M & A 101: Lessons Learned from Decades of Deals – Jan/Feb 2022

The Lure of the Entrepreneurial Life

Loren Smith – Blue Valley Capital

At the beginning of my recent WHMA webinar, I mentioned moving my new blended family from Boston to a town of 1000 in rural Iowa years ago to acquire a small, struggling wire harness company. I had left income security and taken a big risk because as long as I could remember I had wanted my own business. At the root of my entrepreneurial dream was the freedom and independence that I had seen ownership give my uncle, a childhood role model.

My family consisted of my new wife and three pre-teen kids: my two sons and my new stepdaughter. The move was a daunting adjustment for each of us. When our kids got on the school bus other kids actually poked them in the arm as if they were arrivals from another planet. When my wife tried to schedule work on our new house, to her consternation she was asked when the man of the house would be home. And I quickly learned the company I had gambled on acquiring through sweat equity was in much more trouble than I had realized.

So after about a year in Iowa, when I got a call from a headhunter who was doing a search for a substantial connector company on the West Coast––and my Texas Instruments background coupled with my entrepreneurial experience appeared to qualify me––I listened. At that point I had not consummated the transaction to acquire the Iowa company, as my deal had been turning it around first and then working out an ownership arrangement.

After the headhunter flew out to meet me, we scheduled a trip to the West Coast so I could interview for the position as president of the connector company. My wife and kids were excited about the prospect of getting back to civilization, and the salary and perks in the offing were way beyond what I would be able to draw from a harness company just beginning to show signs of rebounding.

I interviewed with a number of people in California and was offered a job on the spot. We had hit it off, and my credentials were a fit. I told them I wanted a few days to think about it and discuss the change with my family.

On the way back to the airport, however, I reflected on what I had seen. The position was an excellent opportunity with a substantial, well-run company, but it was a move back into the corporate world.

By the time I reached the airport, I had made up my mind. I called my wife and told her I wanted to stay in Iowa. I recognized that she and the kids favored moving again, but the freedom and independence of ownership had handily won the day. My wife, understanding my long-held entrepreneurial dream, was not surprised by my decision and was extremely supportive. As for our children, they showed the resilience of youth and soon forgot all about the short-lived possibility of uprooting again.

In retrospect, the business decision I made several decades ago was the best one I have ever made. I have enjoyed the good fortune of achieving leadership serving the construction equipment industry, with the help of my outstanding team, and doing well financially. But the driving force in my decision process was not money. It was the desire to achieve the feeling of freedom that I had observed as a kid in my uncle––and which I was already starting to experience myself in my short time in Iowa. That feeling has never left me.