is best for companies to institute a set of success factors that will pilot the post-merger integration. There are common success factors that mark most M&A deals that include retention, maintaining customer focus, ensuring stability, integrating cultures, employee communication, mission-critical systems, and aligning strategy and processes. How these points are addressed can define the deal’s success.

 

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When putting together the Integration Team, it is essential to choose highly motivated and proficient employees from both companies. Working on this team will require an immense amount of effort from the acquired business, resulting in an extremely large workload. Keep a close eye on this team and watch for signs of fatigue in order to minimize the risk of losing key talent. Identifying future roles for these team members in advance is a good idea. It is not uncommon for integration to fail because no future plan was put in place for the employees that were selected for the team.

The integration structure should be divided into serviceable categories such as Service, Legal, Finance, Manufacturing, Human Resources, Information, and Technology. The specialists assigned to each area should be tasked with defining and performing tasks that are within their area of expertise. The integration plan must be clear and accountability must be set for each task, along with specific timelines in order to be successful. This will help to ensure that the integration runs in a clear, well-ordered manner. Certain cross-functional categories will need input from multi-disciplinary teams in order to capture positive results.

Finally, the more the integration team overlaps with the due diligence team, the higher the chances are for open lines of communication, collaboration, and faster synergy realization. Making changes to a newly acquired business will require attention to detail, focus, and exemplary organization. While an effective post-merger integration will not guarantee the business’s success, a properly developed plan absolutely enhances the probability of a successful merger of the two companies.

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Why Lower Middle-Market Companies are Attractive to Buyers

The lower middle market encompasses some of the most diverse selection of companies available to buyers, from “Mom & Pop” service shops to highly innovative technology firms paving the way for disruptive change at the highest levels. For this reason, lower middle-market companies have been the backbone of the U.S. economy from the very beginning—and remain so to this day. The value that these companies bring does not go unnoticed by the broader market, making this segment a high-activity space for engaged buyers and sellers. And motivated buyers are adept at spotting value, providing opportunities for well-informed sellers to maximize value on their exit.

Many companies at this end of the market operate in highly fragmented industries. From HVAC equipment providers and servicers to pool maintenance and other small businesses, you can see this fragmentation simply by driving around any local geography. When an industry is highly fragmented—and also highly profitable—it creates a “sweet spot” for both strategic and financial buyers. Private equity strategies, for example, will often follow a formula of buying a larger “platform company” then searching the lower middle market for smaller “bolt-on” acquisitions to grow the company from there. The strategy is often referred to as a “roll-up.” If done correctly, it can bring large returns for both the acquired company and the buyer. Strategic buyers (firms already operating in the same industry as the acquisition target) often regard M&A in this end of the market as a better way to grow market share versus slow and costly organic expansion.

 

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Business owners and managers in the lower middle market are often looking to exit for retirement purposes. This reality can be advantageous for both buyers and sellers. Oftentimes, there is no succession plan in place heading into the retirement/exit decision and process. Many small businesses do not have a large chain of top executives that make a transition easy, and handing the business over to their children is often not a realistic option either. In other circumstances, the notion of selling the business comes up suddenly as a response to situations like health problems or other personal “black swan” events. In all circumstances, the right buyer—be they financial (private equity) or strategic—presents lucrative solutions that provide for the off-ramp and transition that ownership is seeking.

As such, there has been a large increase in demand for companies at this end of the market, as well as a corresponding awakening of ownership to recognize and test the benefits of a sale process. Investors are sitting on an ever-growing pool of capital that they are looking to deploy, seeking returns they cannot get elsewhere. The lower middle market allows investors of all stripes to purchase assets with relatively low debt (and, therefore, risk) compared to much larger companies. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic impact cannot be ignored when selling your business. COVID has hurt and even crippled a lot of businesses at the smaller end of the market. It also put an elongated pause in the mergers and acquisitions process. These two factors have led to pumped-up demand and lower supply, driving to significant increases in activity and deal volumes as the economy begins to pick up again.

