Selling your business is a paramount moment in your life. It’s something you absolutely want to get right so that you can extract the most value out of the deal—and so that you are protected from being swindled by a savvy buyer. It also takes a great deal of time and energy to sell a company, which can be rather difficult to spare when you are trying to focus on running a business. Most people simply do not have this time, energy, connections, or expertise that is required to put their company on the market. This is where the importance of an experienced M&A advisor comes in. By partnering with an M&A expert, they handle all the details of a deal, including due diligence, negotiations, marketing, vetting, and ensuring that you get the most value for your business. They also know how to navigate bumps in the process, and manage the expectations of all parties involved.READ MORE >>
Benchmark International proudly announces that our Managing Partner Kendall Stafford, from our Texas office, has been named Best Mid-Market Financial Services Business Leader 2021 by the 2021 Influential Businesswoman Awards, hosted by Acquisition International.
The winners' selection is made using careful analysis of the panel's final shortlist, as well as anything else that their internal research team learned while doing their online and public due diligence. In addition, the nominee must demonstrate a high level of excellence and work ethic within their chosen field, with their dedication to innovation, commitment, and business development taken into account.
The awards are based solely on merit and not the number of votes that a nominee receives or their financial stature, offering a level playing field for individuals to showcase their talents and achievements.
The Benchmark International team congratulates Kendall on this well-earned commendation, as this isn't the first time she has been recognized as one of the best in the business. "This award confirms everything that we already know about Kendall—that she is a true leader with a unique vision that helps to keep our firm on our trajectory of success and innovation," said Global CEO Gregory Jackson.
Benchmark International is pleased to announce that our chairman Steven Keane has been named Best International Chairman of the Year by the 2021 Global 100, which is comprised of the world’s leading firms and individuals with votes from global readers in more than 163 countries.
The purpose of the Global 100 is to provide its readers with a complete picture of the world’s true global leaders within their areas of specialty. The unique process follows a very strict format of self-submission and third-party nomination, with the winners then shortlisted based on a highly comprehensive set of criteria. The judging process assesses:
- The strategic nature of work conducted
- The complexity of work conducted
- The scale of work conducted
- Whether it was done in a timely manner and within budget
- Any groundbreaking or innovative processes used
In their own words, the Global 100 provides “a benchmark of the very best of the best industry leaders, exemplary teams, and distinguished organizations.”
Our team proudly congratulates Steven Keane on earning such esteemed recognition, which is well deserved. Global CEO Gregory Jackson said, “With Steven’s outstanding leadership, Benchmark International is strongly positioned to continue to thrive and reach new milestones. This acknowledgment is further validation of how our dedication to being the very best in the business is a philosophy that permeates all levels of our team from the top down.”
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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.
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.READ MORE >>
The last time we saw leveraged buyouts (LBOs) occur with such frenzied speed and spending, it was during the years of 2006 and 2007, right before the financial crisis of 2008. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, interest rates remain low, and many business owners forced into survival mode are seeking exit opportunities. Plus, private equity firms are more than ready to spend the record levels of cash on which they have been sitting for quite some time.READ MORE >>
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.
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.READ MORE >>
Benchmark International is pleased to announce that their client, a vehicle patrol security company in select neighborhoods to both residential and commercial properties on the West Coast, sold to Patrol Protect Secure, Inc (PPS).
- The acquisition was PPS’s fourth investment in the U.S. security industry. The value of this addition to PPS includes:
- Partnering with a long-tenured, energetic management team will be a force multiplier for the PPS team.
- Expanding the geographic footprint to include the West Coast market.
- The company’s vehicle patrol services are staffed by off-duty law enforcement officers, a segment of the security market where we have had much success, driven by market demand and the desire to staff armed functions with highly-trained law enforcement officers.
- The partnership provided ongoing leadership roles and opportunities for its management team while allowing one of the leaders to take a step back and transition into a part-time role, consistent with his goals.
PPS is backed by Sunlake Capital LLC and Mangrove Equity Partners. Despite challenges presented by COVID-19, Mangrove and Sunlake Capital worked closely with this add-on and Benchmark International’s transaction team to close the transaction with a straightforward structure.
Sunlake Capital LLC is a private investment firm focused on flexible, long-term investments in family and entrepreneur-owned companies with a sustainable competitive advantage. With diverse capital relationships, Sunlake is able to devote its resources to the operations and strategy of its portfolio of businesses. The firm further differentiates itself through its long-term investment style, unique management partnership approach, and focus on industries and situations often under-served by the private equity community.
Mangrove Equity Partners is a private equity fund in the lower middle market that leverages its extensive experience creating solutions and getting deals done. Mangrove’s four-person internal operating team allows them to work through the complexity and help the owner/operators build enduring value. Mangrove has completed 140+ deals in 60+ industries.
Kendall Stafford, Benchmark International Managing Partner, commented, “We are very excited for our client and the team at PPS, Sunlake Capital, and Mangrove Equity. Based on our client’s goals and the buyer’s position in the market, our team anticipated that there could be a strong fit between the various companies. We discussed the acquisition with the acquirers before going back. Once we went to market and our client had additional options for potential acquirers, it was clear that the cultural fit between the parties and the deal being offered was a great solution for our client.”READ MORE >>
Many business owners are already aware of the myriad loan programs offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The lower market is saturated with buyers who frequently and successfully turn to the SBA for financing a transaction. For all its benefits, however, the SBA’s maximum check size can prove restrictive in how much a company can sell for. Additionally, the SBA requires that sellers exit their business within one-year post-close, which can shut out sellers who want to be part of the company for a longer period and watch it grow.
To bridge the gap between buyers and the broader market of sellers, the SBA created a robust, multi-billion dollar lending program designed to motivate the acquisition of lower-middle market companies. To meet their objective, the SBA began licensing a new class of buyers: the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC).
SBICs are committed-capital funds that start by raising money from limited partners before deploying it via a series of investments in lower-middle market companies with less than $6 million in net income and at least 51% of their employees in the United States. These investments can come in the form of either debt financing or straight equity purchases, with the latter being commonly used to help SBICs build a portfolio of companies that they own and help operate on a day-to-day basis.
