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  • Scott MacLaren | The Keys to Longevity in Private Equity
    POSTED 5.4.21 M&A Masters Podcast

    Our guest for this week’s episode of M&A Masters is Scott MacLaren, Partner of The Sterling Group in Houston. The Sterling Group is a private equity firm, one of the oldest in the country, and currently has $4 billion of assets under management. 

    Scott did not start off in private equity – he studied at the United States Military Academy at West Point, started business school after serving in the Army, and then finally found his private equity calling after working as a consultant. He started recruiting heavily for the middle market, and has now been with Sterling for seven years making investments in the industrial sector. 

    We chat with Scott about his path to The Sterling Group, as well as: 

    • The competition of the private equity market
    • Establishing longevity in a growing industry
    • Finding excitement in investing in “unsexy” markets
    • Simplifying life-changing events
    • The predictions for industrial markets and partners after the pandemic
    • And more

    Listen Now…

    MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

    TRANSCRIPT:

    Patrick Stroth: Hello there I’m Patrick Stroth, President of Rubicon M&A Insurance Services. Welcome to M&A Masters, where I speak with the leading experts in mergers and acquisitions and we’re all about one thing here. That’s a clean exit for owners, founders and their investors. Today, I’m joined by Scott MacLaren, Partner of The Sterling Group. Based in Houston, Texas, The Sterling Group is a middle market private equity firm that builds winning businesses for customers, employees and investors, and Scott it’s just a real great pleasure to have you here. Welcome to the show.

    Scott MacLaren: Thanks, Patrick. Appreciate you having me on.

    Patrick: Now I’m looking for I’m looking forward to talking about Sterling and your approach to a lot of things, but before we get into that let’s set the table. Why don’t you talk about yourself. Tell us what got you to this point in your career.

    Scott: Yeah, no absolutely. And you know my path to private equity was fairly non traditional. So I did my undergrad at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I went there because I wanted to get a good a good education but also wanted to serve my country. And I entered before nine 911 so that definition of serving the country certainly evolved over time. I graduated went to US Army Ranger School and met my platoon. Served as a platoon leader, spent 15 months deployed to Iraq during the now famous Troop Surge. And while I enjoyed leading soldiers and I liked the Army, it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever. 

    So after completing company commander in the army I applied to business school and went to Wharton and you know to be honest entering business school, I didn’t really know exactly what private equity was. I went into business school with the intention of being a management consultant or an investment banker or one of those you know traditional jobs you would think about in business school. It was probably my second year before I fully grasped what private equity was and that’s when I really started to focus and shift my efforts that way. The tough part was getting hired in private equity straight out of business school when you have a military background and no banking or consulting experience, it was really difficult. 

    So I decided to go to BCG and do consulting immediately after business school and get some of those hard skills that I felt like I needed to make a transition into private equity. And you know I enjoyed working at BCG and I enjoyed the projects that I worked on. Most of my clients were Fortune 500 companies and I thought about staying but you know what I didn’t like was it there was no ownership. You know you you work a lot of clients that are Fortune 500 companies. You run into middle managers there who are very risk averse and a lot of them you know we’re just trying to continue their career, so they could get to that retirement point. Collect that pension or you know maybe they weren’t risk averse and they liked your proposal and you liked your ideas but as a consultant you’re just too expensive to keep off from implementation. 

    So you never get to see a finished product or even if you do get to see the finished product, you personally don’t have upside in that. And so as I was thinking through where I wanted my career to go I really focused back on private equity and started recruiting heavily for PE in the middle market where I felt that my skill set that I had developed both those soft skills that I learned leading in the military which I think are directly applicable to leading and driving improvement in the company. And then those hard skills that I picked up and consulting. And so after two years you know I started applying and started to talk to firms and fortunately for me Sterling Group took a bet on me and I’ve been here for over seven years now. Have closed almost 30 transactions, which a handful of which has been platform investments. And then the vast majority or a large portion have been add on acquisitions of various sizes.

    Patrick: Well I hope you never get tired of hearing this but first of all and from the bottom of my heart thank you very much for your service and good for you to see how you managed to progress through this from zero background into creating opportunities for yourself. And I completely understand if you get to a point where you want to have passion and you want to make a change or make a difference or at least have some kind of impact that you could feel. You just kept looking you didn’t just settle down on it so that brings you over to The Sterling Group and as you, let’s talk about Sterling Group from from what you and I gathered in our first conversation, it’s among, if not the oldest, private equity firm in the country so tell us about Sterling

    Scott: Sure so The Sterling Group we are a Houston, Texas based operationally focused middle market private equity firm. We make control investments in the industrial sector. We define industrial is manufacturing, distribution or services companies. We’re investing out of our fifth fund which is a $2 billion fund that we raised last year. A typical target for us is 100 million to 750 million total enterprise value company, and we primarily invest in founder or family owned businesses or corporate carve outs. We also occasionally buy assets from other institutional investors, but that is less prevalent compared to the other two types of companies. And we currently have 10 portfolio companies. Sterling was started in 1982, as you pointed out, one of the oldest private equity firms in the country. And the gentleman that started his name is Gordon Cain. 