When the time comes, business owners need to be ready to act quickly on sale opportunities. There are a lot of factors that go into selling your business. There will be different types of individuals and entities that come through to inquire about the potential acquisition of your company. While it might be tempting to jump at the first offer that comes, it is better to get a sound understanding of the wider market, and where the highest synergies/motivations (and therefore, the best valuations) can be found. There are always more opportunities to transact than one might think, and there are potential buyers out there for any type of company. The process of finding the right buyer always takes some “travel time”—with some speed bumps along the way—but a sound process that is run correctly can bring windfalls that will certainly justify the effort.

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The “New Normal” for the Restaurant Industry

Restaurants all over the world express their own environments and tastes that help people identify the culture. People travel all to all ends of the earth to savor a certain style of food or experience a certain society or tradition. Restaurants are places that we go to enjoy everything from a quick lunch to a celebration of any sort. We engage restaurants as a platform for many activities, especially in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted issues on all social gatherings, and the world had to change the way we do many normal, day-to-day activities, impacting the restaurant industry significantly. My focus today is to enlighten you on some aspects that may help your business adapt, and make your restaurant a more attractive target to be acquired.

The restaurant industry is a monstrosity. It has various moving parts and year-over-year new aspects and competition. From ingredients to efficiency to ambiance, the restaurant sector has always been competitive and continually pushing forward with the times. 2020 brought all of that to a screeching halt. Though demand for certain items such as beans, rice, and bread was higher than ever, and grocery stores were being raided, restaurants were forced into full panic mode. There was no way to prepare, and no one knew what to do. Unlike several other diseases in the past, COVID-19 thankfully does not spread directly through livestock and agricultural products. Though that is not where the issue lies. Getting the products delivered to the location and having employees inside without spreading the disease was nearly impossible. The restaurants still surviving have obviously adapted to the times by focusing on enhanced delivery options and marketing schemes that helped them to stay afloat. With the world beginning to open back up, what is going to be the best tactic to getting the financials back to pre-COVID numbers?

More than 110,000 establishments have closed permanently over the past year, with others filing for bankruptcy. Everyone has changed their dining habits over the past year, particularly shifting to takeout and delivery. Moving forward, the industry is going to need to maintain a focus on responsiveness, and prioritization of health and safety. No one wants a cold pizza or cold veal parmesan in a plastic container. Presentation has come further into play. Restaurants need to get a foot ahead of the competition in any way possible. More restaurant concepts will have a drive-thru or pickup window in construction designs. Marketing schemes have been redirected to be community-based on a larger sense. For example, homeowner associations, next-door-neighbor sites, and city blog pages are going to need to be targeted. Along with that, customer loyalty programs, organic menu options, social media options, and mobile paying all may be beneficial. With the vaccines being distributed more widely, people are tired of being cooped up for over a year and are starting to travel and go to the newest, trendiest, most happening areas. How do you make your business compete and intrigue the crowd? There has to be a niche to your business—one that makes it stands apart from the chains and competition. There are restaurants on every corner, so you must create a particular dish or unique ambiance that people will remember. It is a difficult median that must be found where you are focusing on your health, yet also creating a memorable experience. Technology has also made its presence known, as nearly all communication over the past year has been through phone, text, video chat, or online ordering.

 

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When it comes to mergers and acquisitions, what can you do to make your restaurant more sellable? There are a lot of factors that come into play, but a large portion has to do with profit & loss statements, balance sheets, and showing consistency. Of course, 2020 will not be taken out of consideration, but at the same time, buyers cannot consider last year to have been normal. Some buyers will try to take this into consideration as they want the better deal, and this may work out in certain situations, but overall growth or consistency makes your company enticing. Outside of financials, strategic buyers seem to focus on how it lines up with the current business they are operating. Room for development is a trait that I’ve learned many potential buyers seek. With wanting to bring your business into a current facility, or operating under the same name, buyers want to be able to see the room for growth. Along with that, the capability to adapt is a key aspect because any time new management is put in place, there may be at least a few altercations. Looking forward, what is going to be the challenge is getting your financials back to where they were pre-COVID. This is easier said than done, but a few good places to start are re-accumulating an employee base, providing a safe environment, following all government regulations, and providing the same pre-COVID quality of service and food.