The traditional SBA loan instrument is famous for providing buyers with up to $4.5 million in debt financing on the condition that buyers lose access to other important transaction instruments, such as seller notes, earnouts, and equity rollovers. Commercially speaking, these instruments typically play a major role in facilitating transactions by providing a more equitable outcome for all parties involved. Losing access to these instruments can, at times, interfere with deal completion. Unlike SBA loan-based buyers, SBICs have access to debt up to $175 million for the purposes of acquiring companies and have comparatively few limitations on other tools that help get a deal done. As a result, SBICs experience superior flexibility in pushing a deal over the final ten-yard line. Sellers are likely to be better compensated for their companies and on more mutually acceptable terms. The low cost of debt associated with SBICs translates to more cash on their balance sheet post-close—leaving more cash available for growth, fostering a stronger buyer-seller relationship, and helping to secure the seller’s legacy.
The success of SBICs goes beyond financial capacity, however. To become a licensed SBIC, its founders must undergo SBA scrutiny that will question their experience, background, industry knowledge, and fortitude to run an investment firm—which is a much higher barrier to entry than is faced by many buyers. Furthermore, the incentive to help their acquisitions succeed is heightened for an SBIC because, if they make poor choices, they will not only have to deal with angry shareholders but also will face ramifications from the SBA. As a result, starting an SBIC can be as difficult as opening a federally chartered bank. A final, critical requirement for becoming a licensed SBIC is that the founders must have significant experience either investing in or running small business investments; meaning, as buyers, an SBIC manager is more likely to relate to the daily highs and lows associated with running a company and can provide valuable insight based on lived experience.
When it comes to selling your business, choosing the right buyer is crucial. If you’re looking for someone to take your company to the next level, to help it grow, to set you up for a better exit, then the capabilities of an SBIC are hard to match.
According to the SBA, top brands such as Under Armour, Chipotle, Staples, and Apple benefited in their youth from SBIC funding. If your small business meets the eligibility requirements for an SBIC investment, this buyer class could substantially improve your company’s growth and help build a strong, recognizable brand.READ MORE >>
Growing a company once it has reached a certain plateau of success can be challenging. Mergers and acquisitions are a powerful tool for boosting the growth of an existing company—especially cross-border M&A. As a business owner, you should consider the different ways your company can benefit from an international deal.READ MORE >>
Timing the sale of a company can certainly be a tricky decision. You don’t want to sell too soon, and you don’t want to sell too late either. In both scenarios, you risk leaving money on the table if the timing isn’t right. So what is a business owner to do?READ MORE >>
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.
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.
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A Seller’s Market Versus a Buyer’s Market
In a seller's M&A market, excess demand for assets that are in limited supply gives sellers more power when it comes to pricing. Such demand can be generated and galvanized by circumstances that include a strong economy, lower interest rates, high cash balances, and solid earnings. Other factors that can instill confidence in buyers—leading to more bidders willing to pay a higher purchase price—include strong brand equity, significant market share, innovative technology, and streamlined distributions that are difficult to emulate or recreate from scratch.READ MORE >>
Any company sale process features numerous factors outside of the seller's control. These include the overall state of the economy, finance market behavior, and advancements within specific industries. Most sellers do not fully appreciate that taking the time to thoughtfully prepare a company for its own sale is one of the biggest opportunities to exert control in the process. This opportunity should not be missed.
In business, thinking long-term is crucial – if the overall goal revolves around an exit, business owners need to take advantage of their ability to shape and polish their companies in a way that will ultimately increase their chances of a successful exit. Preparation is key and when a sale is being contemplated, timing is essential. The earlier sellers start preparing, the higher their chances of finding the right buyer and successfully exiting. Ultimately, owners that plan and take enough time to address small issues/details make their businesses more attractive to both financial and strategic acquirers.
Typically, it is not feasible to make radical changes to the nature of a business, product line, or management structure just before a sale, so conducting an internal review is generally the most time- and cost-effective approach – and one that gives sellers the best chance to maximize value. Below is a summary of key items for review prior to your sale process.
- Financials – Getting your company's financials in good shape is essential and will ultimately facilitate getting a deal through each stage of the process smoothly. Choosing adequate accounting principles and standardizing monthly, quarterly, and annual statements (P&L, Cash Flow, and Balance Sheet) typically ensures businesses are valued fairly. Being able to show strong performance credibly – and present long-term sustainability – is essential.
- Litigation – If possible, sellers should settle all litigation before coming to market. Litigation is simply part of doing business, and buyers understand that. However, any more serious or particularly risky legal disputes will present an element of perceived risk and should be dispatched prior to the sale process.
- Online Presence – Investing in sharpening the company's website and overall online presence is often a worthwhile use of time and resources when contemplating a sale. Consider developing and regularly updating the company's website. Be sure to announce company "wins," partnerships, contracts, and milestones on social media platforms. Prospective buyers will most likely access every available platform when engaging in purchasing activities; the more quality information they find, the better.
- Management – In most cases, the Owner/CEO's leadership, relationships, and practices were key contributors to the business's overall success. When looking for the best deal, sellers must convince buyers that the stream of sales/earnings will remain unchanged (or, even better, grow) after they are no longer behind the wheel. This can be done by elaborating a succession plan (hiring/grooming a number two to take the Owner's position) and delegating critical tasks/functions of the business to members of the team that will remain with the company post-acquisition.
Although the preparation period requires time and resources, by putting the effort in early, sellers can best leverage their companies’ overall position when entering the market. The chance of a successful transaction increases proportionately as time and effort are invested into preparation. When the business is fully prepared for a sale, all parties win, and the process usually runs most smoothly.READ MORE >>
As the owner of a Software as a Service (SaaS) company, there are several strategic steps you can implement in order to drive growth and maximize the value of your business.
1. Expand GeographicallyREAD MORE >>
Benchmark International’s client Sunbelt Waterproofing & Restoration, a Dallas-based commercial waterproofing, building restoration, and roofing company, has successfully obtained growth capital from Northaven Capital Partners in Dallas, Texas allowing the management team to pursue their growth plan.
Sunbelt Waterproofing & Restoration provides complete waterproofing services for commercial and independent contractor clients throughout Texas and parts of Oklahoma. It also includes restoration and maintenance services for commercial buildings and new construction projects. With over five decades of experience in solving unique structural and waterproofing problems, Sunbelt has proven it can provide outstanding and affordable quality solutions.