    Gordon was an operator and he had run chemical plants for many years. And in his 70s, he decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur. So there’s there’s hope for all of us to be an entrepreneur eventually. So he started buying businesses in in spaces that he knew well. And, you know, this was the 1980s. So it was sort of a wild west era of leveraged buyouts. And it was a newer concept, the LBO was, you know, very new to a lot of folks. And there were certainly a lot less firms doing it versus today. And in 1987, Gordon acquired several chemical plants and grouped them together and called them Cain Chemical. He paid about a billion dollars at the time, got 97.5% leverage from bank on the deal. Something you could never do in today’s LBO market as things have progressed, but again, sort of the wild west era, and he put 25 million of equity on top of that, for the for the total purchase price. 

    They bought the companies. Gordon, obviously being an operator knew how to operate the companies. He implemented an esop an employee stock ownership program, so that the employees, 1300 of them, could participate in the upside of the investment and really got the employees together and on board with driving improvement in the company and increasing the profitability. Less than a year later, they sold the business for 2 billion to Occidental. So they made 44 times their original investment. More than 1000 employees made $100,000. 57 became millionaires. And keep in mind, that’s a 1988 dolllars, when when those amounts were were fairly significant. Not that they are not significant now, but but that’s big money, for sure. 

    Patrick: Yeah, that’s real money. Yes.

    Scott: Yep. You know, the employees, it’s funny employees took out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal thanking him a Harvard Business School case was written about his team. But that was really the most notable point beginning of Sterling Group. And they continue to operate and do deals all the way up until 2001, in sort of what I would call past the hat fashion. So you know, they would go talk to a company about buying them doing an LBO. And, you know, to get the equity, they would pass the hat around to friends, collect it up and get the deal done. And that worked for them. And they were quite successful with it for a number of years, until a point where the number of private equity firms had increased in the space. Competition was more significant. 

    And other private equity firms had raised institutional dollars in committed funds. And so then that pitch changed a little bit in the sense of, if you’re a seller, are you going to sell to the person says, don’t worry about it, I’m gonna pass the hat around and get the money or some of that has committed institutional dollars, saying no, my investors are contractually obligated, and we have this money. And so that is when Sterling started raising committed funds. Raised the first one in 2001. I joined in fund three, and it was an 825 million fund, we did fund four, which was a billion and a quarter, and now we’re on fund five, a $2 billion fund.

    Patrick: Clearly, you’ve got a track record of success, and you’ve got the longevity. You’re flexible, flexible enough to make a change as the market and, you know, keep keep a step ahead of the competition. So well done for you and Sterling. But Scott, as you know, there are over 4000 private equity firms out there today. You know, what does the Sterling Group bring other, you know, in addition to its legacy, what do they bring to the table that the others may not be doing?

    Scott: Yeah, in 4000 is the first time I’ve heard that number, but that is a big number. So I’m gonna tell you just in the seven years that I’ve been in the industry, the number of new firms that come every single year, it clearly is an industry that continues to grow. But you know, what we do, we have been around for nearly four decades. In the big three differentiators, I always point folks to one, we are operationally focused, and I’ll talk about that in a minute. Two, we push incentives deep within an organization, and we are a true partner. I’ll talk about that a little bit more in a minute. And then lastly, we have 40 years, almost 40 years of experience. And through those 40 years, we’ve interacted with a variety of different companies on a variety of different initiatives. 

    And we have a playbook that we can bring to the table that we know helps to generate and create value. Just on that first point operationally focused. I think a lot of private equity firms like to say they’re operationally focused. And you know, folks say, Well, what does that mean? In you know, the firm saying, are they actually truly operationally focused? And I’ll tell you what that means to us at Sterling. And look, we invest in industries that that are inherently not sexy. And we find that exciting. I mean, we we own companies that make trailer axles that that make bathtubs, I mean, things that you just don’t think about, but we all love it. We’re all operators at heart. We roll up our sleeves and we get to work right alongside our management team. You know, just an example of this, we have a program that we call The Year Away. And this is a little unique compared to all of our peers. I don’t know anybody else that does it. But every, every investment professional that joins us out of their MBA program, we send a portfolio company for a year, where they embed with a management team. And they work on the most important initiatives at the company, and report to that CEO at the management team. 

