How serial buyers of consultancies see you

 

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In our M&A work with buyers of consulting firms, we see some clear differences in behaviours and capabilities between serial buyers and those who acquire less frequently. Our recent Buyers Research Report revealed that serial or prolific buyers, as we call them in the report, are each looking to acquire an average of 4.4 consulting firms over the next two years. Not only do they buy more, they have more money to spend. The average budget for all buyers next year is $65m but for serial buyers it is $90m. So, if you are looking to sell your consulting firm now or in the next few years, it is worth having an understanding of how serial buyers think, what they are looking for and what this might mean for your firm.

Prolific consulting firm buyers typically have their own internal M&A capabilities that focus on finding and integrating new acquisition targets. These targets are largely found through two routes:

  • A targeted search by the internal M&A team; or
  • Opportunities sent by intermediaries.

When a buyer’s internal M&A team conduct a targeted search, which they may also outsource to intermediaries, they usually have a mandate to find targets with a specific capability, sector alignment or geographic focus. Outside of a specific mandate, broad acquisition criteria aligned with the firm’s growth objectives exists. Buyers are constantly assessing acquisition opportunity profiles from intermediaries against their broad acquisition criteria, as an initial filter. These opportunity profiles are called ‘Teasers’ or ‘Blind Profiles’, as they provide key financial and qualitative information about the company, while maintaining confidentiality by excluding the name and any sensitive information about the target.

So buyers initially see you through the lens of a blind profile, much like how an employer would view a CV. How do you stand out? The following are some typical questions buyers will ask when looking at you as a ‘blind’ acquisition opportunity.

1. Are the financials sound?

Buyers often ‘calibrate’ their view by assessing whether your revenue is growing and if a good percentage of this is profit. This reflects the success of the firm in the market and how well it is managed. Serial buyers may also look at key metrics from your blind profile, such as revenue per partner or per consultant, as an indication of value. Strategic advisory typically commands higher fees than implementation services, but the number of partners or consultants will impact this metric. Whether this ratio is high or low, buyers will have a view on why that is

2. Do you have deep domain expertise?

This is difficult to fully assess from the blind profile, but typically buyers will want to know how deep your expertise runs. If you are too generic in your services and struggle to show a competitive advantage, this can turn buyers off as they will need to understand the depth or breadth you add to their existing services. By highlighting the depth of your expertise, the question changes from ‘is this useful?’ to ‘how can we use them?’.

3. Do you have unique and leveragable Intellectual Property (IP)?

Buyers will ask, “Should we spend money on acquiring this company or hire the expertise and build skills internally?”. Buyers are looking for tools and practices that help make money beyond what’s in an individual consultant’s head. So you need to be able to show what assets you have beyond your skilled people. This comes down to how you embed your IP into the fabric of your firm. Any IP you have would be highlighted on your blind profile, citing how you use this and its relative rarity (e.g. benchmarking data and capabilities, etc.). This is viewed favourably by buyers and helps to differentiate your firm as having value beyond the people in the firm.

In conclusion

Think about how you would look on a blind profile, highlighting only your: Key Financials (Revenue and EBITDA), Services, Top Clients, and Staff numbers.

Ultimately serial buyers will be looking at how they can acquire the highest value. Each buyer will measure value differently but they will all want to see growth, expertise and value beyond the people. As a business, you have to prove that you are worth acquiring through these very limited key facts.

Consulting Sector M&A Deals for week beginning 13th October

 

businessman doing handstand on the beachQuality Management Solutions, Inc. (USA) acquired Xpand Consulting (USA)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: IT consulting Date: October 2014
Quality Management Solutions, Inc. a leading global provider of high quality SAP Consulting Services for the Manufacturing sector, proudly announced that it has completed its acquisition of Xpand Consulting, a long time provider of SAP QM consulting services and training videos. QMS announced its intent to acquire Xpand in July 2014. “The acquisition of Xpand will add additional innovative products and solutions, as well as deep SAP Training and Enablement expertise and further broaden our offerings. QMS is committed to providing our customers with new options and continuous improvement to their SAP Enterprise Solutions. Our innovative and proven Best Practices for SAP continues to be a highly attractive option for the industry. Our team is excited about our additional expansion and the ability to further serve our customers,” said Mike Krug, President of Quality Management Solutions, Inc. (QMS). Quality Management Solutions, Inc. (QMS): QMS is an SAP America Partner and has earned a global reputation for quality leadership, resources, and delivery of SAP. QMS is the preeminent quality expert in SAP, with decades of combined industry and business experience. QMS is dedicated to developing advanced solutions for SAP manufacturing environments and bringing those results to our customers in affordable and innovative ways.

