This is part 2 of my three part M&A process overview. Part 1 is Why? and Part 3 is Afterwards. This blog will focus on how to actually do the M&A transaction and run the process. I will mainly discuss buying but will also have some discussion on selling as for every buyer there needs to be a seller, but there usually are more than one interested potential buyers so generally there are more people working buy processes than selling processes. I will assume at this point you have reached the end of the Why? stage and have concluded that the transaction makes sense and you want to actually move into execution mode. The level and intensity of internal effort will now jump. You probably also will need some external resources and this is where having a good relationship with your investment bankers will help. Typically you also use an external law firm as well to help with the Purchase/Sales Agreement unless you have either the right internal legal resource or a big enough team that they can handle the extra work. Remember that your Legal team can review a draft of the contract but they will need specific direction on what the transaction and business risks are to make sure you are protected. You will have several processes running at the same time.
The Why? step gave a basic value range, but the transaction step requires a lot more substantive analysis. You need to establish how you will pay for the transaction, so a financing process will start running. You need a business and legal due diligence process. You need to research the accounting implications of the proposed process. As the deal advances and becomes more certain, you need a team to start up to develop the integration and synergies realization plan. You will be running an intensive contract process with Legal leading it with the input of the business leaders. This is a lot of work and usually deadlines are pretty tight.
I can tell you right now that you need someone to quarterback the administrative part of your process that is good and can keep everyone on track to hit deadlines. There will be a lot of processes that all with have different due dates and lots and lots of meetings and reports due. I do not suggest that you try and run this all yourself. Much better to have someone specifically in charge of this. I have been fortunate to have had several excellent people that have done this for me on past deals (my last executive admin and my last Controller were both huge helps to me), and you need to make sure you have someone you can trust doing this.
This is the central process and the result is what you would be willing to pay for the acquisition. All the other processes feed into this central process and the timing is important as you eventually will hit a bid deadline and need to make a firm commitment. Valuation is almost always calculated in a discounted cash flow model with auxiliary EBITDA multiples as well. Usually before and after synergies and with a discount rate range to test the effect on changing assumptions there. It will end up being a large and complicated model and Excel models are easy to make a mistake in. The last deal that I lead, my boss found an error when he stepped through it while trying to understand the value drivers. Make sure you check your model carefully here. You will need to identify potential synergies that could result from the transaction and a plan to make sure they happen. I will discuss that further in part 3.
If you do not have a good internal model or if you have not run such a model before, then this is an excellent item to ask help from one of your bankers. If you have a good relationship, you do not have to formally bring them into the M&A process just for a model. If they start providing real valuation assistance and bidding strategy, then you probably should formally sign them on as an advisor. In my experience, bankers do not have the same detailed industry and business knowledge that you and the management team do, but they do know valuation metrics and what other deals have cleared at much better than you will. If they help in the modeling stage, but not enough to earn a fee and just as part of the relationship, then you owe them a favor. I strongly suggest that you use them in the financing or in another project and make sure that the banker does get paid. This actually can save money in the long run as you do not have to maintain as many staff and everyone on the other side will appreciate the two-way relationship.
Be careful with the Non-disclosure agreement that you are asked to sign as well. I usually push back on the no hiring clauses which are usually too long and be very careful that there are not clauses that attempt to limit your ability to compete. There usually are ridiculous data destruction rules as well. Your legal team will probably catch these issues but you should help them push back as well.
The data in your model should come from the target company and from you team very similar to how you would build up an internal forecast. Sometimes you are making an unsolicited offer and you need to build the model from public information and informed guesses but even then you should reach a point where the other side has opened up and is providing more detailed information. You will need to do scenario analysis where you flex factors like discount rates but also where you flex sales, costs and other assumptions like synergies. This process can help you build your plans for after the transaction and hopefully give you options to follow in case conditions change and you need to change with them to hit or beat your internal targets.
One branch of the valuation process is due diligence. Although you can protect yourself somewhat in the PSA in the representations and warranties section, it is much better to discover problems before a deal closes than afterwards. As CFO, you will be running the financial and accounting due diligence (DD). You might include outside accountants to help if needed. This DD will concentrate on determining if the accounting policies used by the target are appropriate and diving into various asset classes and liabilities to see if you can find appropriate back-up to see f they are fairly stated. Normally you look at accounts receivable and inventories to make sure they are not overvalued and are real, look at the sales numbers reported to see if there is evidence that they actually happened and in the periods stated, and do a general review to make sure that liabilities are proper. Typically there is a working capital adjustment clause when you are buying a business that will adjust for any differences between the target balance sheet and the actual closing balance sheet, but this process is important anyways as issues here can call in question the basic integrity of the process itself.
One other area of intense focus for financial DD is a review of the current tax position with an emphasis on determining how aggressive they have been in the past and if there is undisclosed potential tax liabilities. This includes liabilities that could be triggered via a change in control.