Northaven Capital Partners is an operationally focused firm investing in lower middle market companies with strong potential for growth. They focus on collaborative partnerships with experienced, driven, and ethical management teams to build alignment and drive value. Their principals have deep experience as operators across various industries from early-stage to multi-billion-dollar enterprises. Northaven Capital has a long-term investment horizon to support meaningful, long-term growth.
Benchmark International proved its value in finding a partner with experience in the industry through its proprietary multi-medium marketing strategies. In addition, Benchmark International incorporated several campaigns with local, regional, and national associations.
Transaction Director Amy Alonso commented, “We are excited to watch our client continue to grow their business with a new partner. Our client has obtained growth capital allowing the management team to grow and provide a great working environment for its employees. On behalf of Benchmark International, we are excited to see continued success for both companies now and in the future.”READ MORE >>
Benchmark International’s client Houston Crating, Inc., a Houston, Texas-based Specialty Export Crating & Packing Company, has successfully sold to MEI Rigging & Crating.
Established by Ray Lubojasky in 1994, Houston Crating, Inc., a provider of crating and export packing services to the energy and logistics industries.
The seller stated regarding the process, “I have been very satisfied with Benchmark’s excellent service throughout this sales process, and I appreciate the hard work and professionalism offered by the Benchmark team.”
MEI Rigging & Crating, a portfolio company of Dorilton, was founded in the early 1990s and has grown to one of the largest providers of rigging, machinery moving, millwrighting, mechanical installation, commercial storage, crating, and export packing services in the US. With thousands of customers served, over 30 years of experience, and ten locations across the country, MEI is driven by its corporate vision of excellence, market leadership, and enduring value. MEI has a growing team of over 450 employees in 10 offices across the United States.
Dorilton is a private investment firm that invests in businesses across a range of industry sectors, working in partnership with management to grow value over the long term. By providing funding and expertise to drive growth, Dorilton helps its companies and their people achieve their full potential.
Dan Cappello, the CEO and President of MEI, made the announcement: “We are delighted to grow the MEI-Houston team and enhance our service offering through this combination. MEI and HCI have performed joint work on customer projects in the past, and we see HCI’s professional approach and focus on safety as a great fit with our organization.”
Transaction Director Amy Alonso commented on the transaction, “We enjoyed working with Houston Crating to achieve a successful outcome on behalf of our client. Our client had several offers to choose from but felt that MEI was the best fit for the company, its employees, and its customers. We continue to see strong demand for acquisitions within the exporting and logistics space and have several bidders on standby. We hope that integration goes smoothly for the companies and look forward to seeing the combined companies have a strong future.”
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Benchmark International is pleased to announce that TMI Electrical Contractors, Inc. has successfully restructured as an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan).
TMI Electrical Contractors, Inc. is a full-service licensed electrical contractor headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, servicing commercial, industrial, and residential clients.
Mark Gillespie, President of TMI Electrical Contractors, Inc., added: “TMI initially engaged Benchmark to explore exit strategy options. We worked with numerous potential groups while weighing the pros and cons of an internal restructuring and ultimately decided that an ESOP was the best route for not just our exit, but the wellbeing of the business and its employees long-term. I would like to thank Neal, Jonathan, Tyrus, and the Benchmark team for their professionalism and assistance through the ESOP process and their contribution to an overall successful result.”
Regarding the deal completion, Tyrus O’Neill, Managing Partner of Benchmark International, stated: “Mark and the team at TMI are a fantastic group and we’re excited to see them take the ESOP path. It was a pleasure working with them through the process and we wish them nothing but the best moving forward.”
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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.
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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Benchmark International is pleased to announce the acquisition of Richmond, Virginia-based Harryco LLC by Silverbridge Capital.
Harryco is a mental health organization that provides a variety of personal, group counseling, and mental health services to children, adolescents, adults, and their families. Harryco was founded in 2009 by Dr. Harold Watkins as a small mental health organization offering intensive in-home counseling services to children and adolescents. The company has since grown operations to four cities and counties in Virginia and now provides a full range of community support services to a wide set of patients.
Silverbridge is a New Jersey-based private equity firm with investments in mental health and other patient-centered healthcare organizations.
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Harryco’s partnership with Silverbridge represents a key next step in the company’s mission to provide best-in-class mental health services to an expanding base of patients. Community leader and Harryco founder, Dr. Harold Watkins, will stay on with the company to continue guiding Harryco during this next phase of growth.
On the acquisition, Dr. Watkins stated, “the Benchmark International team was fantastic throughout this entire process. They did an amazing job as an advocate for me and my company. I would absolutely recommend Benchmark International to anyone in healthcare services considering a sale process.”
Benchmark International Transaction Director William Sullivan commented: “Dr. Watkins is an impressive individual who has built a great organization that serves its communities well. Our team was dedicated to getting a great outcome for him individually and one that would enable his business to partner for continued growth. It was a pleasure working with Dr. Watkins and his team, and we wish him every success moving forward.”
Benchmark International is pleased to announce the transaction between Regatta Real Estate Management Inc (“Regatta”) and Fyve, LLC (“Fyve”).
Founded in 1994, Regatta is a Florida-based business headquartered in Miami. The company is a full-service real estate property management provider specializing in association management, investment property management, and condo conversions. Throughout its operating history, the company has remained focused on the small business, customer service-oriented approach.
Fyve is a nationwide, full-service real estate management solutions company that is redefining the experience for owners, residents, and tenants. Prior to the acquisition, Fyve had 11 locations across six states. With this acquisition, they will be able to reach into the Miami market and expand their Florida operations.
Senior Deal Associate Nick Woodyard at Benchmark International added, “It is always great seeing two companies come together where both parties can substantially benefit. It was a pleasure working with Tim and the Fyve team throughout the transaction. On behalf of Benchmark International, we wish both parties continued success.”