The Fahrenheit Group (USA) merged with Axeo (USA)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: HR consulting Date: October 2014
The Fahrenheit Group, a national consulting and advisory firm with a focus on finance and business, recently merged with Axeo, a human resources business based in Northern Virginia. The Fahrenheit Group, based in Henrico County, Virginia, originally served small to medium-sized businesses in need of accounting, bookkeeping, and chief financial officer services. The merge will be beneficial to both companies, according to Jacob Geiger with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Keith Middleton and Rich Reinecke founded Fahrenheit Finance in 2010 and were seeking to expand the human resource practices of the organisation. Tom Wimer, Axeo’s founder, was seeking to expand into the Richmond-area market. The combined company will be known as The Fahrenheit Group. The merged company consists of experienced C-level executives and consultants and serves an array of clients ranging in size from startups to Fortune 500 organisations, including angel, VC and private equity backed portfolio companies. Middleton states that Fahrenheit focuses mainline on middle-market companies with revenues of less than $500 million per year. “The big focus, whatever the size, is growth-oriented companies,” he said. The Fahrenheit Group LLC provides human resource services. Axeo LLC is a professional services company that provides practical and implementable solutions to human capital and organisational challenges.

CheckPoint HR, LLC (USA) acquired Quantum Benefits, Inc (USA)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: HR consulting Date: October 2014
Employee benefit and human resource innovator CheckPoint HR, Inc. announced the acquisition of Quantum Benefits, Inc., a benefits consultancy and insurance brokerage firm based in New Haven, Connecticut. Quantum Benefits has operated in Connecticut since 2003, providing employee benefits brokerage and consulting services to organisations throughout the region. The boutique agency is known for delivering highly attentive customer service and health advocacy to client employees and their families. The agency is led by founders Phil Orlando and Joseph Hall. CEO Phil Orlando’s 19-year health care background includes sales and management roles at Benefitport, Oxford Health Plans, Executive Health Group and U.S. Surgical. President Joseph Hall’s 20 years of group health care experience includes 10 years serving in sales and management roles at Oxford Health Plans with a strong focus on proactive underwriting. “This acquisition markedly extends CheckPoint HR’s reach into the Connecticut and Westchester County markets,” said Jim Pugliese, chief executive officer of CheckPoint HR. “Connecticut is a heavily mandated state with seven major insurance carriers and highly educated buyers. Quantum Benefits’ extensive market knowledge and stellar reputation for customer service combined with CheckPoint HR’s robust technology and service capabilities create a formidable offering in the region.” CheckPoint HR provides technology and expertise for controlling health insurance costs, efficiently managing administration and ensuring regulatory compliance. The company is the first to fully integrate the employee benefit, human resource and payroll functions on a single technology platform. The cornerstone of this platform is CheckPoint Choice, a full-service employee benefit marketplace. CheckPoint HR, LLC, a human resource (HR) services and technology company, provides HR management solutions, and employee benefits administration and payroll services for small to mid-sized companies. Continue reading

Consulting firm hot sectors

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The consulting firm M&A market has been heating up considerably in 2014, and we’ve seen some particularly ‘in demand’ specialisms emerging.

Serial buyers of consultancies have highlighted to us three key areas of interest:

1. Cyber security / cloud configuration / data analytical capabilities

Seismic advances in technology and the pivotal role this plays in business means IT presents more challenges and opportunities for commerce:

  • Cyber: While IT security has been around a long time, online channels of business have increased the levels of threat and heightened the demand for IT and cyber/online security services;
  • Cloud: Cloud-based delivery of software has been present in consumer markets for many years (Gmail), and it is increasingly common place for businesses as well, with the popularity of firms like Salesforce.com (CRM) and Workday (HR).
  • Analytics: Data has amassed exponentially with an increased business reliance on IT, and this presents fertile ground in which new insights can be obtained. However, the right strategy, skills and tools are required to mine and make use of the data.