With mergers and acquisitions, if you were one of the larger firms such as OPES Acquisition Corp. or Inspire Brands, this would be an opportunity to make significant acquisitions. When smaller brands struggle, they can swoop in and save the day by acquiring them. The stage has been set in a sense for the next several years with different outlooks. Well-performing chains with drive thrus and delivery options yield high multiples, while frustrated owners are selling struggling chains. Activity will be fueled by cheap debt thanks to low interest rates, private equity groups, other investors that remain ready to spend, and strategic investors eager to get bigger. There is a lot of money that private equity firms have held onto for 2021, along with SPACs making their presence known. Getting your restaurant’s financials back up to normal and showing that your business has withheld and adapted with the times will make it more attractive.

Along with the direct work in the restaurant industry, the delivery options such as Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats have exploded, and their presence has been known in the mergers and acquisitions industry. DoorDash is the industry leader with 50% market share, Uber acquired Postmates, with GrubHub in a close second. Before COVID, many companies said they intentionally avoided these apps because the cost to the business seemed too high. Once COVID hit, these apps were essential to keeping many businesses open. There was a survey taken with 2,500 consumers in July that stated that 52% of them would avoid restaurants and bars even after they open back up. Showing your capability to work with these companies as efficiently and effectively as possible will be a contributing factor to the success in your business for the next several years.

The restaurant industry will overcome this pandemic and to adjust to what the new normal will look like. With the vaccines being distributed, the light at the end of the tunnel seems visible. Although it will not be an overnight process, the economy will recover and there will be new adaptations to get used to. Restaurants are opening back up and doing all they can, and the competition is eager to do the most they can with the government regulations. It may be far from over with limited capacities and dine-in options still somewhat limited, but local companies are doing everything they can to accrue the income to keep the doors open. Local restaurants need this, and there is a difficult balance that needs to be found. The hope is there, and the future is bright for both buy-side but sell-side M&A in the restaurant industry.

SOURCES

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Owning a Lifestyle Business

A lifestyle business is a business that sustains or supports the income and personal needs of the owner. The business is profit-oriented, but the owner's goal is not to grow the company but maximize profits. The goal of a lifestyle business is for the owner to enjoy a work/life balance while generating enough profit to support the owner's current lifestyle without negatively affecting the owner's personal life.

Often, lifestyle businesses are small businesses and center around the owner's passion. Some examples of lifestyle businesses include e-commerce clothing boutiques, breweries, and art galleries.

Lifestyle businesses are different than being self-employed. Typically, when you are self-employed, you work defied hours. Like any business, a lifestyle business has additional time requirements. You open it up daily and work long hours and weekends, but it intertwines with your personal life. The business may be online or have a physical presence. It may or may not sell goods, or it may provide services to others.

 

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Why would someone want to own a lifestyle business? The owner does not have to sacrifice their personal life. You are not required to work certain hours, answer to superiors, or deliver specific amounts of work on strict deadlines. There are no obligations to investors because the owner provides the funding for the business, so they also receive all the profits. You have freedom of time and location, so you can come and go as you please. The owner controls all aspects of the business. There is no board or third party to report to on the state of the business. The business provides financial freedom because the owner is earning an income that supports their chosen lifestyle. Typically, since there are few employees or other overheads, the lifestyle business tends to be positive cash flow early on.

Like all businesses, there will be challenges. The owner may struggle to fund the business at times or have limited funding. Finding the right employees could be challenging because a lifestyle business tends to have fewer employee benefits than other employers within the market.

