Voices

The feeling side of M&A

I want to scream with joy, I want to cry, I want to just stop feeling. Anyone have a glass of wine? Except these feelings keep coming. I haven’t slept a full night since someone offered to buy my firm.

Now, I have been planning to sell “someday” in the future. And I always knew I wanted to exit to a Top 100 Firm and show that “radicalness” applies to firms of all sizes. However, I really didn’t believe it would be so soon. I still have so much I want to do within my own firm. But the market is ready for me now!

I kept breathing. Now, I have been on the other side of business sales before, like any experienced CPA. But this is different. This time it’s me. It’s my life, it’s my baby, it’s my team that I have to take care of. And of course, like any business owner, I believe it’s worth more than the market does because it’s all mine.

After another firm asked me out on a “date,” I started to look at opportunities for other suitors. I engaged with an advisor who helped me find a fit for my firm. I had multiple phone calls and conversations with managing partners. It was fairly easy for me to know who I would fit with. I traveled to visit their headquarters, met a bunch of their partners, and thought this could work out. When I told them that I was terrified of giving up my firm and becoming their partner, they didn’t blink.

I thought I might fit in OK here. I left knowing that we would probably move forward together.

AT-112017-Merger Plans

You see, when I started to merge with another firm, my biggest fears were that I would be taken advantage of in the negotiations due to difference in size, and that our culture wouldn’t mesh. Both are common feelings in an upstream merger.

So, I engaged a lawyer and a CPA. Bill was my friend, mentor, and truly became my most trusted advisor as the deal moved forward. In the beginning of the process, I asked Bill what he thought my firm was worth, and his perfect answer was that it was priceless.

And so began my research of what it would look like and how negotiations would work.

Then, I waited three weeks until the managing partner could visit my office and we could talk.

In the meantime, I had to take an HR (personality) type test. (And call Bill again.)

Bill has sat on both sides of the table before, as he merged his small firm years ago. And now, like many other firms, he is involved with the M&A side of acquiring firms for his firm. He also understands what CPA firm partners will agree to. His knowledge and experience were invaluable to help understand the details.

More important, his voice of reason and his ability to keep me off the ledge were where his true value came in. There were multiple days when I picked up the phone and just freaked out on him.

The most profound thing I learned during this process was about leadership and what it means to be a leader, and how my partner and other senior team members responded to the knowledge of merging the firm. We are a small firm, and because we are so small (only five people, including myself) more than half of my team knew what was happening and that it would have a material effect on their lives. How they responded to me and the deal was truly unbelievable. I am so proud.

As the business owner, my team follows my directions. We take great care of our customers, we implement ongoing process and technology improvements, we travel and have fun at conferences together, and we have an exceptional culture.

And when faced with such a life-altering change, they rallied. They responded with critical questions and what-if scenarios about what all our futures would look like. They positively gathered the information needed and did the additional work to respond to all the questions that were asked of our firm. They walked in the water of uncertainty with me for months, when sometimes I was questioning my own beliefs about whether I was making the right decision. They stood by me, trusted me, and believed that I would make the right decision for our firm and for their lives. Wow! I am so thankful.

I finally understood what it means to be a leader. Even the merging firm’s CEO commented on how impressed he was by how unbelievably loyal my team was. I guess it’s not that common.

In fact, there were many days when I felt like I was letting my team down because I would wonder if it was the right decision or if it was time to walk away from the deal.

That’s what made Bill so important. He was an independent sounding board who never once told me that he would make the decision for me.

To understand what it’s like to sell your business, read this description from the internet: “Take all of the fears and other emotions of life’s major events — raising children, getting divorced, selling your house, buying a new house, packing and moving, losing a close family member, forfeiting your identity — then, take knowing that it’s all going to happen and it’s all your doing, and you’ll begin to get an idea of what’s going on in their heads.”

And yet Bill always picked up the phone and calmed me down or coached me through the various alternatives.

The deal didn’t happen … . It’s all for the best.

For the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to be a true leader, one who guides her team through life-altering uncertainty and change. I also never really understood the value of “the most trusted advisor.” That’s why, Bill, my friend, you are priceless! AT