Consultancies therefore need to keep pace with these technology changes and be able to advise their clients on making use or reacting to these changes, in order to remain relevant through this transition and in a competitive technology consulting market. Ultimately, buyers of IT consultancies are looking to gain expertise and insights into these areas through acquisition, and having profitable, scalable, ‘leveragable’ and secure technology-based intellectual property associated with the above areas will be an important aspect of what buyers are looking for beyond the buzz words.

2. Operational excellence

Managing businesses so that they are running at peak efficiency, minimum costs, maximum capabilities, and making the best use of technology are business priorities that increase in demand in tough economic climates, but which are also highly relevant in economic up cycles to maximize profits. Consultancies that have a track record in helping organizations achieve this are of particular interest to buyers. However, it is not enough to simply have capabilities in operational excellence. Buyers are looking for firms that leverage technologies to help deliver these capabilities.

3. Customer channel management

Servicing customer needs and delivering products and services through the multiple customer channels currently available, including web, social media, mobile and e-commerce platforms remains a critical and evolving business priority. Traditionally, media and marketing consultancies have been the home for advice on customer needs. However, with the ongoing reliance on technology for customer channels, the need for both media and technology skills in this space have become commonplace for customer journey mapping and content marketing.

Hot or not, fundamentals are the same.

How does this translate into M&A activity?

It is important to recognize that regardless whether you are in a hot area, the fundamentals of what buyers look for remains the same.

Firstly, it’s not enough to give lip service to the areas above on your consultancy’s website or in marketing materials. Buyers are looking for more than just expertise. Demonstrable capabilities, unique market presence and profitable propositions are key to buyer attractiveness. Without these, a buyer could see your firm as a collection of skilled individuals that could otherwise be hired in.

For a consultancy to be attractive to buyers, it is important to have both a market focus and a set of unique capabilities that can be leveraged across the buyer’s network – regardless of whether you’re in a ‘hot’ sector or not.

Intellectual property (IP) built into your firm, a strong Unique Value Proposition (UVP), growing sales…these are all key parts of building a successful and investable firm and are explained in our 8 Levers of Equity Value. The 8 levers contain 80 of the most important measures that a sophisticated buyer would look at to evaluate the risk in your business.

For more insights from buyers, read the 2014 Equiteq Buyers Research Report here.

Consulting Sector M&A Deals for week beginning 6th October

businessman doing handstand on the beachAubay Société Anonyme (France) acquired 76% stake in Norma 4 Sa (Spain)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: IT consulting Date: October 2014
Aubay Group has announced the acquisition of a 76% stake in Spanish company Norma4, which is primarily located in Madrid and which specialises in software development, production support and technological consulting services. Generating revenues of around €15 million, Norma4’s 285 employees work essentially within the banking sector for strategic accounts such as Banco Santander and BBVA. The acquisition will strengthen Aubay’s position in the banking industry in Spain, and means that the Group now works with virtually all of the financial institutions of the countries in which its consultants operate. Following the acquisition which is financed entirely in cash, Aubay now employs over 500 members of staff across Spain and Portugal, leaving it ideally placed to capitalise on the recovery that is progressively taking shape across the region. The acquisition will be consolidated in the Group’s accounts from 1 October 2014. NORMA 4, SERVICIOS INFORMÁTICOS, S.A. offers software development, production support, and technological consulting services. Aubay Société Anonyme, an integration and technology consultancy company, specialises in information and industrial systems, networks, and telecommunications in France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Luxembourg.

Luxoft Holding, Inc. (Switzerland) acquired Radius Inc. (USA)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: IT consulting Date: October 2014
Luxoft Holding, Inc said that it has acquired Radius Inc., a US-based solution provider focused on the growing Internet of Things industry. The Radius technology team and solution portfolio will bring in-depth technical capability that is complementary to Luxoft´s current technology profile. Luxoft will now have the ability to offer specialty expertise around sensor data acquisition, real-time analytics and modern cloud platforms. Further, IoT-related domain knowledge will create enhanced productivity and time-to-market for Luxoft´s existing clients in automotive, energy, technology and telecom verticals. “We consider the acquisition of Radius to be instrumental to further differentiation and development of our company as an innovation driven provider of complex services and solutions,” said Luxoft CEO and President Dmitry Loschinin. “The subject of IoT is a very new concept which we believe has a tremendous potential for large and small enterprises around the world. Radius is a fast growing company with advanced engineering expertise and impressive client base of Fortune 500 accounts, both of which are complementary to Luxoft. We are excited about this opportunity, which allows us to expand cross-vertical, end-to-end offerings we bring to our clients globally.” Luxoft Holding, Inc., together with its subsidiaries, provides software development services and IT solutions to multinational corporations primarily in Western Europe and North America. Radius provides mobile, cloud, data, business intelligence and project management solutions.

