Exploring the human element of dealmaking

The importance of the human element in successful dealmaking was highlighted in Lancashire’s Business View’s annual ‘Doing the Deal’ event.

The online gathering, held in association with Access 2 Finance, Azets and CG Professional, was attended by 55 delegates.

This year’s event looked to get to the heart of the thinking, the process and the pain-points involved in buying and selling businesses. It also examined the challenges of doing a deal in the current Covid-19 pandemic.

John Flood and Paul Fox, of Fox Brothers, shared the inside story of last year’s big deal, bringing together two of the North West’s heavyweight operators in the construction sector to create a £50m-turnover haulage and plant hire group with growth in its sights.

Fox Brothers, the Blackpool-based haulier of aggregates, recycled materials and earthworks contractor, acquired Clive Hurt Plant Hire in the multi-million-pound deal.

The combined busines employs more than 320 people. Paul Fox, group managing director of Fox Brothers, explained the thinking behind the acquisition, describing it as “a catalyst” for future growth. And he explained how it will create significant opportunities to compete for larger projects.

Group commercial and strategic director John Flood, who has a wealth of business buying experience, spoke of the emotional element involved in dealmaking.

He said: “The principal shareholder of Clive Hurt had been in the business for 40plus years. In that sense he was emotionally attached to the business and wanted to see it flourish.

“The personal aspect can sometimes be overlooked. Making sure the deal is right for the current owner of the business, never mind the future owner, is very important.”

Delegates also heard from business leaders experienced in doing the deal and professional service experts.

They told the event that transparency and good communication were vital in successful dealmaking and it paid for businesses to ensure they were ready to meet the demands of what can be a “roller-coaster” process.

Matthew Hirst, chief executive of global group ESG, has a management buyout and the business sale of Lancashire-based Utiligroup to its new parent under his belt. He revealed how he had walked away from two recent deals because of those businesses lack of preparation.

He said: “Get your advisors on board early to make sure that you have got your house in order.”

Janine Murray, mergers and acquisitions director of Lancashire-based Daisy Communications, explained how the group had grown through its acquisition strategy.

She echoed the need for businesses to work with their advisors from a very early stage as the sale process was never simple and straightforward. And she added: “You need to be truthful, realistic and pragmatic.”

That includes bringing any issues out into the open rather than seeing them exposed during due diligence and losing the deal.

Paul Ainscough, director of Ormskirk-based play equipment company Eden Play, is well-versed in buying businesses, including operations in distress.

He said: “You must have a plan. Why are you buying the business? There must be a long-term objective, whether that is to sell it, expand it, grow it or scale it down.”

He added: “You’ve got to understand the numbers. From that you can form a strategy.”

Paul Harper is sales and marketing director of Daish’s Holidays. The Bournemouth-based coach holiday specialist recently acquired Great Harwood-based family holiday firm Robinsons.

He said the deal was part of its strategic growth plans and added two hotels on the south coast to its portfolio as well as opening up the North to the business.

And he added: “We have a very successful busines operation, we know what we do, how we repeat it and how we scale it up.”

Tim Mills, partner at accountancy and business advisory group Azets, said a big part of an advisor’s role was getting to know its clients and the background to their businesses.

He added that selling and buying were both stressful and time-consuming and he spoke of the emotional impact of disposing of a business, adding: “never mind the pounds and pence, there are people involved.”

Benjamin Dredge, managing partner at CG Professional, said for owner-managers the sale of their business is a milestone event. He added: “Understanding them as a person is incredibly important.

“You need to build trust between yourself and the client to understand what issues you may need to address. Getting to know them fundamentally is crucial right at the outset.”

Mark Gibbons, senior access to finance specialist at Access 2 Finance, said part of the process was making businesses “investment ready” and in the right shape to take it to lenders and investors.

He added: “It is having that complete picture, so that when lenders and investors have a look at it, they have got a really good feel for the business.”

More coverage of this event will be featured in the March/April issue of Lancashire Business View magazine.

Watch the event in full below.