Owners of successful small to mid-size businesses will be faced at some point with deciding whether to sell their company. Many will not have experience at navigating the process. The Greater Austin Mid-Market Alliance (GAMMA) focused its May quarterly meeting on providing practical advice to business owners on what is involved in successfully selling their company. Aventine Hill was honored again to sponsor the event. Beth Hair, John Romero, and I attended.
The luncheon event featured a panel discussion facilitated by Joe Zente of Z/Three. Panelists were all entrepreneurs who had grown successful businesses and sold their companies.
- Gustavo Artaza, founder of International Studies Abroad.
- Charles Brown, founder of Hunter-Kelsey.
- Mike Mayeux, founder of Novotus.
- Bret Pardue, founder of USA Environment.
While the detail circumstances varied for each owner, there were common themes that all agreed on. I personally grouped them into the basic categories of Preparation, Practice, and Patience.
Gustavo Artaza highlighted the importance of having strong CFO leadership and a well-functioning accounting department. Charles Brown agreed and emphasized the value of having audited financial statements even when they are not required. He described how being able to clearly show the financial value he was generating strengthened his hand in negotiations.
Mike Mayeux described the process he went through to understand the goals of his partners. This allowed him to assess offers and negotiate with potential buyers knowing what types of deals were really a fit for his stakeholders.
Bret Pardue and Charles Brown both pre-defined the types of exit strategies that would be acceptable to them. In Charles’s case, he had a scenario where he could wind down operations of his company in a profitable way without selling.
Mike Mayeux described how he had potential buyers make offers when he did not believe that he would be selling at that time. He opted to go through a process with the potential buyer to practice the process. He and his partners wanted to be better educated for when they believed they would be seeking a sale. Gustavo also initially received an unsolicited offer and he gained valuable experience entertaining offers over multiple years before he actually sold.
Bret Pardue agreed that pursuing the process multiple times is helpful because it allows the owner to also assess the value of the intermediaries that are supporting the process. Investment bankers, lawyers, and tax advisors are all valuable contributors to getting a deal done. However, he found that he was spending more time on the process than he originally expected. He got better over time at interviewing and selecting intermediaries who he was more confident would make the process easier for him.
All the owners stressed the importance of not getting married to the idea of selling. Gustavo Artaza talked about how he declined offers until he felt the right offer and relationship came along. He opted to sell a minority stake first to further explore strategic options prior to transferring full ownership.
Charles Brown talked about how he felt he had very clear, audited financials so was able to communicate to potential buyers what he expected in value and that he would not entertain lower offers. Because he also had long term strategies that did not involve selling, it was easy for him to be firm on what he was seeking and wait until the right offer came along.
In addition to Preparation, Practice, and Patience, there was also discussion of how selling the company impacted the people involved. The owners had varied personal outcomes. Some remained involved with their companies after sale in permanent roles. Some did not and are considering new career paths or starting new businesses.
In terms of the employees that remained, all described how they had structured bonuses for their employees so they realized value from the sale. And, they felt that part of what drove the sale was that each company had reached a point where further growth required a new structure. With the companies positioned as a platform for growth, the employees had more opportunities to contribute going forward.
AVENTINE HILL CAN HELP
If you are an owner looking to consider your options, Aventine Hill can help you begin preparing. We will provide CFO support in a way that fits your budget. We will help you strengthen your accounting function and prepare for an external audit to better validate the value of your business. If desired, we can also provide introductions to investment bankers and lawyers so you can select the ones who best fit with your needs.
Even if you have no intention of selling, successful businesses often received unsolicited offers that appear quite attractive. Preparing ahead of time not only makes it easier to evaluate the offer, it helps you run your business better.