How 100 minus 90 equals 20

Here’s a story of how 100 – 90 = 20. We recently represented some owners who had lots of options when it came to selling their business. They had a high demand manufacturing operation, and buyers wanted in – offering everything from minority or majority investments to full exit options.

At first, the sellers thought they wanted a full exit, all cash at close. If they were going to give up control, they figured it was best to cash out. But as they continued to talk with potential buyers and partners, they began to consider a majority recapitalization.

In a majority recap, the owners sell a majority interest to investors who provide a cash infusion. The sellers maintain a meaningful minority stake in the business and, typically, continue to manage the “recapitalized” operation.

In this transaction, the sellers got 90% of company value as cash at close, rolling over just 10% of their proceeds into the new company. But because of the debt structure on the new entity, that 10% actually translated into a 20% ownership stake.

A typical model for investment buyers like private equity firms or family offices is to put roughly 50% debt on the new company. This allows them to leverage their equity and generate a better return. Through that debt arrangement, the value of the sellers’ rollover essentially doubled to 20%.

Majority recaps are a way for an owner to diversify their net worth while also getting a strong financial partner who will help grow the business. Typically, these transactions are structured so that the seller (aka the new minority owner) holds no personal guarantees on the debt.

So worst case scenario, if the company goes totally south, they’d only lose that 10%. No one could go after the 90% they already took out of the business. It’s like the seller gets to take their chips off the table and play with the “casino’s money”.

Value today

Business valuations are strong today. Market conditions are such that there are a lot of well-funded buyers out there looking for opportunities. We’re in a seller’s market and people are seeing values trending at or above previous benchmarks in their industry.

What that means is that the 90% cash at close our sellers took in this deal was probably worth as much or more than a 100% sale would have been worth a few years ago.

Value tomorrow

As we say in M&A, majority recaps provide the seller with a “second bite of the apple.” That second bite typically occurs four to seven years after the initial recap.

After a period of investment and growth, the majority and minority owners agree to liquidate value (i.e., “re-sell” the business). If performance has been good, the owner’s minority shares could be worth similar and sometimes more than they received in the original transaction, depending on how much equity they roll over.

Gain or give

For some sellers, that extra minority stake in the business is really bonus money. We sometimes see sellers use deals like this as a way to transition ownership to their children or their management team. (Note: Roll over equity could be 10%–49%).

It’s a way to provide people with a meaningful ownership stake and opportunity for growth – without risking their own financial future in the process.

Control issues

When considering a majority recap, understand the role your new partners will want you to play in the business. Sellers think, “I’ll be a minority owner and I won’t have control anymore.” While technically true, it’s not the reality of most relationships.

Financial buyers (i.e., investors) are not looking to come in and take over your business – not if they can help it. These buyers prefer companies with strong management teams who have a vision for the future. They want to support the team that will grow the business – not control them.

The takeaway here is that you have options when selling your business – lots of options. Sell and exit right away, sell and stay, minority stake, majority stake, control, consult, gift, succession plan. It’s all on the table in today’s M&A market.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.comExit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

M&A Advisor Tip: Make contracts assignable

One key factor that significantly impacts the value of any contract is whether it’s assignable.

Don’t put yourself in a position of negotiating assignability at time of sale. It eliminates confidentiality and opens the door for customers to highjack your deal. Knowing your company is for sale—and that the sale is dependent on their contract—shrewd customers will ask for lower prices or more favorable terms, knowing you’ll likely agree to anything reasonable. You and your buyer both lose.

Not all industries lend themselves to contracts. Secure them if you can and work with your attorney so you can transition those agreements to a new owner…without asking customer permission first.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.comExit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

 

Entrepreneurs really do think of business as their baby

Many business owners say selling their business feels like giving a child up for adoption. As it turns out, that’s not just a metaphor. Research shows entrepreneurs really do think of their business as a kid.

