Whether or not to sell a business is one of the biggest decisions a company founder can make. But there is help out there to make the experience more heartwarming than heartbreaking.
SoGlos speaks to Peter Mardon, Director and Head of Corporate Commercials at WSP Solicitors, to leverage his extensive experience in the emotional business of buying and selling companies.
About the Experts – Peter Mardon, Head of Corporate Commercials, WSP Solicitors
For over 25 years, Peter Mardon has advised companies from early concept through startup, growth, integration and exit. Director of a successful international manufacturing group, he knows from his first-hand experience the value of expert advice and building long-term relationships with trusted advisors.
How long have you been working in this field?
I have been a corporate lawyer for 32 years, specializing in business reorganizations, purchases and sales. During this time, he has been involved in a wide range of businesses of all sizes, from street corner shops and pubs to multinational corporations.
Some of my most memorable transactions included selling a Caribbean shrimp fleet, buying an adult entertainment shop, and buying a technology company in exchange for a luxury yacht.
I have a particular interest in engineering and have been director of a multinational engineering group that specializes in manufacturing valves for the energy sector.
What are the most common things about buying or selling a business that you don’t realize until you seek advice?
The amount of time and focus required to put together and complete a deal.
The client can be overwhelmed with the process, so legal advice should be sought first in order to structure the deal efficiently.
All too often, clients only seek advice when a transaction is already underway and they agree that they shouldn’t.
Do you have a short checklist of things to consider first if you want to buy a business?
The most important thing, this sounds obvious, is to make sure you have a viable business.
Many businesses are overly dependent on their owners (in effect, the owner is the business), so when you buy and the owner leaves, there’s very little left.
It’s also important to be clear in your mind why you want to buy the business.
The best deals create synergies, so the buying business adds value to the existing business, and the existing business adds value to the buying business.
What should I be aware of when selling my company?
Arguably the most important thing is to be honest with yourself. Do you really want to sell and sell at this point?
Very often sellers just can’t let go and this skypper has far more deals than anything else.
Selling can be an emotional step. For some, it’s the same feeling as letting go of a baby.
Buying and selling is a life-changing moment, but what is your greatest joy in this job?
The best deals are when the seller is a founder who puts their heart and soul into the business, but has reached a natural point in their life when it’s time to move on. Finding buyers who will take your business to the next level is a great combination because you want your business to continue to thrive.
Founders are usually passionate about their legacy, so they’ll want to see buyers achieve great success with it.
A lot of the time, I stand in for the founders, and since I started the business probably 10+ years ago, I also have an emotional attachment. It’s nice to see the business move on to the next chapter in its history and the founders driving off into the sunset.
Can you tell us about an unusual sale in Gloucestershire that you helped with?
One of my employees told me that her husband was considering buying the business, but wasn’t comfortable giving up his job and taking the plunge. So we took another look at this business and saw that it was a great opportunity and persuaded him to continue. The only problem is that if he doesn’t buy it, I will buy it!
At that stage, the fear of losing the opportunity was stronger than the opportunity itself. Since then, he has had a hugely successful business and created a great work-life balance lifestyle.
The most rewarding sale I’ve worked on was by someone whose bank went bankrupt. He went to court, won, and started the business all over again. He went on to sell it for a very high price a few years later. All his loyal employees shared the proceeds of the sale, and all his creditors were paid in full – even the banks!
Based on your experience, what makes Gloucestershire a great place to do business?
Gloucestershire is very diverse, mixing industrial and rural, young and old with many innovations.
We are not dependent on a few large companies that may relocate from Gloucestershire, but build on a large number of small businesses that require a wide range of people and skills.