UST Global Inc. (USA) acquired TCP (Spain)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: IT consulting Date: October 2014
UST Global announced that it has acquired TCP, an IT consulting company specialising in the development and integration of advanced technology solutions and IT services. TCP provides the scale of operations that UST is looking for in terms of serving both Spanish and European markets, as it reinforces the company’s strong focus on the Banking and Telecom verticals. The acquisition gives UST Global access to the largest companies operating in Spain and opens up prospects of expansion into European, Latin American and African markets. With this acquisition TCP employees will benefit from UST Global’s local and international professional development opportunities. Commenting on the acquisition Manu Gopinath, UST Global’s Head of Emerging Markets and Global Head of HR, said “Both companies perfectly complement each other. This is UST Global’s second acquisition in Spain and the deal will reinforce our market presence, contributing to better serving our current and prospective Spanish, Latin American and European customers. For UST Global this is the best way to consolidate our presence in the Spanish market, gearing our operations towards growth. TCP employees will also have opportunities for career development in a global organisation that is committed to promoting talent management.” UST Global is a leading provider of end-to-end IT Services and Solutions for Global 1000 companies. TCP Sistemas e Ingenieria SL provides Information Technology based consulting services. Continue reading

Run your company as if it’s for sale

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Tony Rice, Partner at Equiteq, shares some advice.

I spoke with the owner of a consulting firm this week who said something that resonated very strongly with me and our work here at Equiteq. He said, “We are not selling our firm, and may never do so, but we run it as if it’s for sale”.

I wish I could have coined that phrase! It’s a mantra I highly recommend for the following three reasons, depending on your strategy for the future:

  1. Never to sell the firm – It’s great for cash flow, sales and profit growth, and sustainability of growth. By running your company as if it’s for sale, you will always be improving performance, reducing risks in the business and making it a more secure place to work for you and your employees. If you are never planning to sell your firm you may not want to make it an attractive acquisition target, but by default you will make it a more attractive place to work for employees, and for clients to ‘work with’.
  2. To sell or not to sell – We often meet owners who have not yet crystallized whether a future sale of the business is the chosen direction; exit strategy is not yet, or may never be on the agenda. In our experience things often change. Time moves on, people get tired of 18 hours days, circumstances alter. If you are not convinced that your business will never be for sale, then why risk having an unsellable or low value business if and when your mind changes?
  3. Planning to sell – It’s never too early to start the process of preparing for a sale. You may have a plan to do it in three or five years’ time, but most quality firms get approached by buyers before that. It may be an opportunity too good to miss and if you delayed the start of turning your business into a more desirable asset, then you are also delaying your value growth and the probability of a successful sale will be reduced.

If the mantra resonates with you as it does me, then a great place to start is understanding the 8 Levers of Equity Value and download our book, 100 Tips to Accelerate Profit and Value Growth.

Consulting Sector M&A Deals for week beginning 29th September

businessman doing handstand on the beachBP3 Global Inc. (USA) acquired Modexe Ltd. (UK)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: IT consulting Date: September 2014
BP3 Global, an Austin, TX based provider of business process management (BPM) services and solutions, announced that it has acquired the interests of Modexe Ltd, a London, UK based consultancy focused on IBM BPM and Operational Decision Management implementations. The union of the two geographic leaders provides customers with an unparalleled range of IBM Smarter Process services and tools. The purchase of Modexe further increases BP3’s footprint in the BPM services market. Founded in 2007, BP3 has become the premier IBM Smarter Process software and services partner in the US and has more experience deploying BPM throughout the Fortune 500 than any other independent firm. The acquisition of Modexe, a European partner for IBM BPM and ODM, positions BP3 as the leading provider of BPM services across both North America and Europe. “We’re excited about our official expansion into the European market and welcome the Modexe staff and customers to our unique culture,” said BP3 CEO and Co-Founder Lance Gibbs. “While we currently have consultants based in Europe, a European headquarters will allow BP3 to both continue the rapid growth we have experienced over the past several years and to add more effective customer service for international customers. Modexe employs a group of dedicated BPM delivery professionals and I am confident that their addition to our team will further our mission to provide great customer experiences with BPM around the world.” Modexe Ltd. operates as a specialist consultancy focusing on IBM business process management and operational decision management technologies.

