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M&A: What Makes a Deal Work

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The combination of two firms, regardless of their respective sizes at the time of partnership, is a critical action in your firm’s life cycle. And to forge a successful union, you must consider many variables.

Like physicians, the best of us care deeply for our clients, and put their interests first. It is imperative that, no matter what happens with our firms, our client’s level of service continues uninterrupted.

The key to success in any advisory merger or acquisition is to pair the right companies in a way that will allow the new venture to grow revenue and profits, reduce risk and better serve its clientele. Having executed a few deals at Savant, I believe these are the pivotal determinants:

Compatible culture and values: We are in the people business, and assuring both teams are aligned is a precursor of a successful combination. Make sure you share common values and business philosophy, and that personalities complement.

Broad senior executive involvement: This is essential for a strong post-acquisition relationship. Make sure your partner is passionate about your business.

Appropriate post-transaction incentives: Ownership stakes tend to align interests; you and your employees will be more committed with more to gain. Be wary of any deal that offers all upfront payment or limits future opportunities.

Joint business plan: Ironing out operating issues, terms and complexity prior to closing a deal signals that both buyer and seller understand the integration that will be required.

Cool emotions: Deals take time and energy, create stress and often feel personal. It is difficult to be 100% objective while negotiating your business and future. A good M&A advisor and top legal counsel, highly experienced doing transactions, increase your chance of success.

Flexibility on both sides: Understand that client actions or market conditions may not go according to plan. Both sides must be willing to adapt to achieve an optimal outcome.

Commitment to shared victories: Getting the deal done is the easy part. All parties need to commit to creating an ongoing effort in which you, the partner firm, your team and your clients all benefit.

Aligned incentives: Most buyers’ incentives are not synced with sellers’. Buyers answer to venture capitalists and private equity interests with short time horizons and liquidity needs. Rarely do their goals align with those of the sellers and their clients, so make the incentives overlap. 

Governance structure: Make sure the combined firm has a robust, arm’s length governance that directs management, protects minority interests, determines shareholder distributions, deploys capital optimally, formulates long-term strategy, and maintains checks and balances.

Brent Brodeski is CEO of Savant Capital Management in Rockford, Ill.

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