Researchers found parallel brain activity between owners thinking about their business and parents thinking about their kids. In either case, similar areas of the brain lit up, including areas associated with parenting, pleasant sensations, and rewards.

Researchers say the phenomenon provides a deeper understanding of “entrepreneurial bonding.” I say it explains why selling your business can be such an emotional rollercoaster. As owners exit their business, they’re struggling with issues like these:

Letting go

Many business owners feel like their identity is wrapped up in their business. Some can’t believe the business can thrive without them. Others don’t know who they’d be without the business.

Proud Parent Syndrome™

In the same way parents can be blind to their children’s faults, they may struggle to see their company’s weakness. Some owners are unwilling to hear the business is worth less than they think it is.

Sleepless nights

As some point in every M&A negotiation, you’re going to lie awake at night wondering if you’re doing the right thing. Are you getting enough value for your business? Is the buyer a good fit?

Any parent knows what it’s like to lie awake in the middle of the night worrying. When selling, business owners can help avoid sleepless nights by working with an M&A advisor to put their business on the open market without an asking price. When you bring multiple buyers to the table in an auction-like environment, you know you’re getting the best the market can bear.

Legacy over money

When sellers have multiple options to choose from, they sometimes choose a buyer for culture fit over money. They may accept a lower price to work with a buyer who’s going to mesh with their team and keep the business local.

It’s not unlike parents who want to give their kids the best and are willing to sacrifice themselves to make that happen. At the end of the day, when selling your business, it’s never just business. It’s very, very personal.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.comExit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

Buyer’s top focus is employee team

Employees. Finding them. Keeping them. It’s on everyone’s mind right now. And for the company or person who buys your business, it just may be their number one concern.

In the latest IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Report, a quarterly survey of M&A advisors, respondents indicated that employees were buyers number one due diligence concern so far this year.

Employee issues, specifically longevity, loyalty and work ethic, ranked ahead of other due diligence priorities like operations, revenue and customer concentration.

We’ve been hearing from sellers for a couple of years now that finding qualified employees is their number one barrier to growth. Many can’t find the talent they need to meet customer demand, much less open new divisions or expand to new territory.

This shortage of good talent is also one contributing factor in the strong M&A market right now. When businesses can’t grow organically, they look to acquisitions as a path to expansion. That’s why buyers are putting increased scrutiny into the quality of a company’s employee team.

As an industry, we’ve been talking for years about how important it is to have a well-developed management team in place before you sell. Buyers want a leadership group – or at least one key manager – who can maintain the business in the owner’s absence.

What’s interesting, is that in the recent Market Pulse Report, management team ranked number five on the buyer due diligence list. A good succession plan and backup support is still incredibly important to the saleability and value of your business, but it seems that the strength of your overall employee team is – at this moment in time – an even bigger priority.

Here are some of the issue areas buyers are looking at:

 

Retention

How long do employees stay with you? What practices do you have in place to keep people loyal and committed to your organization? People stay with their employer for more than salary and benefits. Buyers need to understand why employees are loyal so they can make sure it’s a good fit for their own culture and expectations.

Culture

Do employees have an ownership mindset? Do they pitch in and support each other in times of need? Have they built a self-policing culture of quality and performance? And again, will the factors shaping that culture mesh with the buyer’s workplace?

Learning and development

Millennials are currently the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce, and this employee group, more than any other, cares about training and growth. Workplaces with established learning and development programs, as well as those with an organic culture of internal mentoring and promotions, will win employee loyalty – and points with buyers.

Cross-training

COVID-19 shone a spotlight on the benefits of cross-training. When business conditions are changing rapidly, it’s critical to have the ability to move employees from role to role. What’s more, cross-training benefits your people by broadening their skillsets and enabling more flexible scheduling.

Cross-trained employees are better able to fill in and cover for colleagues who want time off, who need extra help during a busy shift, or those who are sick or quarantined and unable to come into work for an extended period of time.

