Musings on business value, sale preparation, sale negotiations, sale structure.

Archive for August, 2018

Your C Suite

Posted on

Remember the days when the guys who ran your business were “the directors”? That later changed to “the executive”.

More recently it is the collection of chiefs. The chief executive officer, the chief financial officer, the chief operations officer. Then we all got to grips with the acronyms associated with them: CEO, CFO, COO, and CTO.

So where the directors sat on the board, the chiefs now all sit in the “C-Suite”. And these are the guys who count when you want to sell your business.

Here is why…

If your business has significant value, then you are unlikely to sell your business to an individual. That means that the new owner of your business will be an industry player.

On the horizontal, it will be a competitor or a complementary business which will acquire your business as “a bolt on”. On the vertical, it will be by way of selling your business to a supplier or a customer.

The horizontal buyer gains markets and products. The vertical gains margin for the acquirer.

When you play with your nest egg at this level, you are up against people who do this a lot more than you do. So you may have a CEO, CFO, and a COO on your side. The guys on the other side of the table will have the same TLAs (three letter acronyms) and a few others besides.

Special chief

The big suitor often has a dedicated officer to deal with you. This will be a specialist in finding and negotiating deals.


You can have your own specialist preparing you if you join our CSuite programme.


 

Their CFO might be given the job. Except that those people are often so engrossed in the day to day numbers. They worry about the way in which an acquisition would affect the ratios. The CFO is often one of the people who are more valuable adjudicating the recommendation. The CEO is also trying to run a business.

The C-Suite has to run the business. They owe that duty to the shareholders. It often appoints a non-executive director or a significant shareholder to negotiate acquisitions.

You will do this very few times in your life. Your opposite number is already prepared. He (she) is up to date on what is what in the acquisition industry. You are about to change your entire life. That is real. Right there.


Let someone who is up to date get you up to speed by joining our CSuite programme.


Their acquisition officer’s job is to get something valuable for as little as possible and on the best terms possible (for the buyer). The acquisition officer gets to look at lots of possible acquisitions. He can afford to walk away. Nobody ever got fired for not making an acquisition. (OK, there was that one time.)

Who has the stronger hand here?

When you start to push the pace in these negotiations, you weaken your position.
When you are not prepared before the discussions, you weaken your position.
When your pitch obfuscates or is unclear in standard presentation standards, you weaken your position.
When you wait until the imperative to sell is immediate, your position is very weak.

You will lose when your position is weak. By “lose” I mean you will leave a significant amount of money on the table. It won’t even be your table anymore.

Get yourself prepared. Get your business prepared. This does not mean putting your business on the market. It means getting your house in order. It means identifying weaknesses in your business and mitigating them. It means identifying and presenting the stuff that really matters to buyers of businesses.

It means you should join a programme like CSuite.

It is a bite size chunk, programmed, easy bits and pieces plan to make a huge difference to your life.

Data room virtual tickets

Posted on

Long, long ago in a previous century, when a company was for sale, it created a data room as a place for all the due diligence documents. Various suitors sent their accountants, bean counters, attorneys, and commercial spies to look. It was a dodgy affair.

It took the form of an actual room where interested buyers could view all the documents relevant to the target business. Nothing was allowed to leave the room. All participants signed a non-disclosure document.

Then along came fax machines. To save time, people asked for financial statements to be faxed to them. The thermal fax paper would fade, and so would the information.

A little while later the internet arrived. Then people sent all sorts of information in an electronic format, to be stored forever on the recipients’ servers. And nobody thought this was strange. There were clauses in the non-disclosure documents (if they were ever signed) which called for the destruction of all information on demand. I remember that happening once. By deal-time, everybody was just so chuffed that they either had a business or a chunk of cash. In some cases, competitors had some interesting information on the business.

More recently people started sharing dropbox links, and similar accessibilities. And then one day people woke up to the fact that trusted people shared those links with gay abandon. Control could be easily lost.

Enter the virtual data room

A virtual data room gives control of the data back to the owner of the data. He can put information into it in layers, requiring more and more permission to progress. The owner can revoke permission whenever he wants, for whoever he wants.

He can control the sort of access the visitors have. From a curtained view window to a full-screen online view, to full downloadable access, and some steps between. If he sets up his room properly, when he revokes permission, even downloaded documents will become unreadable.

21st Century stuff.

The lies of agents

Posted on

“You have wasted so much of our time”.

It was not true. Worse it was such an obvious untruth, meant to gas light our client. Worse than that even, it was a lie meant to empower and aggrandise the liar. It was meant to cover up the failures of the agent and give him a bit more space with his client.