The Covid pandemic has placed us squarely in unprecedented times. We know this is not exactly news at this point. However, counter to the tenor of most pieces you've probably read on the topic during the past 12 months, this one aims to shine some light on one industry that has thrived: The US healthcare market, more specifically, healthcare M&A. Healthcare M&A has generally been a big winner in 2020 and into 2021 and it's happening at both ends of the market.READ MORE >>
As anyone who has ever done it before will tell you, buying a company is a process. It can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years to complete. To reduce uncertainties and understand the business as much as possible, buyers must conduct thorough due diligence and ask the right questions. Finances, potential synergy, liabilities, customer relationships, and key employees are just a few areas that the buyer should consider.
Here are five essential questions buyers should ask during management meetings when acquiring a company.
1. Why is now the best time for you to sell your business?READ MORE >>
In the GAMECHANGERS (ACQ5) 2021 GLOBAL AWARDS, Benchmark International has been named the International Mid-Market Corporate Finance Advisory of The Year.
The ACQ is a leading corporate news publication serving the sector since 2003, with a global audience of more than 261,000 subscribers. The GAMECHANGERS (ACQ5) GLOBAL AWARDS celebrate achievement, innovation and brilliance, recognizing the most outstanding organizations and professionals in the world.READ MORE >>
The acquisition process can understandably be a very daunting task for sellers, let alone an uncomfortable experience that pulls back the curtains on their business and its most intimate information. Many sellers realize this is not their area of expertise and will make the informed decision to contract with a sell-side M&A advisory firm before officially entering the marketplace. The M&A advisory represents the seller, but can function as your ally as a buyer if you let them because they have incentive to get a deal done. Although M&A advisors can guide a seller through the sales process and educate them on market norms, they’re not capable of self-fabricating the comfort level between buyer and seller. Over time, a seller’s relationship with a potential buyer will prove to be most advantageous in getting to the finish line of a transaction, as there will be numerous items both sides will have to work through together. Unfortunately, agreements can fall apart due to a lack of mutual comfort between the buyer and seller, and this is typically a result of a combination of multiple factors set in motion long before official due diligence even began. The following are steps you should consider when working side by side with a seller during the transaction life cycle.READ MORE >>
As a business owner, maybe you haven’t given much thought to selling your company. Or maybe you’ve bounced the idea around but not too seriously. It’s pretty common for business owners to think, “I have years before I plan on selling my business. Why would I worry about that now?” Well, here’s the thing. Life is unpredictable. Just look at how prepared the world was for the COVID-19 pandemic. We think it’s safe to say that no business owner was prepared for that.
But being prepared for the unexpected isn’t the only reason that it is important to have your business in “sale ready” shape at all times, even if you’re not ready to sell. If the company is not in ready condition, it could cost you financially. And it goes beyond that. Always operating your company as if you are ready to sell accomplishes several very beneficial objectives. It ensures that you are operating at peak performance with a focus on profitability at all times, and it helps you avoid being too late to the game to make the necessary changes to be ready to sell. A person’s priorities in life can change quickly or even gradually over a span of years, and you might not have the time to correct any issues that would impact the valuation of your company and, ultimately, its sale price. It’s important to remember that properly preparing a company to go to market can take years. When push comes to shove, if you end up in a situation where you need to sell, not being ready can be a costly mistake.READ MORE >>
The value of a company extends beyond the amount of revenue it generates. As a business owner, you should be monitoring the value of your company at all times, but it is especially important if you are considering exiting or retiring within the next several years, or even up to a decade from now.
Company valuations are based on far more factors than just financial statements and multiples. The process involves the forecasting of the future of the business based on several key value drivers. Sometimes these can be sector-specific, but there are many core drivers that apply to any type of business, as outlined below.READ MORE >>
People like to sound smart on the golf course. It’s one way to distract others from your golf game. Since finance and investing are popular subjects of discourse out on the links, there is always opportunity for high-minded musings on business topics. One evergreen theme revolves around the “M&A cycle.” More specifically: “Where are we in the “M&A cycle?” Is it heading up or down? Is the “M&A cycle” about to end?”
The first question above is an important one, which we will address. The second two—both very common—do not seem to grasp the nature of a “cycle,” or even what a circle looks like. In any case, what precisely makes the topic so endlessly fascinating and useful for the golf course is its totally subjective and nearly nonsensical nature as a framing concept for making buy/sell decisions. If our financial reality were truly an endless loop with defined and unchanging points to exploit around that loop, the cadence of our lives as entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors would certainly look a lot different. We would simply place our bets at certain points at the beginning of each year, later picking them up at different equally obvious points. What a world that would be!
The bad news is that there is no such reliable cycle to lean against. But there is good news for business owners considering an exit or seeking financial partnership:
- There are always opportunities in any market to maximize deal value.
- Companies and sectors can benefit from opportunities during any market conditions.
- The time is, therefore, never simply “right” or “wrong” to bring your company to market.
Let’s look at some of the most common platitudes around the “M&A cycle.”
Platitude #1: An Economic Downturn Will Drive Deal Volumes Down
This might be true on a net basis at the most macro level, but if you’re a business owner or manager contemplating a partnership or exit, that macro perspective is borderline meaningless to you. First, let’s counter this argument with another handy platitude: “There’s always a bull market somewhere.” The key to playing any macro market—whether it is up or down—is to understand where the fast streams lie within that context. No individual business trades as a proxy to the entire market, and during any downturn; for example, there are bullish sectors that offer sellers opportunities to engage buyers at a potential premium.
On its face, while declining deal volumes sound like a negative reality, such circumstances often provide successful companies with higher market visibility as buyers seek a retreat to value in less speculative times. While bull markets have a way of covering all manner of sins from a buy-side valuation perspective (allowing for more risky bets on less fundamentally sound companies), less go-go markets tend to favor higher degrees of prudence. This allows great companies to get second looks and can drive valuation rewards to sell-side companies positioned for consistency, growth, and opportunity capture.
Platitude #2: My Company Won’t Get the Attention It Deserves in a Hot Market
This is basically an opposite concern of that articulated above. The worry here is that when markets are really moving and M&A is up, competition among sellers will drown out great companies, as buyers seek to capture the upside of higher-beta bets. An important thought regarding this opinion: think through who your buyers really are—and how they buy. While it is empirically showable that macro risk-taking increases during a bull market, once again, no single business really operates as a proxy to macro trends, and few discrete buyers are a caricature of the aggregate. There are, for example, numerous family offices and value-oriented funds looking to pick up high-quality small- and medium-sized businesses in all market conditions. These are buyers whose default position is “no” regardless of what others are doing, but who will come to the table ready to transact for real value—no matter what the rest of M&A land is doing during any given period.
Platitude #3: I Need to Wait for the Next Economic Cycle to Bring My Company to Market
This is perhaps the most perplexing assertion that we hear, and it always requires a bit more teasing out. In its purest form, this notion tends to be a distillation of the previous two platitudes—namely, that the time is currently not right to sell (because the market is too hot or too cold) but the time will be right to sell later (because the market will be hotter or colder then). Stepping back, it’s instructive to reflect on what buyers are really seeking in the middle market. Hint: it’s not speculative upside. Rather, middle-market buyers are seeking opportunities to capture value created by successful entrepreneurs who have built great companies with lasting power (and, yes, upside to boot). These qualities are not cycle-dependent, so neither should be your decision to come to market.
A Better Way to Play
Trying to game the notional “M&A cycle” is not a constructive approach to taking your company to market. In all macro market environments, there are excellent opportunities for both buyers and sellers. Maximizing deal value starts with building a thriving, solid company. A thoughtful approach to your exit or partnership is far more critical than theoretical market gyrations to producing a successful outcome.READ MORE >>
The business acquisition process consists of various stages. Taking the broadest view, the process leading up to the close of a transaction typically entails an initial assessment stage, and a more formalized due diligence period during which the buyer often performs a quality of earnings and legal due diligence exercise.
Many business acquirers have enough commercial and financial insight to enable them to evaluate whether they wish to acquire a business during the initial assessment stage and at what price. Prior to transitioning to the more formalized due diligence phase, the parties in an M&A transaction typically agree on a Letter of Intent (LOI). Although it is important to get the LOI right because it essentially lays the foundation on which the transaction should proceed, first-time business buyers are often unnecessarily intimidated by the task of formulating the LOI. Buyers can be generally confident they are taking the right approach to the LOI if they take care to understand the key purpose of the LOI and bear in mind a few simple commercial tips. In fact, when done right, properly crafting an appropriate LOI can help a buyer set themselves apart as a capable buyer, particularly when the seller is receiving multiple offers or there is a formal competitive bid process.
First, it is important to understand the key purpose of the LOI and to realize its scope and limitations. At a high level, the purpose of the LOI is to establish the key commercial terms of the business sale agreement between the parties, and to provide the framework on which the transaction can proceed according to the parties’ agreement. Also, the LOI will serve as the cornerstone document for the lawyers to draft the definitive transaction documents. A helpful LOI will not only specify the commercial agreement between the parties (for example, setting out the purchase price and the types of consideration if there is structure in the deal), but also provide a roadmap for key milestones or conditions to be completed by the parties in order to reach a successful close. The LOI needs to have enough detail to provide an appropriate framework, but it will typically not capture every single transaction detail. Naturally, there is a delicate balance between having enough information to provide a framework on which the deal can proceed, and not being too over detailed so as to prematurely freeze the deal discussions. An ideal LOI should contain enough information to reflect the parties’ agreed commercial terms and also provide a roadmap for the steps to be completed for the transaction to take place.
First-time buyers conducting online research are also often confused by different terminology concerning preliminary acquisition documentation. While there can be certain differences between LOIs, Indications of Interests, Heads of Terms, and Term Sheets (to name a few forms of initial acquisition agreements) depending on the jurisdiction, purpose of the agreement, or stage of a formalized M&A process, these types of documents share a lot of common principles and sometimes serve the same function. In the lower middle-market M&A space in the U.S., the majority of initial acquisition documents are formulated as an LOI.
Letters of Intent can be as short as a single page, or as long as several pages. The length of the LOI, as well as the types of provisions and level of detail in each section, depends on the deal specifics and preference of the parties. At a minimum, most LOIs contain:
- Information about the specifics of the type of proposed transaction (for example, whether the prospective transaction will take the form of a stock or asset deal)
- The purchase price
- Types of consideration if the transaction involves structure
- Conditions to close
- Other commercial or legal provisions the particular parties may wish to specify
Although LOIs are generally commercially viewed as non-binding in nature, buyers and sellers should take care to specify whether any particular provisions of the LOI should remain binding even if the prospective transaction fails to materialize. For example, although a buyer may wish to specify that it is not required to transact a close in the event a condition precedent is not completed, the seller may wish to specify that the buyer will be bound to keep sensitive information learned about the seller’s business confidential even if the transaction is not completed. Specifying which provisions, if any, shall remain binding on the parties can help avoid unnecessary confusion.
While the LOI may be non-binding in nature, this feature should not encourage the buyer (or the seller) to punt difficult or contentious items to a later stage in the transaction if they can be agreed at the LOI stage. Typically, parties best serve transactions when the difficult issues are resolved between them as early as possible. Commercial experience has shown that the parties that try to approach the LOI as if it were “fully binding” and address the difficult or controversial issues upfront are more likely to have a smooth transaction because the tough deal points are sorted earlier in the process. In addition, if it turns out there will be a sticking point between the buyer and seller, it is typically in both parties’ favor to have that issue addressed as soon as possible. If in dealing with the difficult issues an insurmountable deal sticking point is revealed, the buyer will not waste unnecessary time and resources on an unrealistic transaction. This will enable the buyer to more swiftly move on to other potential opportunities potentially enabling them to realize an alternative transaction sooner. Likewise, the seller also benefits from this approach because the sooner a deal stopper is identified, the more time and resources the seller saves compared to wastefully engaging with a buyer who will not acquire the company. Of course, not every deal point can be agreed in final detail at the LOI stage, but as general rule of thumb, addressing the heavy issues as early as possible can help lighten the work later in the transaction process.
Buyers can help themselves avoid an unnecessary deal breakup by understanding the seller’s mindset. In fact, buyers who proactively address points important for the seller in the LOI can build up goodwill towards the seller and help themselves standout as a capable buyer. For example, sellers are typically hesitant to agree on an exclusivity provision in the LOI which prevents the seller from engaging in discussions with other prospective buyers while the signing buyer engages in due diligence. A buyer which, from the outset, proposes an ambitious but realistic due diligence period with a limited exclusivity provision demonstrates an appreciation for the seller’s concerns and exhibits drive to peruse a swift transaction.