Niche, high-demand skills

In a tight talent market like this, an acquisition can be a way for a company to gain access to highly skilled talent. In some cases, this can even be the primary reason for an acquisition.

If you have employees with hard-to-find skills and employees who could take on new challenges and help a buyer grow, think about how you can retain them and keep them engaged in the run-up to selling your business. That said, we generally do not advise disclosing your exit plans to employees in advance.

A pending sale can cause anxiety among your employee group. Some will look for a new job rather than risk an uncertain future with a new owner. Talk to your M&A advisors about your key employees, stay bonuses, and what kind of succession planning is right for your situation.

Depending on your exit goals, we may be able to target buyers who will offer small equity positions to key employees. For the right employees – the opportunity to gain a real ownership stake in your business could be a meaningful incentive that keeps them committed to your company.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.comExit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

M&A Advisor Tip: Buy your buddy a beer, not experience

I’m all for friendships, but I wouldn’t risk my financial future on one. Unfortunately, many business owners do just that. If you’re like me, many of your professional advisors have become your friends, and you want to honor those relationships.

But M&A is a specialist’s world. If you engage your usual advisor (e.g., attorney) to conduct a business sale and they are not a specialist in M&A transactions, you could be risking everything you worked so hard for. Think of this as brain surgery. You wouldn’t use your general doctor who has done your annual physical for the last 25 years. So why would you not bring in a specialist with the largest financial transaction of your life?

Find someone with the right experience to protect you, your family, and your employees. When the sale is done, you’ll have the resources to throw some new business (and some beers) your friend’s way.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.comExit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

Employee Retention Raises Business Value, Especially Now

“To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” Those words of Doug Conant, business leader and former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, ring particularly true today.

The talent market was tight before the pandemic, but now we’re in a critical state. Finding employees, and keeping them, is a challenge for everyone. And if you’re selling your business, it just might be the buyer’s number one concern.

In the latest IBBA and M&A Source Market Pulse Report, a quarterly survey of M&A advisors, employee issues topped the list of buyer due diligence concerns. Employees, specifically longevity, loyalty, and work ethic, ranked ahead of other priorities like operations, revenue, and customer concentration.

When businesses don’t have enough talent to grow organically, they may turn to acquisitions instead.

But buyers know that to make that strategy work, they need to acquire a fully staffed, stable employee team and a culture of retention.

Employee issues buyers care about right now:

Turnover: Buyers are looking at turnover and retention trends. If you’re constantly in hiring mode to replace departing talent, buyers will see that as an element of risk.

Culture: People stay in a job for more than salary and benefits. Buyers want to know what it is about your workplace that makes people stay – and will it mesh with their own culture?

Training: A strong learning and development program is one way to keep people loyal and engaged. Buyers see value in companies with a culture of internal mentoring and promotion, particularly if you can show how it’s linked to employee retention.

Cross-coverage. COVID-19 shone a spotlight on the benefits of cross-training. Cross-trained employees are better able to fill in for workers who want time off, who need extra help during a busy shift, or those who are sick or quarantined and unable to come into work.

Leadership potential. If you have employees who could take on new challenges and help a buyer grow, think about how you can retain them and keep them engaged in the run-up to selling your business.

However, we do not recommend disclosing your exit plans to employees. If employees find out your business is for sale, they may look for another job rather than risk an uncertain future with a new owner.

Depending on your goals, we may be able to find a buyer who will offer equity positions to select team members. The chance to get a real ownership stake in your company could be just the incentive your top talent needs to stay.

Talk to your M&A advisor about your key employees, stay bonuses, and what kind of succession planning is right for your situation.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com. Exit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

Management Buyouts are a great option, but consider the risks

One of the more attractive exit options for you as a business owner is a management buyout (MBO). That is when your management team works together to buy either a total or a majority stake in your company, thus taking control of the company themselves.

