For two Bay Area entrepreneurs, buying a business has nothing to do with bricks and mortar.
Tampa, FL – It was a January morning like any other last year at Tampa’s Citrus Park Computers, a local retail firm with a loyal global client list in IT/Managed Services. This morning, the owner was meeting again with the “insurance agents” – two people they had seen a couple of times around the office. Only this time, everyone was called into a room and it was announced that the business had been for sale, the woman was really an M&A advisor and the man, their new boss.
The man was Pratik Roychoudhury, the new owner and the woman was Jan Fowler, CEO and Mergers and Acquisitions Advisor of Florida based Acquisitions Unlimited, Inc.
For many, this type of scenario can be devastating. They can lose their jobs. Lose benefits. Lose faith in the company that provided for them. But that was not the case this day at Citrus Park Computers. Roychoudhury told the employees exactly what they wanted and needed to hear – that their jobs were safe, new employee benefits were on the way, and there was a new energy that would take them and their operation to a whole new level.
“This wasn’t the typical kind of company I would buy,” said Roychoudhury. “But when I met the people, their energy, enthusiasm, drive, and tacit knowledge was outstanding. I didn’t buy a company. I bought the potential of the people within it.”
Jan Fowler, awarded the 2011 and 2012 Top Five Dealmakers in Florida by the Business Brokers of Florida and 25-year veteran in the mergers and acquisitions/business brokerage industry, says such an approach is critical when buying a small to medium-sized company. Because she specializes in companies with annual revenues between $2 million to $15 million, typically the biggest and best asset they have is their human capital.
“At Acquisitions Unlimited, we market and sell good companies and one of the markers of a good company is a strong and effective employee base.”
Meetings between Fowler and Roychoudhury often took place off site or onsite at night. It was imperative that they structured the deal as clandestinely as possible to avoid interrupting productivity or fostering fears among employees about their future.
Once the sale of Citrus Park Computers was announced, Roychoudhury immediately promoted a key employee to president of the company and gave him a 20 percent raise, renamed the IT portion of the company Shield Watch IT Services, and helped foster a renewed passion for their work. He empowered them to run their own departments and started making major changes to the operation after seeking all of their input. The result? Growth is up 11% in just six months.
“Fortunately, my background is in M&A with Bayer Healthcare. I’ve seen lots of transactions where it’s all about assets, economization and layoffs. From the beginning I wanted people here to feel empowered, valued, and gave them more freedom to do what they do well,” said Roychoudhury.
Roychoudhury, who holds two engineering degrees and an MBA from The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business believes a company’s human capital is always its greatest asset. Also a minority owner in a 65-person IT company in India, Roychoudhury feels those who buy companies just for hardware, technology or buildings will never grow as fast as those who buy one for the people who run it.
Another case in point is Clearwater-based Ion Labs, Inc. Ion Labs was a family owned nutritional supplement company that had been in business for 30 years. Ion Labs had exhibited steady growth over its lifespan, but the owners felt it was time to step down and hand over the reins of executive management. The person who grasped those reins, Clayton DesJardines, came out of retirement to buy and then grow the company from 24 employees in September of 2012 to 64 today. He moved Ion Labs to a new 42,000 square-foot location over the summer that doubled capacity, and better showcased their technical and manufacturing capabilities. Like with Citrus Park Computers, everyone got a raise.
But perhaps the most important move DesJardines made was to keep the former owner, William Oliver, on staff as his sales director.
“Bill [Oliver] had been doing something right for the past 30 years,” said DesJardines. “He has a wealth of knowledge about the products and the industry, and I rely on his experience. This company could suffer without him. And I genuinely like him.”
The deal to buy Ion Labs was also successfully brokered by Fowler of Acquisitions Unlimited in conjunction with Aberdeen Advisors. DesJardines and Fowler looked for many months before zeroing in on Ion Labs. DesJardines, a former global risk manager for Deutsche Bank in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the U.S., ran leveraged loan trading for the biggest underwriter of private equity leveraged buyouts in the world. He saw a lot first hand, most notably, what not to do when buying or selling a company.
“For me, it’s very simple,” said DeJardines. “It’s like a puzzle and we’re all part of it. The strength of us as a group is key. No single person can make a company successful. Everybody has a role to play. I believe in proactive management, getting people to test their capabilities and feel good about being a part of the team.”
Jayne Jenkins, a strengths coach to Fortune 500 companies and CEO and founder of Churchill Leadership Group, says the people are the company for the most part. The key is to keeping employees engaged before, during and after the sale.
“Change can be tough, but having a clear change management process in place and communicating with key influencers on staff throughout can help make the transition a smooth one,” said Jenkins.
“It is normal for employees to be concerned when they hear of an ownership change” said Fowler, “ I think it is important to convey that the knowledge base and the experience of the existing staff is of great importance to a new owner.”
“In both the Citrus Park Computers and Ion Labs transactions, the people were the Buyers’ main concern and main attraction,” Fowler continues. “That makes for a highly successful transition and a successful outcome when selling a business.”