Also, savvy sellers understand the LOI will not capture all the details. As a result, sellers are likely to engage in discussions with the buyer about the reasoning and thinking behind the buyer’s provisions in the LOI. Buyers should be familiar enough with their proposed terms to be confident to have a meaningful commercial discussion with the seller. For example, if a buyer offers an exceptionally aggressive price based on limited information about the selling company, the buyer should be prepared to provide details on how they value the company. Otherwise, the seller will be forced to ponder whether the deal is too good to be true and may become unnecessarily overly skeptical. While not every detail needs to be spelled out in the LOI, the buyer’s proposed deal terms need to make sense. For example, if a proposed transaction will involve an earnout component subject to conditions, buyers could better position their offer by providing information on the earnout parameters, including information on how the earnout payment can be achieved.
Bearing these key points in mind should help buyers be less apprehensive about the LOI process. Indeed, the LOI is also often subject to various rounds of markups, so the buyer should be prepared for counter-comments but shouldn’t be shy about starting the negotiating process in writing. It is helpful to put the ideas on paper to allow the parties to focus on the key deal specifics. Putting forth a proper LOI in the first draft will show that you are a professional buyer and will ultimately help set the stage for facilitating a smooth transaction process.READ MORE >>
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.
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.READ MORE >>
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:READ MORE >>
The acquisition process can understandably be a very daunting task for sellers, let alone an uncomfortable experience that pulls back the curtains on their business and its most intimate information. Many sellers realize this is not their area of expertise, and will make the informed decision to contract with a sell-side M&A advisory firm prior to officially entering the marketplace. The M&A advisory represents the seller, but can function as your ally as a buyer if you let them because they have incentive to get a deal done. Although M&A advisors can guide a seller through the sales process and educate them on market norms, they’re not capable of self-fabricating the comfort level between buyer and seller. Over time, a seller’s relationship with a potential buyer will prove to be most advantageous in getting to the finish line of a transaction, as there will be numerous items both sides will have to work through together. Unfortunately, agreements can fall apart due to a lack of mutual comfort between the buyer and seller, and this is typically a result of a combination of multiple factors set in motion long before official due diligence even began. The following are steps you should consider when working side by side with a seller during the transaction life cycle.
Be transparent with your background information in the beginning.
This is a very important first step, and it sets the stage for how trustworthy the seller will perceive you to be going forward. Be prepared to sign an NDA before receiving any confidential information from a seller, as this is a customary measure taken to ensure you bear some level of legal responsibility around any and all sensitive information the seller turns over to you. Understand that the seller is handing over their most private information and they need assurances from you the information will not be used against them by a competitor. With your NDA, make sure to include background information on yourself, your company, your intentions, and your interest in the seller’s business. Take this as an opportunity to highlight your achievements and accomplishments, speak about your goals, and so on. Sell the seller on why they should view it as an honor that you have expressed an interest in their business.
Take advantage of introduction calls.
Once you’ve gotten past the NDA stage, you will receive a small sample size of a seller’s confidential information. The next step should be an introduction call for both parties to get to know one another on a more personal level. These first calls are meant purely to be introductory in nature, and fairly high level, considering this will be your first chance to speak with the seller. Be willing to field a high number of questions from the seller as this presents another opportunity to highlight yourself, your company, your intentions, and your goals. On the contrary, sellers are proud of what they’ve built, and will be more than willing to discuss their company’s history, struggles, achievements, etc., so be sure to keep an open ear when they speak. Ask open-ended questions and build dialogue. One last but very important item to keep in mind is that every seller has a goal they’re looking to achieve by selling their business, and it’s typically more than a specific dollar figure. Some sellers are looking for a full sale to move into retirement, while others are looking for a partner to infuse capital and new growth ideas, among countless other scenarios. Listen closely to a seller’s intentions as they go beyond the monetary value of a transaction.
Make data requests with care.
As you delve deeper into a seller’s business, you will at times need to request additional information. Sometimes information you requested in the past leads you to new questions. Perhaps your review of the previous three years of financial records leads you to want to review the past five years. Or maybe you heard the seller discussing expected growth on your introduction call so you would like to see their proforma for the next year. Regardless, with each passing data request, more questions will arise from a seller as to why you are requesting this information. Make sure to always explain your reasoning behind each request you make for additional information, and always remain understanding of a seller’s sensitivity around releasing confidential information. Sometimes it’s best to facilitate data requests through a sell-side M&A advisory if the seller is using one. This advisor should be viewed as your ally and can assist in explaining market norms regarding data requests to the seller.
Remember the importance of site visits.
At some point, back and forth via email and phone calls will no longer suffice. Take the initiative with a seller to be the first to suggest an in-person meeting. Be prepared to travel to the seller and field your own travel expenses. If the seller suggests meeting halfway, or accommodating you on your visit, consider this an added bonus to you. A site visit presents the greatest opportunity to build further rapport with a seller, and put a name with a face. There will be conversations you can have in-person with a seller that can be more challenging when done virtually. This will also give you the opportunity to potentially see their operations, facility, location, etc., provided that you are meeting at their location. Remember, there could be possible limitations during your visit as the visit may need to be conducted after-hours and you probably will not be afforded the opportunity to meet the company’s employees. Though not necessary prior to a formal offer, a site visit is a very critical piece of the transaction lifecycle, and should never be discounted.
Submitting and negotiating a formal offer.
Once you are comfortable with your knowledge about a seller’s business, you will be in a position to submit a formal offer. Chances are, your first stab at a formal offer will fall short of a seller’s expectations, so don’t take offense, just remain flexible. Always remain willing to work with a seller towards an agreeable offer for both parties, while maintaining respect. Sometimes buyers and sellers can “outfox” themselves by overthinking the presentation and discussion of offers. Try to cut down on gamesmanship and be straightforward with your intentions. Oftentimes, sellers will have questions regarding topics such as your funding capabilities, and timing. Perhaps you might consider listing out deadlines for yourself in a formal offer that will give the seller assurances you will stay on target. These deadlines could involve a maximum number of days to produce a first draft of a purchase agreement, first draft of an employment/transition agreement, proof of funds, and so forth. Lastly, and this goes without saying, always operate in good faith with formal offers, and never enter the official due diligence phase with intentions not clearly defined in the offer you mutually execute with a seller.