There are several benefits to selling your company to your management team:

  • You can reward loyal managers with an opportunity to gain equity in the company. Managers are more likely to maintain the corporate culture and honor your legacy than an unknown buyer.
  • The management team already knows the company intimately, so you’ll have less to disclose; and the managers will be less concerned about due diligence, representations and warranties, and indemnity.
  • The management team has experience in the business, so you’ll have less of an obligation to train them and can transition out of the business faster after the sale.
  • Information about the company can remain more confidential as sensitive information does not have to be divulged to external parties.
  • Though you may not get a strategic price premium for the business, you should at least get fair market value.
  • With thoughtful planning and early preparation, the sale can be carried out on your timeframe.

However, management buyouts also present some unique risks that must be addressed to avoid derailing the deal.

Management Team Composition

Even if they are effective managers not all teams have the collaboration, leadership, financial positions, and motivation to acquire a business. You should make an unbiased assessment of your management team’s abilities and plans prior to committing to sell your business to them. Many of the tips found in this article on assessing buyer prospects apply to MBO teams as well. Also, be aware of managers who are not invited to join the MBO team, as they can disrupt a deal that they feel that they should have participated in.

Team Organization

MBO team members have very often not acquired a business before. They may need professional help to organize themselves to write a business plan, create a shareholder agreement and locate financing. The team will need to consider how their positions and responsibilities will change once they become owners.

Business Performance

The MBO team needs to maintain the profits and prospects of the company while they are navigating the deal process. A deterioration in business performance could scare off financial backers of the transaction and put undue stress on the deal.

Plan for Failure

Clearly there are benefits to selling your business to your management team rather than to an unknown buyer; however, if the deal with management falls apart, the repercussions can be severe. What happens to your business value if one or more of your managers leaves because of a deal gone bad?  Be sure to have contingency plans in case the buyout doesn’t work.


Having the right professional advisors increases the likelihood of a successful buyout. For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Adam Wiskind, Advisor at Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at awiskind@exitstrategiesgroup.com. Exit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

 

The happiest business owners know what’s next

I had the privilege of chatting with Bo Burlingham, former executive editor for Inc. magazine and author of several books, including Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top.

We talked about one of the key discoveries that led to the book, namely that so many business owners were unhappy after selling their companies. It didn’t really matter how much someone got for their business – some sellers were delighted while others were depressed and miserable.

What made sellers unhappy? Burlingham spent years doing interviews to find that out. And one of the biggest issues he found is that people didn’t have a place to redirect their passion and energy.

For many entrepreneurs, the business becomes their identity. It gives them direction. Without that outlet, some former business owners become unmoored. Suddenly, their phone isn’t ringing as much. No one needs them to make hard decisions anymore, and that can be troubling for some folks.

Burlington describes these owners as “wandering the desert.” They’re searching for that new thing to get excited about, and some of them take years to find it.

You might think a little wandering sounds fine, but retiree beware! There’s actually research that shows early retirement can increase your chance of early death.

A 2019 study conducted by economists at Harvard and State University of New York found that cognitive decline accelerated when people left work. Researchers contributed it to the loss of social engagement and connection that many people find in the workplace.

And yet business owners should not delay selling. Ironically, the best time to sell is when you’re engaged and excited about your business.

Buyers pay for the future cash flow of the business, and that means you’ll get the most value when you go out on the upswing. Buyers feed off your energy, so you want to show them someone who’s really truly passionate about where their company can go.

But the kicker is, you need to be passionate about your next steps, too. It’s important to know what you’re headed for, not just what you’re leaving behind.

When an entrepreneur’s identity is wholly tied up in their business, that can be a red flag. It’s a sign they might hold on to the business too long, past the point where their leadership is the best thing for the company and its value.

That’s why we ask sellers to go through a “bucket list” exercise. Think about what you want to be remembered for. What captures your interest and enthusiasm, besides your business?