When considering starting or buying a lifestyle business you should take the following steps:

  • Define your goals: Make a list of what you hope to achieve with a lifestyle business. What do you want to accomplish with the business? What are your personal goals? Consider the amount of freedom you are seeking. Set an income target for your personal needs.
  • Identify a passion or interest: Businesses can fail because the owner losses interest. A lifestyle has a higher chance of succeeding because the owner is passionate about the business or purpose. People tend to excel at their passion because they tend to spend more time on the topic because they enjoy it.
  • Find a problem that needs to be solved: The business is likely to have more customers for your business if you offer them an option to solve a problem. People should be willing to pay for the problem’s solution.
  • Decide on the business: After assessing the items above, you should have a good idea of what type of business to buy or start. Put together a business plan to help execute the strategy.
  • Execute on the plan: Now is the time to execute your business plan. If you are going to purchase a lifestyle business and need help, there are many resources available to help with the purchase process. If you are going to start the business, begin by establishing the business. You may need to purchase inventory and begin to target clients.

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Mid-Management: Dreams of Owning a Business

Have you always dreamt of owning your own business? What about having your boss’ job? If you are in management and in a privately owned company, it might be possible for you to be the boss and the owner one day. However, many mid-level managers do not know how to accomplish their dream of owning a company that currently employs them. The good news is that your dream can become a reality.

One of the challenges of transitioning from an employee to a business owner is thinking like a business owner. As an employee, your manager/owner provides guidance, and often you may not question the guidance. As a business owner, you make all the decisions, set goals, and create a plan that will drive the future of the company. Then, you will be the one that has to drive and financially fund the vision. Yes, you will develop mentors around you, but as a business owner, you are the one that benefits and suffers from the positive and negative outcomes of your decisions.  

While you may work long hours currently, be prepared for a more immense workload and additional hours. Employees have a work schedule, and business owners that operate the company do not have work schedules. You are on call 24/7, and it is hard to get away from the business as you always carry that burden with you. Vacations are interrupted and weekends are often spent at the business. However, if you are in a place in your life where you can dedicate the required time, mentally and physically, to the business, the long term pay-off, whether it be financial or time freedom, can be significant.

Interview your owner and shadow him/her if possible. Ask the company owner for insight into their day. Understand the stresses that the business owner deals with daily. Some of the stresses will be confidential, such as employee issues or financial issues, so anticipate that your receiving limited insight.

 

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Then commit to making your dream a reality. Ask the business owner their exit strategy. Some owners may be open to a slow exit where you can purchase the company over a few years, or they may want a clean exit where you have the option to purchase the company immediately and the current owner walks away after a short handover period. Having an introductory conversation about your interest in purchasing the company is going to be important. Once you understand the business owner's personal goals regarding their exit, it will allow you to structure a deal to achieve both parties' goals.

It is important to prepare your financing so you know how much you can afford. This knowledge is key to structuring an offer. The business owner will need to share the information around the business' performance for a bank to underwrite an acquisition. The company's current banker might be a good starting point. After your conversation with the business owner, ask if they would be open to making an introduction to the company’s banker. The banker understands the business and risk as they have underwritten the business previously. Their goal would be to underwrite the business to incorporate the new ownership. 

Be patient and ask for help when needed. Purchasing any business can be an emotional process. If you have never been through the process previously, you may need to seek help from your advisers or hire an experienced buyer side M&A advisor. There are many resources available to you to help with the purchase.

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Understanding Working Capital

Working capital, also referred to as net working capital, is the measure of a company's liquidity, operational efficiency, and short-term financial status. It is the difference between a business’s current assets, its inventory of materials and goods, and its existing liabilities. Net operating working capital is the difference between current assets and non-interest-bearing current liabilities. Typically, they are both calculated similarly, by deducting current liabilities from the current assets. So, essentially, if a business’s current assets total $500,000 and its current liabilities are $100,000, then its working capital is $400,000. But there are a few variations on the calculation formula based on what a financial analyst wants to include or exclude:

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Reasons For Optimism In An Uncertain Oil & Gas Market

In December 2020, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told CNBC's Hadley Gamble that American shale producers should be concerned about their industry's future.[1] Secretary Brouillette stated: “…there are some in Congress who are going to drive a climate policy that's going to be very aggressive. So there may be a concern on the part of those folks, I know the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) movement is very strong.” Secretary Brouillette also added that, “The investment money may become a bit more difficult to get,” and, “Those are all policies where we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this new Congress.”

While it may be politically convenient for those in a Republican administration to criticize their incoming Democratic successors, oil and gas investors should be hesitant to trust outgoing bureaucrats' economic analyses. Reasons for investor optimism can be found in past administration precedents' realities, current stakeholder adaptions, and the future uphill battle facing any reforms backed by President Joe Biden and his cabinet.

Obama-Biden Administration Precedents

For more than a decade, President Barack Obama’s Democratic party was conveniently used as the boogeyman for Republican politicians’ intent on gaining the favor of oil and gas companies and investors. However, in retrospect, the Obama administration—which included then-Vice President Biden—was a far greater friend to the industry than most pundits speculated. That administration’s treatment of the industry can be a useful precedent for setting appropriate expectations for the Biden administration’s treatment of the industry.

Obama’s tendency to favor working with the energy industry rather than to impede it led to drastic and unexpected results.[2] By the end of his two terms in office, natural gas had realized a massive uptick in both production (a 35% increase) and consumption (a 19% increase). In December 2015, Obama threatened to veto the North American Energy Infrastructure Act, which would have repealed 40-year-old oil export bans.[3] This would ultimately prove to be posturing for political negotiations, as Obama would go on to approve the export of U.S. crude by signing the 2016 omnibus budget just weeks later.[4] The Obama-Biden administration also loosened restrictions on LNG exports. Under their administration, the U.S. Department of Energy approved 24 LNG export licenses and denied none.[5]

This unexpectedly moderate approach by Obama can be accredited to two primary domestic policy issues: national security and climate change. Commentators frequently constrain their negative analyses of oil and gas's future with a reminder that domestic energy independence remains an important consideration in national security. While debate exists on whether American “energy independence” could indeed ever exist given the reality of American import trends, regulations on the industry will continue to be tied to deliberations on the country's reliance on foreign producers.

The second factor in the Obama-Biden administration's relatively moderate industry regulation was, surprisingly, climate change concerns. In particular, Obama's unexpected friendship towards natural gas has been credited to his administration’s belief that natural gas could assist in mitigating climate change. Forbes wrote in 2019 that President Obama, “supported natural gas as an essential strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by displacing coal and also backing up intermittent wind and solar power.” His treatment of LNG exports ultimately proved consistent with President Donald Trump's treatment of the natural gas industry. At a press conference in early 2019, Dr. Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, stated that over the past decade, “the emissions reduction in the United States has been the largest in the history of energy.”[6] Standing by his side at this press conference—which essentially credited the energy policy continuity of Obama/Trump with this success—was Trump’s own Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry.

 

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Stakeholder Adaptions in the Face of Progressive Policy Initiatives

Secretary Perry’s comments in that same press conference are indicative of what the private sector has worked to accomplish while operating under burgeoning public pressure to address climate change concerns. He stated that, “without carbon capture, any planned climate target is impossible to meet.” Carbon capture, commonly referred to as carbon capture and storage (CCS), uses technology to capture the release of carbon dioxide during fossil fuel usage. After capturing the gas, operators transport it to an underground storage facility. The method has become an increasingly popular solution amongst producers to manage emissions and mitigate environmental damage.

While elected officials continue to negotiate and posture on broad regulatory changes like the Green New Deal, private sector stakeholders are already acting to appease investors and the general public. While some in the industry may complain of the costs associated with mitigating environmental damage, industry leaders are exploring and embracing new climate-friendly technologies as a necessary pivot to maintain vitality. Dr. Vijay Swarup, Vice President for Research and Development at ExxonMobil, stated, “breakthroughs like the deployment of carbonate fuel cells at power plants are essential for reducing emissions, while at the same time increasing power generation and limiting costs to consumers.”[7] ExxonMobil developed those carbonate fuel cells in partnership with FuelCell Energy, Inc. as a tool for capturing CO2 during the CCS process.

