Financial buyers have been big news lately—one in particular—but not because of deals they are doing to buy moderate-sized, privately held companies (read: human owned). In fact, financial buyers have been relatively quiet in that respect. Politics, not business, has put the spotlight on them.
Private equity funds, such as those run by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, are financial buyers. My focus is how they operate, not the taxes they pay, because barring some major legal changes, private equity buyers are here to stay and one could well be the buyer of your business. Upwards of one trillion dollars is purportedly sitting in private equity funds, awaiting deployment as investments in other companies.
The financial buyer’s objective is to improve the target company’s performance so that it can sell the business (to a strategic buyer or another financial buyer) or take it public, in either case at a significant profit in three to five years. This focus means that financial buyer must be able to see a clear path to that result, it will not be swayed by the long-term potential of your business, and it will be very careful not to overpay for your company. This usually means the financial buyers will drive a harder bargain than the strategic buyers discussed in my first post in the series. This does not, however, mean that a deal from a financial buyer will ultimately be less desirable than that from a strategic. It only means that you and your financial and legal team have to work that much harder to evaluate the different offers.
The lesson I hope you learn here is two-fold. First, be sure your after-tax proceeds from the initial sale are sufficient to meet your minimum goals for a sale and don’t leave you overly reliant on the financial buyer’s management of your former company. Second, pick your financial buyer carefully. Follow the link to a good New York Times piece on the due diligence you need to do.