Some background

We have helped our client build up a significant body of evidence in his business. It has growing sales, even faster-growing profits, and significant cash reserves. The staff complement is small, and the inventory holdings are well under control. The business happens to own the intellectual property of its biggest customers. It is a fantastic business.

An agent for an obvious acquirer has been looking at the business. He has conducted, what we were first told was a due diligence. In reality, it was little more than a stalling shuffle for an asset grab.

When my client refused the first suggestion on a takeover, the suitor asked for another chance. We prepared a bunch of supporting documentation to help him understand the value of what they were looking at. All that information went into the data room.

The second proposal was marginally better than the first. But it was also rejected. My client countered with something which reflected the requirements of the shareholders.

He put his proposal to the suitor who responded with a statement to the effect that he had wasted the time of the agent and his client. That was an interesting thing to say.

Virtual data room

Our client built his value proposition into one of our data rooms over an extended period. All the information necessary to make a decision about whether to acquire the business in one place. It is layered in its accessibility to different grades of interested parties. So a “prospect” has access to less sensitive data than an “investor”, who has less access than an eventual “new owner”.

Permissions can be granted and revoked easily. And when the deal is finally consummated, all the unsuccessful bidders and tyre kickers have no more access to the information. Ever.

So back to the suitor’s agent and the hissy fit. Had my client wasted his time? Actually no. You see, the virtual data room also has a very detailed history of which documents were viewed, at what time, and for how long. All the way down to page level. It also gives information about the level of interaction with the documents. Neither the agent nor his client had accessed the valuation arguments, for a single minute after they asked for a second chance.

The agent had based his bluster about the waste of time on a frustration. His client was unable to grab an asset. He did not want to pay fair value. There’s a lot of that going around. The jibe aimed at making our client feel bad was rubbish. We could prove that to him as he took a much better option.

Valuation Myths: Valuation is always based on profit

Posted on
PYBFS022

A while back I suggested that business owners should spend less time worrying about their sales turnover, and consider the importance of net profit when apportioning value to their businesses. While that certainly puts us on the right track, it may also lead down a trail of misrepresentation.

The basis for the earlier assertion is that buyers of businesses are looking for a return on investment, and similar businesses with similar sales figures will be differentiated in their value by the bottom line. Nothing wrong with that assertion until we introduce some other variables.

You may recall that both businesses we previously spoke of were in different cities, manufacturing the same goods with the same turnover and similar expenses, but one had a lower cost of sales because it is closer to its principal suppliers. It had an immediate advantage with stronger cash flows, and after paying the same expenses as its counterpart, ended up with more profit. We concluded therefore that the more profitable business would be more valuable, and we are probably correct.

So for the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that all those variables are equal; the two businesses are very close together and now have the same suppliers at the same prices, and therefore the bottom line is the same for each.

Fixed Asset Value

The variable we will introduce now is in the fixed asset value of the business. One business invested heavily in equipment twenty years ago. At the time the owner was lucky enough to be granted a loan to get up and running, and he bought his equipment very wisely. He concentrated on good German technology, perhaps spending a bit more than he could really afford at the time. But heck, it has been worth it. He has hardly had a breakdown.

Every year he takes his wife to Europe for two weeks where they spend two days justifying the trip by “visiting the factory parts division” where they purchase the dies for the next year, even if last year’s dies were only installed six months ago previously. Having placed the order (which may as well have been done online) they continue on for their annual ski holiday.

A business like this will typically have written off in their books all the machinery except the new delivery vehicle for which they paid cash. So the equipment has very little carrying value and would probably not fetch a very high price on the open market given the new computer controlled wizardry that is available today – the same electronics that makes the replacement value sky high.

On the other hand, Darrel

This business’s neighbour with the similar profit has done things differently: He was never able to get a loan because the government had introduced some social engineering into the mix at the time he got into business, and money was less easy to get hold of for him. So he relied on supplier rental finance to start with, scraping and battling along until things started to happen. With growth he invested wisely in new equipment, replacing and modernizing, and then as the whole factory hit its sales and production straps, he was able to really go to town on the latest and greatest.

He does not have the old workhorse machinery that will never break, but he does not really need to worry about that because he has a good replacement and modernising policy. The machinery is taken apart every year at the annual shut down when agent trained technicians move in, replace, lubricate and provide a new warranty for the next twelve months.

So which business is more valuable? Answers on the back of a R200 note and send to….

This situation immediately takes the “multiplar-bar-twenty” crowd out of the equation as far as providing a reliable valuation is concerned. The first owner would perhaps be grateful, but the second one would be leaving cash on the table, without a doubt.

This is a very simple example, and of course, there are other variables which come into play as well which we will deal with later. When they are all taken together, some interesting dynamics mean that valuing a business is best left to professionals who know what businesses really sell for at the current time, in the current circumstances.