HSMC Orizon LLC (USA) acquired It21-Consult Gmbh (Germany)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: IT consulting Date: September 2014
HSMC Orizon Technology announces the acquisition of IT 21, a perfect fit for the firm’s IT growth strategy. As the firm’s new leader, Michael Bohning’s first challenge was to find a technology consulting firm to strengthen HSMC Orizon Technology’s managed IT services business and, with the right opportunity, a firm that would increase their geographic coverage locally, nationally and internationally. He found both in Olathe-based firm IT21, founded by Chuck Nuffer and Rick Mentel. As of September 1, 2014, HSMC Orizon Technology acquired the assets of IT21, boosting the firm’s technology staff and services. “IT21 brings experienced staff, mature systems and proven procedures to proactively help clients manage technology. Their Quality of Service client service model fits perfectly with HSMC Orizon Technology’s client-centered approach to growing our managed technology services business,” explains Bohning. HSMC Orizon is an award winning accounting and consulting firm providing accounting, tax, audit/assurance and business advisory services. It21-Consult Gmbh offers managed IT services and information systems consulting services.

Huron Consulting Group Inc. (USA) acquired Threshold Consulting, Inc. (USA)
Deal Size: Unspecified Industry: IT consulting Date: September 2014
Huron Consulting Group Inc. a leading provider of business consulting services, announced that the Company completed its acquisition of Threshold Consulting, Inc. Threshold provides cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, data warehousing and business intelligence (BI) solutions, as well as customer relationship management (CRM) consulting capabilities. Threshold’s business complements Huron’s existing enterprise performance management (EPM), BI and analytics offerings to the office of the CFO and adds deeper CIO-centric solutions including data warehousing, data modeling and information governance capabilities, while also providing an entry into Salesforce.com CRM implementation services. Threshold is a Salesforce.com registered Silver Cloud Alliance Partner and Huron is a Platinum level member of Oracle PartnerNetwork (OPN). Threshold Consulting Services, Inc. provides information asset management services to the United States and international clients. The company specialises in data warehousing, including data integration and repositories, as well as business intelligence, enterprise performance management, scorecards and dashboards, financial planning and reporting, and compliance solutions. Huron Consulting Group Inc. provides operational and financial consulting services in the United States. Continue reading

Is now a good time to sell your consulting firm?

research cropped Imagine you had the opportunity to sit down in front of potential buyers of your firm and ask them questions about their buying strategy, what would you ask them? That’s exactly what we went through in constructing the questionnaire for our first Equiteq buyers report. We wanted to make sure we were focusing on questions that would help you decide whether now is a good time to sell and also help you assess what expectations you should have. We even brought together chief executives of several consulting firms to ensure that our questions were right on the mark. The result is more than 100 interviews with some of the major buyers of consulting businesses in the US and Europe who provide some fresh and thought provoking insights. They help pinpoint exactly what buyers are looking for over the next two to three years, whether they’re looking to buy more or less, and what types of deal structures and earn-outs are being used.

Highlights from the research include:

  • More than a six percent growth in deals is expected over the next two to three years – heralding the first big growth rate for eight years.
  • Nearly a third of buyers said they expected their growth to come through acquisitions rather than organically and an equal number are seeing more opportunities to buy than last year.
  • The average budget over the next year for those doing two acquisitions or more is $90m and for those doing one acquisition it is $35m. Nearly one in six of the buyers surveyed have budgets in excess of $100m.

The 2014 Equiteq buyers report hopefully answers the questions you would want to ask. It will help you decide whether you’re likely to get a premium price or not. It pinpoints the problems in bringing a deal to a successful conclusion. And hopefully, it answers the question as to whether now is a good time to sell.

Read the 2014 Equiteq Buyers Research Report here.