8 ways to handle an unsolicited bid for maximum value

In a recent interview with Financier Worldwide, David Jorgenson, chief executive of Equiteq, suggests deal flow in 2018 will be supported by continued low interest rates and large pools of capital available for acquisitions among both strategic buyers and private equity investors.

With the forecast for M&A in 2018 predicted to be as lucrative as 2017, it’s anticipated businesses will continue to see a rise in unsolicited approaches from buyers. In fact, about a third of Equiteq transactions start with a client receiving an approach from a buyer.

However, despite a seller receiving an enquiry, there is no guarantee that a deal will be done. In reality, given the number of companies looked at by Trade and PE investors, the chance of it closing can be relatively low, so taking the right approach from the very beginning is essential in maximizing the opportunity and minimizing the opportunity cost of wasted effort.

In this blog Bruce Ramsay, managing director, business development at Equiteq, shares his thoughts on how best to manage the process from initial approach to a closed deal.

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How to fund an acquisition

In his three-part series, Build or Buy? Equiteq’s Adam Blatchford discusses the pillars for successful growth through acquisition. In part one Adam addressed the strategic advantages acquisitions can offer.

Here in part two, he looks at the ways a professional service firm can fund an acquisition.

Generally, M&A news tends to give the impression that acquisition is an exercise exclusive to huge corporations with big cash balances. In the last year the consulting sector has seen a number of multi-billion dollar deals, including Blackstone spending $4.8 billion for Aon’s HR Outsourcing business to create Alight Solutions, and $2.6 billion for British engineering consultancy Atkins from SNC-Lavalin.

This perception fails to scratch the surface of acquisitions and hides the real picture. Of more than 2,500 consulting deals that took place in 2017, the mean deal size was a more reasonable $69 million. The median deal was even lower at $12 million, meaning half of all deals took place below this threshold. These numbers are far more attainable for a ‘regular’ growth-stage business and demonstrate that an acquisition is more achievable than one might have initially thought.

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Insights of the Year – Our Top 10 Blogs of 2017

2017 was a busy year for Equiteq, closing deals and advising consulting firm owners on their growth and exit strategies across Europe, the US, Australia and Asia. Within our market there are unique takeaways and insights for owners to consider when thinking about a sale.

As owners and acquirers set their 2018 priorities, we recap the learnings from Equiteq’s most read blogs of 2017.

  1. Should I sell my consulting firm to an overseas buyer?

Here we discuss the opportunities overseas buyers present, how to attract them and how to deal with the challenges these approaches can bring.

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Demand for acquisitions set to grow in 2018

Our fourth annual global survey of buyers of consulting businesses delivers current, actionable intelligence in the five segments Equiteq specializes in: Management consulting, IT consulting, Media & Marketing, Engineering consulting and HR consulting. Findings, published today, reveal:

  • Buyers expect to initiate 50% more acquisitions year-on-year
  • Convergence continues to be a key trend as buyers look to diversify
  • 55% of buyers think targets could be better at communicating their market proposition
  • 94% of buyers say it is important to retain management teams post-acquisition
  • Over 70% of targets do not make their IP apparent to prospective buyers
  • Three quarters of buyers expect at least 40% of a target’s clients to be blue chip
  • Deal structures are improving for sellers

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Build or Buy? Should you acquire?

In his three-part series, Build or Buy? Equiteq’s Adam Blatchford discusses the pillars for successful growth through acquisition. Adam begins by addressing the fundamental question: Should you acquire?

As a shareholder, you have set goals, both personally and for your firm.

Those goals may include building enough equity value to retire, start a new venture, or support your family; everyone is different, but most owners have a timescale and an amount in mind.

Acquisition could help you achieve those shareholder goals; it can add value to your firm if it is carefully and clearly aligned to your overall business strategy.

Acquisition is not a strategy in itself, it is a means which can be used to deliver the strategic needs of your business plan. First your strategy must be aligned to your shareholder goals, then you can consider if acquisition is the right way to accomplish that strategy.

There are right and wrong ways to grow through acquisition; you want to be scaling smart, ensuring business growth translates into equity value growth by avoiding mistakes and missteps, so that you can deliver your business plan and create value in your firm. The best way to do this is to view your firm through the eyes of a buyer, considering how the shape of firm you are building will be attractive to a future investor.

There are a number of ways that acquisition can be valuable to deliver your strategic needs and to simultaneously build value to a potential buyer.

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Making a success of succession

How do you ensure a succession plan works? When should you start considering succession planning? Penny de Valk, Equiteq specialist in leadership development and human capital, addressed these and other front-of-mind questions of business owners in the Q&A of our recent succession webinar.

The main issues raised included:

  • Recruiting new leaders: internal versus external
  • Sharing equity to attract and engage
  • Handling founders’ syndrome and the exit transition

What do you see as the pros and cons of appointing a CEO from within the firm compared with recruiting from outside?

There’s no right or wrong here. With an internal candidate you get someone who is steeped in the values and the market, someone who really understands the organization. That can have huge advantages, but if you are looking for exponential growth, or a shift in thinking, it may be best to recruit externally. It is important to begin with what you need, really spend time on ‘what good looks like’ then assess your existing people against this. You can spot the potential inside and develop it. You find people from within the business who are just as ambitious and are just as visionary about what the organization could be, not just what the organization was.

The rule of thumb would be: for organizations that are not in true start-up mode, but are half way through their maturity, it is probably half and half. The important thing is there is a good mix of capability, experience and potential.

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A practical guide to improving margins

We recently ran two 30-minute webinars on putting margins at the centre of your business. The first of these outlined the steps businesses must take to improve margins which you can view here, while the second was a more specific look at how to implement these steps in order to improve margins in a sustainable way which you can view here. This week, we’re looking at some of the questions asked during the second webinar.

Our sales leaders are all about closing the deal and trying to increase the size of the deal. But our delivery staff are often challenged to translate that into the expected profits, can you comment on that?

When we look at the root causes of problems with margins, it’s often the lack of collaboration between sales and delivery. We commonly find this lack of collaboration can result in delivery managers discovering deals aren’t scoped properly, or the wrong skillsets were assigned.

It’s therefore important that delivery managers have early visibility of the pipeline to get resources lined up for the right client and at the right rates. That can only happen if there’s collaboration, and with both sales and delivery having access to the same information.

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