Selling your business should be the first step in your best chapter ever. You’ll have the gift of time and money – and the opportunity to do anything with it you want. The best thing for your health, your happiness, and the value of your company is to know the next chapter you want to write.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com. Exit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

M&A Advisor Tip: Time Kills All Deals

More than purchase price or structure, time is the most likely reason a business sale will fail. Time breeds frustration and fatigue. From irascible attorneys to disorganized brokers and licensing issues, plenty of factors can bog down a deal.

Sooner or later one party or the other gets fed up and rationalizes, “It wasn’t meant to be.”

Your advisor should have a reasonable client load (no more than four or five is ideal) so they can give you the time and energy you deserve. Look for an office with a manager dedicated to closing details. You need someone organized and proactive, looking several weeks and months in advance.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com. Exit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.

M&A’s dirty playbook

If you work in M&A, you can take a class on how to take advantage of people. It’s true! Buyers can go through mergers and acquisitions training, at some of the most prestigious universities, learning how to pay as little as possible for a family-owned business or privately held company.

M&A transactions are complex, and it’s natural that buyers and sellers will have some competing interests. When both parties come to the table in good faith, with a commitment to finding a workable agreement, these negotiations don’t have to be overly contentious.

But when buyers are out to do their worst, negotiations can devolve into a hostile power play. Worse yet, some sellers don’t know enough to push back. They get steamrolled and taken advantage of by specialists who wake up every morning intent on getting the best possible deal for their investors, at all costs.

These buyers know what they’re doing and they’re willing to play dirty to get what they want. Here are some of the tactics they might use:

Tie you up in exclusivity

Many M&A negotiations include a no-shop clause. This is a period of exclusivity when the seller cannot solicit offers from other parties. The due diligence process is expensive for buyers, so sellers sign these agreements as an act of good faith, giving buyers some security that their investment will be worthwhile.

Typically, a no-shop clause has a near-term expiration date and are only in effect for a couple of months (45—90 days). Buyers with a lot of leverage, and those working with inexperienced sellers trying to represent themselves, will work hard to tie you up in exclusivity for as long as possible.

If they can get away with it, the no-shop clause won’t have any expiration date at all, allowing the buyer to drag their feet indefinitely. Which brings us to the next strategy…

Drag it out

The goal here is to wear the seller down. They’ll request more and more documents. They’ll find “surprise concerns” they need to discuss with their team.

They’ll tell you, “We like your company, but we’re finding some issues we need to look into more. We need you to get us X, Y, Z.” They want to amplify tension, use up your mental energy, and distract you from the real work of running your business.

Re-trading the deal

At the end of the day, the whole play is about getting you to accept a lower value. You will have entered into exclusive negotiations based on certain expectations, but they’ll “uncover” issues to rationalize a price adjustment – an adjustment they were planning on from day one.

Play on your emotions

In the book of dirty plays, this one is a doozy. Buyers will find out key occasions in your life: your spouse’s birthday, your kid’s graduation date, your anniversary. And right before the big day, they’ll find something in due diligence and call an emergency meeting.

They’ll make you think the whole deal is going to blow up if you can’t make that meeting. Again, they’re looking to get you to wave the white flag of surrender.

In every industry, there are good and bad actors. Unfortunately, the bad ones are perfectly willing to engage in psychological warfare.

The less interaction the buyer and seller will have after a sale – i.e., the less future success hinges on the seller’s continued cooperation – the less incentive a buyer has to treat the seller fairly. Unsuspecting sellers can find themselves at the losing end of a winner-take-all kind of game.

It’s like a boxing match. You’re going into the ring at 0-0 and they’re at 40-2. They’ve been playing the game for two decades. I don’t care how strong you are, you’re not going to win that fight. That’s why it’s important to have professional, specialized advisors by your side before you enter the game.


For advice on exit planning or selling a business, contact Al Statz, CEO of Exit Strategies Group, Inc., at alstatz@exitstrategiesgroup.com. Exit Strategies Group is a partner in the Cornerstone International Alliance.