Passing on the opportunity.
Unfortunately, not every transaction is meant to happen, and sometimes this cannot be determined until much later in the process. At some point, you as the buyer may decide an opportunity is not going to work for any number of reasons. The seller will want to be informed and understand why you no longer wish to move forward with them. In some scenarios, the seller may already understand, but giving them details as a courtesy is appreciated. Regardless of the reasons, always make an effort to communicate this in detail when walking away from a possible deal. It could prove to be worthwhile to maintain a relationship post discussions as well. Keep in mind, as you go further down the road with a seller, you will become privy to more confidential information, you will build a deeper relationship, and expectations naturally begin to take shape. The level of detail you provide on the reasoning for your pass should always line up with how much time you have spent on the opportunity and working with a seller.READ MORE >>
Maybe you’re not sure if you are ready to sell your business, but you’re curious about what you could learn if you put it on the market. You can always put your company on the market at any time, but you should understand the right way to do it, and everything that you need to consider.READ MORE >>
One of the more complex components of an M&A transaction is a seller’s net working capital, hereinafter referred to as working capital. Working capital is a financial term used as a measurement of a business’s ability to meet its financial obligations over the coming business cycle (typically 12 months). The consideration of working capital is typically performed during the due diligence period. The calculation of working capital requires the assessment of two areas: current assets and current liabilities.
- Current assets are the assets of the business that the owner(s) anticipate using for normal operations within the next business cycle. The most significant components of current assets are typically cash, accounts receivable, and inventory.
- Current liabilities are the obligations of the business that the owner(s) anticipate satisfying within the next business cycle. The most significant components of current liabilities are typically accounts payable, accrued expenses, and the current portion of the business’s debt.
The logic of corporate finance works on the premise that current assets are used to pay off current liabilities. While working capital is not defined under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), it is commonly calculated using this formula:
Working Capital = Current Assets – Current Liabilities
Why does working capital matter?
As previously mentioned, working capital is used as a measurement of a business’s ability to meet its financial obligations over the coming business cycle. Another way to consider working capital is that it is a measure of a business’s liquidity. A liquid business should not have problems meeting its short-term financial obligations if all things remain constant. It is unlikely that the owners of a liquid business will be required to invest additional capital or seek outside financing (e.g., debt) to satisfy the needs of the business in the subsequent 12 months.
How much working capital is the right amount?
If a buyer and seller agreed that $2,000,000 is an acceptable working capital level, and a seller delivers lower working capital to the buyer, then often there is a mechanism in the purchase agreement to lower the purchase price of the business. The reduction would generally be dollar-for-dollar (i.e., each dollar required to get the working capital to an acceptable level will likely lead to a dollar reduction in the amount to be paid to the seller). Conversely, if the working capital is higher than what is agreed on as the acceptable level to provide at closing, then there often would be a dollar-for-dollar increase to the purchase price to the seller.
The letter of intent typically clarifies the buyer’s expectation with regard to the required level of working capital to be left in the business, or the proposed methodology in determining working capital. Often, though, working capital is a point of negotiation up until finalization of the purchase agreement. There are a variety of options for setting the agreed upon working capital, but these are the two most common methods:
- The buyer will want some number of “months” as a cushion. If the business’s total expenses for the year are $1,200,000 and the business will be expected to spend $100,000 per month, then a buyer wanting “three months of cushion” for this business would thus require working capital to be at least $300,000 at closing.
- The buyer will want the working capital to be equal to “historical levels.” Historical levels can be calculated by averaging the working capital on each of the previous 12 months’ balance sheets.
Both methodologies provide a guideline in arriving at an acceptable level as part of negotiation between the buyer and seller. No two businesses or deals are alike, but a company’s working capital—just like the various line items from which it is drawn—are assets of the business and, as such, represent part of what is to be sold.
What can the seller do about working capital?
In the event the seller has his/her mindset on what to exclude when the sale occurs, the seller should work with its professional advisors to determine whether the specific items that could be removed from the proposed working capital terms and how that will impact the deal structure. In doing so, the seller must keep in mind that the specific item may be considered by the buyer as necessary to keep the business generating revenue—and if so, he/she might view the retention by the seller as something having a major impact on valuation. If, on the other hand, the asset is not deemed as useful to provide a reasonable buffer for “months of working capital” or a similar metric, or to be used for a specific business function, and its absence will therefore not impact operations nor require the buyer to invest additional capital into the business, the asset can typically be removed with little effect on valuation.
When addressing working capital, it’s important for the seller to always consider the total cost of the deal to the buyer and the buyer’s perception of the risk associated with the business. This is key area of negotiation, and understanding the different methods to determine working capital and what is important for both the seller and buyer is a critical element to reaching a successful close.
READ MORE >>
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses of all sizes, affecting the value of many of those businesses. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was created by the U.S. government to get businesses through the pandemic, and includes the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is designed to give private businesses access to cash so that they can continue to pay employees and cover other expenses, such as health insurance, rent/mortgages, and utilities, over a 24-week period. The loans contain provisions for forgiveness as long as the company meets certain requirements and certifications. The PPP loan and its associated forgiveness have impacted how company valuations should be determined for the recipients.
For company valuation purposes, there needs to be an understanding of the reasons that the business got the PPP loan. The loan could indicate that the company has been under duress. Because of this, past financial statements may not accurately represent the future of the business.READ MORE >>
Taking your business to market is a very challenging yet rewarding process. Receiving feedback from potential buyers enables you to learn both what specifically attracts buyers to your company and what your business is generally worth. Throughout the process, a valuable lesson learned will be the importance of weighing all potential offers, rather than strictly accepting the highest offer.
Consider the likelihood that the buyer can finance the proposed offer
Having multiple Letters of Intent (LOIs) to compare against each other is a great problem for a seller to have. Each offer is unique and presents different solutions to finance the proposed transaction. However, an LOI is not binding and simply moves you into an exclusive relationship with a buyer for a set period (typically 60-90 days). Deciding to enter an exclusive relationship with this one buyer can affect your perceived value with other serious buyers, should you have to reopen dialogue if the agreed upon LOI does not ultimately close the deal.
