M & A 101: Lessons Learned From Decades of Deals May/June 2021

Sound Advice

Loren Smith – Blue Valley Capital

Years ago, when I was debating whether to leave a secure and promising position with a high-tech company to acquire a small (under $1M) wire harness company, I was fortunate to receive invaluable advice from a highly respected mentor. He told me, “If you do decide to become an owner, determine the aspect of running your business you love, focus your time and energy on that function, and identify individuals either internally or externally to perform the other aspects of running your business.”

That straightforward advice turned out to be critical to the success I achieved over the 25 years I owned my harness company––MWC.

Sure enough, I determined early on that many aspects of day-to-day management did not appeal to me. I did not like the daily grind of running a factory, and I did not care for the minutiae associated with engineering or purchasing or accounting. Fortunately, from the outset I found folks who excelled at those functions. (And over time, as the business grew and the demands of those functions changed, I was fortunate to continue to find skillful individuals to perform in those capacities.)

What I thrived on, from the very beginning, was dealing with our wire harness customers. Never tiring of those interactions, I continued to perform that function throughout our 25 years of growth. Of course, this does not mean I ignored all of the other functions necessary to operate a business. By closely monitoring key indicators, I was able to stay abreast of day-to-day activities while concentrating on what gave me greatest satisfaction and where I could provide most value.

The business model I came to adopt focused on a limited number of large accounts––mainly major construction equipment manufacturers. Those individuals appreciated dealing with a business owner, and by closely aligning myself with all levels of their organizations, I was able to understand their needs and translate those priorities to my team. This framework enabled us to set and meet goals that exceeded our customers’ expectations.

When one of our major customers decided to single out a “supplier of the year,” we were chosen as the initial recipient of the award––and later, we became the only supplier so honored twice. Although our team’s consistently high performance justified the recognition, I have to believe there were many other outstanding suppliers who could have won. What I also believe is that my close relationship with this customer––a relationship I deeply enjoyed cultivating––had some bearing on the decision.

Having now had the opportunity to observe the management of a multitude of harness companies, I am struck by the correlation between owners who spread their attention too thin and limitations in their companies’ ability to grow beyond a certain level. So whenever appropriate, I pass on to those owners the same sage advice I was given many years ago.