Creating a valuable business to sell or pass on to the next generation. This was the theme for an early morning event with Waterford Chamber and PWC.
Numbers were low and given the weather, it was a wonder anyone was there at all. Those of us who were got great benefit from the presentation by Billy Sweetman of PWC. Billy has huge experience and knowledge in this field so had a lot to share.
This got me thinking about what did I learn from the discussion and what are we doing in our own business to improve? We will look at
- Sell or keep it in the family?
- Continuous Improvement
- Preparing for sale
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Sell or keep it in the family
Billy spoke about Manor Farm, the largest chicken processor in Ireland. Owned by Vincent and Justin Carton they faced a dilemma. The two brothers have 8 daughters between them, and the question came at a family gathering. Are you interested in joining the company?
The answer was a resounding No. Not easy to hear for an 8th generation family business. Despite this, there was a sense of relief as they had an answer. As a result they could look at other options including a sale of the business.
In one of the biggest deals in 2017, they sold their business for €70m. That could rise to €94m in the years that followed if they meet ambitious targets. The deal included €36m in cash upfront.
The two brothers created a very valuable business to sell. They got there with hard work, innovation, and investment. Their daughters didn’t want to get involved. It wasn’t their thing as they were successful in other areas of business.
The circumstances of each family business will be different. Imagine that the 8 daughters did come in and run the business. You are going from 2 decision makers to 8 and that can be difficult when deciding on the direction of a business. Does the person coming in have the same drive, passion, and commitment you have?
Why does the business exist? What is the purpose of your business? We all are in business for some reason but what is our why
This brings me back to the book by Simon Sinek – Start with Why. Those that were clear about their why, built better and more profitable businesses. He used Apple as an example. Their why was to improve people’s lives with the technology they developed. For the team working there, it created a culture of learning, hard work and improvement
This Why drove the Apple employees to create the environment of hard work and innovation. And the results have been astonishing. We can ask ourselves what the culture is like in our business. What are our values? Do you have values?
This is an exercise we did a few years ago and we got the team involved. After all, it wasn’t something we, as business owners, could decide and tell the team. Imagine the conversation. “Right now lads, here are our values and we are nice, hardworking, good craic and very helpful”
- Problem solving
- Enjoy what we do
These were important to us, so we got them up on our walls. This is the type of people we are so when we hire, we are trying to attract people like this. We want clients to be like this too. We want to work with and for people like us. That doesn’t mean these are the best values to have or make us saints. They are our values and are important to us. What are yours?
Billy in his presentation showed us a clip of a pit stop tyre change at the 1960 Indianapolis 500. It took 60 seconds. About 45 seconds of that was a guy beating a tyre with a hammer. It was hilarious to look at. There was 5 seconds of another guy wiping the windscreen with a cloth. The contrasting clip was a pit stop change in 2021 that took under 2 seconds
“Every organisation must be prepared to abandon everything it does to survive in the future” Peter Drucker
Think of mobile phones. Would you buy a mobile phone today that would only work to take and make calls? Did the major players in the mobile phone market today, like Apple and Samsung, make phones at the start? Back in the day Blackberry, Nokia and Motorola were the big brands. Xtravision is no longer with us as we now have Netflix, Sky and Disney +. We don’t need a Sky Box anymore but have Sky Glass.
How did the racing teams go from 60 seconds to under 2 seconds at the Pit stop? We don’t know exactly but one would imagine there was an
- examination of the process
- abandoning the process and starting again
- practicing a new process
- investing in new technology – out went the hammer!
- working with the right team
- a will to learn and lots of hard work
Those that don’t want to learn, improve, and try new things may not be the right fit for your team. Say you ask the question. Why do we do it that way? And if you get the answer that we always do it that way, then it’s time to worry!
You want your team to be thinking about better ways to deliver a service. That must be better in two ways. First for the business in that it improves efficiencies and second for the customer. Does the customer get better service if we do it in a new way?
Going back to Peter Drucker again “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”
You can’t measure everything in business but what you can measure are the numbers. Say you own a salon and expect December to be your busiest month of the year. In 2021 your sales in December were €45,000 and you expect 2022 to be 10% stronger as this has been the trend all year. And you are taking a lot of bookings in November
In January 2023 you look at the numbers and see your sales hit €55,000 for December. You are over the moon. You made €10,000 profit in December 2022 but made €15,000 profit in December 2021 on a lower sales number. That is disappointing and good to know but you must understand why that happened.
You delve deeper into the numbers and see that you had an extra employee in 2022. The types of services you sold a lot of this year were lower margin. Time to focus on or promote the more profitable business lines was an issue for you. There is an understanding of where you went wrong and what you can do to fix it. Out of that comes some business decisions
- No longer provide certain services.
- Train the staff in the most profitable areas of the business
- Introduce sales commission and a €500 voucher for the top salesperson in Q1 2023
- Hire a new staff member with a specialist skillset in a very profitable area of the business
- Let a staff member go whose skills are in the services you will no longer provide
Preparing for Sale
Knowing your numbers and having cash in the bank will give you great confidence as a business owner. That’s why you must invest in your finance function. A quality bookkeeping service will be the foundation to know your key numbers. This will help you create a more valuable business. What are the key numbers for your business? In a services business like ours, they are
- Sales, less
- Wage costs as a percentage of sales
- Overheads as a percentage of sales
- Net Profit %
Let’s face it, if a business owner does 31 December 2021 accounts in November 2022, they have little value. The only value is for compliance purposes as you need to do them for taxes and the CRO.
Say you want to sell the business and the buyer has a choice of two businesses. Business A does management accounts. They know their key numbers for October 2022 by the 10th of November. They know what they owe and what money is owed to them and have €100,000 in their bank account.
Business B is finalising its 2021 accounts so will have them in a week. It has €20,000 in the bank account but Revenue owes them €80,000 and they will get that back when they catch up with Vat returns. The owner can tell you that 2022 is a better year and the buyer looks for up-to-date numbers. The owner rings his frazzled accounting looking for management accounts and they will have them in 6 weeks. Both are similar businesses but the buyer will go for Business A all day long.
If you are looking to sell and don’t have management accounts, it is a major negative. You are not going to the table fully prepared, and the outcomes will be not selling or getting a lower sales price.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
The Carton brothers didn’t become an overnight success. Vincent wasn’t sure if it was for him. He did a BComm in UCD and joined the family firm ” but within a week I wanted to get out.” He thought the production side was strong but the back office processes needed to be overhauled. In other words, they were doing things right but there were changes required.
He left the family firm in 1983 and studied accounting at night. Then he went to work for Penn Tennis balls in Mullingar and Zurich financial services in Dublin.
With his qualifications and experience in other companies, he returned to the business. If the 8 daughters were to come into the business a similar journey was expected of them.
It would only be fitting to finish with another quote from Peter Drucker!
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”
In all our businesses doing things right is a given. Doing the right things takes, time, money, and investment of both. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. Deciding on what the right things are for your business is a very useful exercise. Give yourself the time to do it.
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