A major component in valuing an LOI is the legitimacy of the offer. One buyer may come in and submit an offer that is a percentage higher than that of other buyers. If you agree, spend time working with the buyer, and ultimately learn that the buyer does not have the funds necessary to pay the intended price, you have lost valuable time on market and there is no guarantee the landscape will be the same upon return to market. For example, other buyers that extended an LOI may have moved on, eliminating them as a potential buyer for your company. Effectively, each seller must determine the authenticity of an offer in respect to the time it will need, the resources that must be committed, and the effect it will have on relationships with other buyers.
Deal structures can be valued in many ways
A second characteristic to consider is the structure of the deal. Four broad levers that buyers have in structuring an offer are cash, equity, debt and earnouts. The percentage makeup of each component is a huge aspect of the offer. For example, a seller who values cash upfront may value a $10 million all-cash offer more than a $12 million offer that is split between 50% cash and 50% earnouts based off estimated financial performance post transaction. An earnout structure would be less appealing to that seller due to the uncertainty of achieving the targeted earnout performance and/or the potential for litigation in the period between transaction-close and the earnout’s expiration.
Compatibility with your potential partner
Unless you fully exit your company and receive a full-cash offer, another topic to consider is determining how well the buyer aligns with you and your company. While not always the case, some buyers may state that proposed deals are contingent upon the owner remaining on full time after the sale because they value the owner’s role for a successful transition of ownership. For any deal in which this is the case, you would also need to reflect on whether you are willing to transition from being the manager to being managed.
A buyer’s compatibility with your company also matters when your payout is contingent upon earnouts or a retained equity position. As mentioned in the previous section, funding for the sale can include earnouts. An earnout is a post-closing purchase price payment that is contingent upon the acquired company meeting negotiated performance goals post closing. If your company’s performance post acquisition does not pan out as expected, the earnout expectations may not be met and you would not receive the compensation which was expected at the close of the deal.
Alternatively, if the seller retains an equity position in the company post sale, then there may be a benefit to accepting an offer from a buyer that is not the highest bidder: if that buyer brings a strategic relationship that grows the value of the retained equity position. Oftentimes this strategic relationship manifests itself in operating synergies allowing for expense reductions, new revenue growth opportunities, or additional management expertise.
Financing strength, deal structure, and compatibility are three of many attributes in addition to the final price that must be considered when selling your company. Ultimately, in a process that is so complex and intense, choosing which offer to accept is not quite as simple as accepting the highest offer.READ MORE >>
Strategic partnerships can be game-changers for SaaS (Software as a Service) companies. Sales revenue is clearly of vital importance, but it takes more than just those numbers to make things happen on a larger scale. Relationships are the bedrock of business. If you are looking to drive growth, a strategic partnership can be a very powerful tool to help your company increase its audience, build upon the brand, and tap into new markets. All of this, in turn, can prop up your sales team and boost your overall growth.READ MORE >>
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.” 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.
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.” 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. 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.
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.
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.
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While many founders tend to be their own CEOs, sometimes you do need a little help. If you hire too soon, you waste valuable resources, but if you hire too late, you could be missing vital opportunities to grow. Choosing when to hire a CEO is a tough decision, so if you notice any of the following signs, now may be the right time to hire a small business CEO.
1. Need for More Expertise: As a business owner or founder, you started the business and transitioned it from the planning stage to successful operations. Completing this feat does not always mean that you have strong business expertise. Many times, it means that you have strong experience exclusively in your particular offering. Hiring a CEO with business experience can help your company develop new ideas, execute decisions, and formulate new strategies that will work to drive your bottom line. In some instances, people outside the company will view your business more professionally when a CEO with a background in the industry takes the reigns.
2. Not Your Passion: Even if you possess the ability to run your company, that may not be where your passions lie. If you want to focus on areas of the company, such as client relationships or product development, it may be time for you to hire a CEO. They can handle the business aspects such as operations, marketing, or production, and you can keep your focus on the interests that you enjoy and where you benefit the most for your business.
3. Clarity of Vision: If you observe that your employees seem unclear about the company's operations and goals, it is possible that they would benefit significantly from fresh leadership. A new CEO will serve as the leader for your company, make known company-wide goals, and implement your visions as the owner. This will give your company a united voice through a seasoned executive who has the experience to retain and attract a management team that will contribute to your path of long-term success. Also, a founders’ loyalty to original employees can limit potential. A CEO will evaluate performance and make tough personnel decisions for you that will drive growth.
4. Stagnation: Say you want to expand your business but find that you have to focus too heavily on keeping the company up and running. When there isn't enough time for innovation, this can lead to inactivity and cause your company to stagnate, creating severe problems down the road. A small business CEO allows you to count on them to map out growth strategies and coordinate the vital action needed to help your business scale.
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Once you have decided that you are ready to find a CEO, many organizations specialize in locating and screening the perfect candidate for you. For help in your recruitment process, consider hiring an executive search firm, networking with your professional connections, creating a CEO search committee, and making sure to plan ahead. Applicant Tracking Systems such as Greenhouse, JazzHR, Breezy HR, or Google Hire can help your recruitment process. Finally, be sure to have all of the essential materials on hand to onboard your CEO candidate. Think about including your story, your primary values, and your mission to ensure vision alignment.
When a company is sold, it can have major effects on employees, customers, clients, and suppliers. Uncertainty stokes fear in most people, as they wonder about their security and their futures. Even top management can feel as though they failed at their jobs when the company is being bought out. For these reasons, it is important that the messaging and transition planning is handled very carefully and thoughtfully leading up to an acquisition—especially considering that the majority of acquisitions fall through. Announcing the news too early can cause widespread unrest over a deal that never happens
Communication is everything in this situation, but it needs to be planned. Before announcing a single word about the sale of the company, you should have a solid plan in place. A consistent message is critical and the distribution of the information should be carefully coordinated both internally and externally to avoid misinformation and confusion. Your plan should clearly outline intentions, steps, timelines and how the process will affect all parties. Predetermine what will be conveyed by whom and when. Figure out how to address questions that you are unable to answer and consider all potential scenarios for all parties involved. And always remember how critical confidentiality is during this time. You do not want details leaking to the press before you are ready to go public.READ MORE >>