Integrating alternative energy into existing operations has also proved to be a successful survival strategy for oil producers. Chevron announced in July 2020 that it would make a major investment in renewable energy plants to power its oil production facilities in the Permian Basin and abroad.[8] This was by no means the first investment by a major player to test such a production structure. ExxonMobil made a similar investment in 2018, purchasing 500 megawatts of wind and solar power in Texas. And Chevron had already run a pilot program by purchasing a smaller amount of West Texas wind energy to power some of its operations, as well.

At the time of their 2020 purchase, Chevron spokesperson Veronica Flores-Paniagua wrote: "What has changed is the cost of wind and solar power, which is becoming more competitive, and the technology, which has also progressed substantially. This makes opportunities to increase renewable power in support of our operations a feasible option for reliability, scale, and cost-effectiveness."

Ultimately, each producers’ bottom line will determine whether such ventures into renewables are sustainable. But while producers find creative ways to appease shareholders and adapt, any future inhibiting regulatory actions still face significant challenges to be enacted.

Political & Legal Hurdles for Biden Energy Regulations

On January 20, 2021, former Vice President Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Some experts predict his administration will bring major regulatory changes for the oil and gas industry to appease his own Democratic party's growing progressive subsection. Others are more hesitant, noting the relatively moderate nature of his cabinet selections and campaign pledges to refrain from banning fracking.[9]

Most onlookers, experts or not, expect some energy-related regulatory changes. Among the most common expected policy shifts is a ban on new fracking on federal lands. This led to a mass fire sale by former President Trump’s Bureau of Land Management, auctioning off parcels of land in various parts of the United States to accelerate drilling before the change in administrations. Producers are gearing up for a fight, both in the courtroom and in the eyes of the public. Mike Sommers, Chief Executive of the American Petroleum Institute (API), told Reuters in November 2020 that API would “use ‘every tool at its disposal’ including legal action” to prevent restrictions by the Biden administration.

Potential regulations and green initiatives could go either way in reaching Biden's desk for a signature. Republicans, who are historically more friendly to the oil and gas industry, hold 50 Senate seats, but with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, they are formally the minority party. President Biden has already signed an executive order revoking the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, a move which many experts in the U.S.’ Permian Basin are optimistic about for those in West Texas as it reduces direct competition to those producers.

Conclusion

While fears on the future of oil and gas have merit and can be validated by recent trends, production will not cease for the foreseeable future. If Biden's administration reflects the values of the Obama administration, things may not be as negative as has been suggested. Within the oil and gas industry, private stakeholders have already spent the better part of a decade learning to adapt and continue production through carbon capture and storage methods. And any future regulations will face difficulties every step of the way, with major players vowing to fight tooth and nail to defend the industry. Investors should proceed with caution, but there is still room for optimism and opportunities for growth and success into the near future.

Sources: 

[1] CNBC 

[2] Forbes 

[3] Reuters 

[4] Investor's Business Daily 

[5] Lexology 

[6] Oilprice.com 

[7] ExxonMobil 

[8] GTM

[9] API

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Why You Should Consider Private Equity

How Private Equity Works

Private equity firms raise financing from institutions and individuals and then invest those funds into the buying and selling of businesses. Once a pre-specified amount is raised, the fund closes to new investors and is liquidated. All of the fund’s businesses are sold within a set timeframe that is typically less than ten years. The more successfully a PE firm’s funds perform, the better its ability to raise money in the future.

PE firms do accept some limitations on their use of investments under fund management contracts, such as the size of any single business investment. Once the money has been committed, investors have nearly zero control over its management, unlike a public company’s board of directors. 

The leaders of the companies within a private equity portfolio are not members of the PE firm’s management. Private equity firms control its portfolio companies through representation on the boards of those companies. It is common for a PE firm to ask the CEO and other business leaders in their portfolios to invest personally. This offers a way to ensure their level of commitment and motivation. In return, the operating managers can get significant rewards that are linked to profits when the company is sold.

With large buyouts, PE funds usually charge investors a fee of around 1.5 to 2 percent of assets under management, plus 20 percent of all profits (subject to achieving a minimum rate of return). Fund mostly profit through capital gains on the sale of portfolio companies.

How Private Equity Improves Value

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