Another important DD process is legal DD. Exactly what is checked depends on what the transaction is focussed on. For example, in a technology company, you would want to review the current state of patents and look for existing issues and potential issues. Very often a competitor will become more aggressive in asserting patents if they think it can damage a deal that would make a competing company stronger. You also need to carefully review existing employment contracts and if there is a history of employee actions. If you are buying a factory, you need to verify actual ownership. When buying land/development assets, you need to carefully review titles and items like mineral rights and operating permits. Make sure that any patent licenses or mineral rights easements are transferable if there is a change of control. If the asset or business is in a foreign jurisdiction, you need to make sure you understand what the local laws are and if the target is in compliance and if you would remain in compliance if you owned the target. If there is a lot of detail to be checked, you are almost always better off hiring an outside legal firm that specializes in such work. Legal DD can also check if there are any product liability issues that may effect valuation or that need documentation in the agreement.
Linked to the legal DD but its own speciality is environmental and safety DD. If there is land ownership or a factory that is rented, you need to verify that the current or past activities, including activities for past owners, have not created environmental issues. If a previous owner created groundwater contamination, you could end up being liable even if you are quite removed from the entity or person that caused the issue.
If you are buying a factory, then your operations and R&D group should review the asset being considered and give their report on it. This is important because they will have to integrate it into their supply chain and production plans and economies of scale are often a big source of expected synergies. They will also give you good input on the state of the buildings and machines and if there is a lot of additional investment needed (which will change the valuation). The R&D review can reveal under or over investment into R&D, both of which can impact future operations. It also can give an insight into the patent process, in particular how integrated the risk management process is to ensure that patents are not being violated and that reasonable efforts are routinely made to check that. There are many more areas that you could possibly have to run a due diligence process. If you have never run such a process before, try and search and find a checklist to help you.
You can pay for an M&A by cash, shares, assuming debt, or a combination of the three. You can raise the cash through issuing debt or shares, or you can use your own cash on hand. You can also use the cash in your target to help pay for the transaction. The only real difference between M&A related related financing and other financings is the potential time line as it might be compressed to fit a deal deadline. I will not go into too much detail here as various methods of financings are topics in and of themselves, but this is an area where including an investment bank early can give you a head start in getting this closed on time. If you are selling shares or issuing debt, expect the deal to be at least a little bit harder as the market will probably take advantage of the tight deadline and the additional risk to push for higher than the average terms you usually can issue at. Hopefully the reasons why you want to do the deal are compelling.
Closing the deal
Once you are advanced enough in your analysis that you feel that you are confident about the valuation of the target and that you still want it, you need to close the deal. If the target is running a process, there usually is a bid deadline and very often there are two bids. The first bid, early in the process, is a non-binding indicative offer. Eventually there will be the request to make a binding offer. The goal of the non-binding offer is to make the next round (bid higher) and not be too out of line with reality that you are not taken seriously. Once your offer is binding you should be granted exclusivity as soon as you are the “winner”. There is still negotiation to come.
As part of most sales of businesses, there will be a presentation and a question and answer session with the management. This is a chance to evaluate the team you are potentially acquiring, but they will be evaluating you as well. Everyone appreciates honesty. If you foresee that you will be doing lay-offs, including some or all of the management team, telling them that you will not be laying anyone off is counter-productive. They will not believe you and mistrust will be the result. You also need to make sure that only one person is running the “tough” part of the negotiations. I recommend that the manager that will be leading the business be as isolated as possible from being seen as the person that is the “bad cop”.
You want to pay the lowest price you can and still get the deal done (and never more than what the business is worth). That will mean presenting a case in negotiations that explains the lower valuation. It also means making sure the PSA has lots of protection in it for you as the acquirer and that presents as mistrusting the current team who will be assuring you everything is fine. If at all possible, you want them to be arguing for you in the process. I typically have been the deal closer, so that means I am the one that pushes hard with the target and internally to get it closed. Listen to your lawyers. You are paying them a good fee so why ignore their advice. I have been lucky to have a good lawyer on my side for most deals and if your lawyer is stronger, you will often end up with a better deal. Know what are the contract points and the valuation point at which you will walk away from the deal. Have the discipline to do that if needed. A good deal that becomes bad if your PSA does not protect you or if the price is too high cannot become a bad deal. If you can, you want a break fee if the other side walks away. You may have to get your own shareholders to approve and maybe the seller’s shareholders as well. Even if both management teams agree, the deal may not be closed quite yet. If everything goes well, you will close the deal and buy the asset. Congrats. Now the really hard work starts.
Selling an asset or business via M&A
Please think about all the due diligence I discussed above. Think about the presentations and models that are expected to be received. Usually you write the first draft of the purchase/sales agreement, so you need a good lawyer to lead the process. All sorts of different functions from the other side will be making inquiries and you will need support. You also may have to deal with the reality that your team will be facing lay-offs and will have a lot of uncertainty. You can set retention bonuses and deal closing bonuses to motivate people, but this will be a very hard process for you.
Here are some valuation books I have used in the past: Little Book on Valuation Valuation – Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies