In a recent article, "Finding the Right Investment Bank to Sell Your Business," I discussed how, for most business owners, finding a new partner for the business can involve some very unique challenges, which are only magnified when searching for an investment bank. Though many business owners interact with investment banks and “business brokers” on a somewhat frequent basis, hiring an investment bank can be a once-in-a-lifetime decision for private business owners contemplating a transaction that can represent the summation of a life’s work. We asked a handful of successful business owners to share what they wish they had known when they first hired an investment banker. We encourage you to continue reading about how their advice may apply to your situation.
Get All the Details
Execution is where promises of a smooth transaction meet the reality of a bank’s true priorities. You deserve a bank that runs an organized process, with strong senior leadership that will remain involved all the way throughout a deal, particularly when unexpected problems pop-up.
Does an investment banker ask smart, relevant questions about your business and get to know its nuances in advance of an engagement? Do they produce high-quality documents that show attention to detail and careful preparation? Do they have a broad team that can customize an action plan for your specific needs?
Middle market investment banking has become a very complicated business in recent years. The large investment banks have always had multiple lines of business, mixing financing, private equity investments, brokerage services, along with buy side and sell side services of all kinds. Over the last decade, many middle market banks started trying to replicate this model, adding other lines of business that allowed them to cross-sell products to clients. But bankers with a diverse set of products to sell can often find themselves conflicted, leaving clients wondering whether they are trying to serve their needs — or those of a potential buyer whom they hope will someday be a bigger client.
Make sure to have a good grasp on all the lines of business a banker is involved in. Ask bankers who tout their strategic buyer relationships whether they have ever collected fees from those buyers — or hope to in the future. Make certain that your satisfaction is going to be the most important outcome of the transaction for your banker.
It Really Comes Down to Chemistry
Don’t be afraid to take “touchy-feely” concepts, like fit and compatibility, into consideration. The bankers you hire should function like an in-house corporate finance department for the duration of the transaction. In that sense, you should apply the same standards for chemistry and compatibility to your bankers that you would to anyone you would hire to be part of your management team.
Working with your investment bank should be like having our own M&A staff on board. You should be comfortable enough with them to allow them to go direct to your employees to gather information. Throughout the process, they should keep you constantly apprised and informed, and they need to know when they need to get you involved or weigh in.
It is crucial that your transaction not be “just another deal” to your banker. You want someone who will dig in and figure out how to make this transaction – which could be the most important of your career – a success, both economically and non-economically.
The final bit of advice we heard is about the importance of finding an advisor who will tell you not just what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Consider this: The banker who provides the highest valuation of your business in the pitch may be the one who best recognizes the unique attributes and compelling value proposition of the business you’ve built – or may just be pumping up the valuation to try to win your business.
The bankers who will do the best job are those who dig the deepest before an engagement and take the most time to understand the nuances of your company and industry – both positive and negative. This is a banker who will be able to develop a marketing position that anticipates the objections and concerns of savvy strategic and financial investors. This is a banker who is ready to dig in, overcome the challenges of any transaction and realize the best possible outcome for you and your team.
These are some things that we think you need to hear from the banker you choose. You want a team of bankers that strive to hit the mark in every one of these categories. When interviewing bankers, take a step back from the pitch process, divorce yourself from the numbers that are thrown around and ask yourself, “Who gave the most realistic assessment of my company?” and “Who will run the process that will yield the best outcome?”