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Businesses Are Just Like Classic Cars

Anyone who owns or has owned a classic car will attest that it’s a very special relationship and one not dissimilar to owning a business.

Classic cars and businesses are assets that relatively few have the privilege of owning, they take time to build or acquire, have personality, and generally represent a sizeable investment and very personal commitment for anyone.

At the outset of these relationships, our perceptions of what the experience will be like is dominated by excitement, passion and it is often a journey we have spent many years planning and saving for. The risks have been calculated and monetised yet despite knowing that as physical or metaphorical assets they do break, and cost money, we have an ingrained belief we’ll get through it and that value that will accumulate with time.

It is inevitable, unless one is fortunate enough to be able to pay a premium price for a pristine model, that the early stages of these ownership journeys are characterised by a series of unfortunate discoveries - usually requiring us to roll up our sleeves and invest both time and money to rectify. It’s something we readily do as this beast is now a part of us and with ownership comes responsibility.

Like classic cars, business ownership takes us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions that range from pride and joy to anger and despair. One faces a multitude of risks from accident to theft and even the collapse of a market for it. The sacrifices can be significant, yet from the outside others often perceive us as merely lucky and in viewing the finished product, do not have insight or appreciation for the all-consuming toil, sunk and personal cost that it has taken to get to this point.
 
 
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Driving the old stag was not possible without being approached by somebody wanting to acquire the car and whilst they’d all expressed an interest to buy, it was once the door to such a discussion was opened that they divert the negotiation from their motive and start to approach the transaction from a purely clinical perspective. It is at this point buyers begin quoting market-related metrics seeking to mitigate the risk of what will be their investment. Simply put, such an approach is common in business too as a seller the future value potential and emotional attachment can often outweigh the immediate cash consideration but yet we also fail to see the other side and balance the risk to a buyer. It is for this reason that the intangible benefits of a deal are often larger considerations than the price attributed.

Selling a classic car is a difficult decision. It marks the end of a very personal relationship and what has been an emotional journey - for some, it can be a process as difficult as picking a spouse for one of our kids might be. Price becomes important as it measures the worth we attribute to it, and the reward for the investment or sacrifices made. Equally, however in finding the right person who we can trust to nurture, protect, improve and care for our treasure, we’re achieving a value beyond compensation.

Central to the decision to sell a classic car is always the consideration of “what next”. If the transaction facilitates the acquisition of a more prized possession or the freedom to pursue a long-sought ambition, the decision becomes more palatable. The similarity in selling a business is that it is vital to plan for what comes next. For example, in the case of retirement, it’s key to have something to retire to, as opposed to from.

It is a commonly expressed view that anything is for sale at a price, but committing to the prospect of a sale is a fundamentally different process to being available to be bought. Knowing your asset, the buyer’s next best alternative, and the adventure you’d pursue next are all key to a successful outcome. Whilst experience, financial, analytical, and other corporate finance skills are minimum requirements for an advisor, someone who’s been there, done it, and who intimately understands the internal conflicts only a business owner experiences can certainly add value in navigating this journey.
 

Author
Andre Bresler
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +27 (0) 21 300 2055
E: bresler@benchmarkintl.com

 

 

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Valuing Companies – 7 Pointers From 30 Years’ Experience in the UK

Nick Hulme (Managing Director, Manchester UK) summarises his recent article, ‘7 Pointers from 30 Years’ Experience in the UK’, in this short blog.

1 - It’s Not Just About the Numbers!
Although the normal formula for valuing a company involves multiplying ‘earnings’ by a chosen ‘multiple’, a company is only worth what a buyer is prepared to pay for it.


The numbers are important, of course, but there may be more to the opportunity than the numbers show. Advisers need to take a ‘bird’s eye view’ and focus on those factors that will drive the highest value with the right buyer, not just on the numbers.


They should constantly focus their conversations and analyses on the opportunity, despite the maze of numbers that fly around.

2 – ‘Multiples’ are a Minefield
Desktop research, comparisons to quoted P/E ratios and the considered views of trusted advisers can create a myriad of distortions as to what might be the correct multiple for a company.


It’s easy to see how factors such as growth, a great management team, high margins and, nowadays, tech-enablement will not only deliver the best multiples but add to that the impact of both competitive tension and structure. Any first-time seller could quickly have their heading spinning.


Benchmark International’s Valuation Matrix is a great tool for showing clients a range of valuation scenarios based on different multiples and views of earnings. This is used to educate clients from the start, and to hand-hold them to making the right decisions when the time comes. It is normally updated throughout the process.

3 – There’s More to Earnings than Reported Profits
Getting a real understanding of underlying earnings will be far more important to any buyer than what’s recorded in the company’s annual accounts.


The term we use in the UK for a fair assessment of sustainable adjusted earnings is ‘Maintainable Earnings’. This will often take account of the adjustment of shareholder salaries to market rates and the elimination of true one-off costs.


Care needs to be taken when adding back depreciation. If there is a significant cash cost to a business of replacing its assets annually, a buyer will factor this cost into its assessment of maintainable earnings if adding-back depreciation.


The terms ‘Adjusted EBITDA’ (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) and ‘Historical EBITDA’ are often used interchangeably with Maintainable Earnings. I much prefer the latter as it’s a better reflection of the numbers and the story behind them, and is not laden with reference to the past.  


4 – You Can’t Add the Value of Company Assets to the Valuation
If assets are truly ‘surplus’ to the company’s operations then perhaps they can be added to the valuation, but if they are fundamental to the company’s ability to generate its earnings, adding them to the valuation would be double counting. As would be attaching a value to ‘goodwill’. Buyers tend not to be too fond of this!


The most common ‘surplus asset’ we deal with in the UK is what we refer to as ‘free cash’, the opposite of which is debt. It’s much easier for clients to understand why ‘free cash’ can be added to the valuation than it is for them to understand why ‘debt’ needs to be deducted. There are a couple of easy ways to explain to clients in the article itself.

5 – Complex Deal Structures Can Cloud Valuations
A buyer can make what looks to be a great offer but understanding how the deal is structured - when and how the money is paid – makes all the difference.


The most common types of ‘structure’ in the UK are vendor loan (or defcon, where some of the consideration is paid over time), earn-out (where future payments are made depending on performance) and retained shareholdings (where the seller might keep a stake in the company or in its new owner).


‘Structure’ is generally used to bridge the gap between seller and buyer views of valuation and a buyer’s ability to fund a deal. It’s rare to see offers for companies that don’t include at least some element of structure, so issues such as buyer credit status, interest and security are key.

6 - Beware Valuations Based on Net Asset Value (NAV)
On rare occasions, particularly with companies where expensive assets are fundamental to their operations, the value of the company’s ‘net assets’ in the accounts is higher than a fair valuation derived using the normal formula. This can create an illusion of higher valuation for some clients, especially when some experts produce articles listing three, four or more ways of valuing a company.


This does not mean sellers can find the valuation basis that gives the highest valuation and expect to be able to market their company on that basis. Whatever the size of a company’s overall net assets value, its market value will almost always be more closely linked to earnings and cash flow than the size of its balance sheet. That’s not to say we don’t do deals based on net asset valuations plus ‘something for goodwill’, but they are rare.

7 – Clients Often Know Enough Already
Sellers will normally know enough about their own company to make an informed assessment of how their company might be valued in their market, so advisers should hone-in on these instincts.

Any questions, please read the full article here.

 

Author
Nick Hulme
Managing Director
Benchmark International

T: +44 (0) 161 359 4400
E: Hulme@benchmarkintl.com

 

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