    And we do this for a variety of reasons. But we think it’s a very invaluable experience, because allows our people to learn how to drive change, improve an organization and create value at a middle market industrial company, which is an environment, I can tell you, as I spent my year away, it is different than the Army, it is different than certainly working in investment bank in New York, it is different than being a consultant for a Fortune 500 company. And it’s an experience as an investor, if you’re out there looking and partnering with middle market, industrial companies, you ought to have that on your resume in order to be really a true partner, and understand the companies and the way they function. And what is feasible to get done with those companies, when you invest in partner with them.

    Patrick: I think before you get to the next part I clearly operational is in your DNA just from the founder story, okay, and to incorporate and inculcate your investment executives in there, where you’re embedding them for a year, that only, you know, builds familiarity for the professionals in there that get familiarity from the management team that’s working with them. And it just shows you’re going to some additional loyalty and commitment that’s in there, both sides because of that year away. So I would picture you know, the the physician being sent off to Alaska, you know, once once he got his degree, and he stuck there for a year, but I think is a very, very positive and unique way, and you’re walking the walk with your own people. So I think that’s fantastic.

    Scott: Agree. No, it’s everybody that’s done the year away comes back, I think with a completely different perspective about what is feasible, and you’ll never look at investment the same way. You’ll never look at a middle market company the same way. And we’ve never had a CEO turn down the opportunity to have a you know, post MBA quality investment professional join their team and report to him for a year. Could be because we pay for it. But it also could be because they know that person’s driving value. But it’s been a really successful program for us in developing our folks here at Sterling.

    Patrick: Great. Now your next point, the second one.

    Scott: Yeah. So we push incentives deep within the organization, because we want to be a true partner, you know, just like Gordon did in the 80s, with the esop. And of course, we don’t do esop’s now there’s some tax implications to that. But one of our big tenants is to push options and equity, deep in our portfolio company so the employees can participate in the upside. We think managers who are owners operate with a different mentality, and they’re able to embrace improvement initiatives, and incentivize to grow profitability. And option payouts at our companies can be, you know, quite large, how to deal that, that we exited recently that I was involved in, we had over 80 option holders, in those 80 option holders made more than $30 million in option proceeds. 

    And so, you know, for some of these managers, it could be a life changing amount of money, it can pay off mortgages. And you see people understand that at the beginning of your investment, and they will work hard and drive toward that goal of an exit of growing the business of improving the business to get an exit in order to achieve that. And it’s a that is probably one of my favorite parts of the job, to be honest.

    Patrick: I think it’s also real generous move. I mean, it’s it’s strategically brilliant. Because if you’ve got buy in from the rank and file, okay, and you’re all going in the same direction, you’ve got, you know, communists of purpose, what better way to do it, and then you get the the outcome. I think the other thing that you touch on this, and I sincerely believe this is that mergers and acquisitions represent the most exciting business event out there. Some people would argue it’s IPOs. I think nothing has a greater chance of being a life changing or even generational change than a M&A transaction. I’ll tell you, you know, Scott, if you and I are doing our jobs, these life changing events happen. They happen faster, they happen cheaper, they happen simpler, and they’re happier. And who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

    Scott: Agreed. Couldn’t agree more, Patrick. Absolutely. And then just lastly, so 40 years of experience, here at Sterling in it’s certainly what we have what’s called our seven levers, which are the seven areas over the last 35 to 40 years where we’ve learned there are opportunities to drive value creation. And so we sit down with the companies that we partner with, and we go through an entire strategic plan and layout when we’re gonna pull each one of these seven levers throughout the lifecycle of that investment, and get the employees and the managers on board with doing that. And we have experience from other companies where we’ve done this and can leverage that experience from the past, to help the companies that we’re working with now, to increase the probability of success on pulling each one of those levers successfully and growing the business. And so for me, those are the three big areas where I think we differentiate ourselves. You talk to other people, they may have different opinions, but those are the three that we certainly focus on. 

    Patrick: Well, tell me, you know, as we talk about mergers and acquisitions, usually, you know, the folks on the outside of M&A think they think of M&A as what they read in the newspaper, where you have Amazon buys Whole Foods. And in reality, it is a group of people choosing to work with another group of people. And the objective is one plus one equals five or six. However, these deals don’t happen in a vacuum, there’s risk. And when you got human beings involved, you got you know, fear, greed, worry, a lot of a lot of these elements out there that that the outside world doesn’t know about. And you know, quite frankly, a lot of the target owners and founders who don’t go through M&A day in and day out, they get surprised when they go through a due diligence process. And then at the end of that they get informed by their attorney. 

    Well, here’s this indemnification provision we need to talk about. And then they learn, wait a minute, I’m personally liable financially to my buyer, if something I have no idea about, and they didn’t find in diligence, will cost them money post deal. Wait a minute. You know, and all of a sudden, you get that injection, that you’re not able to hide behind a corporate veil. Your future, your wealth is at risk. And that can create not only worry and fear, but some distrust. And the tragedy is, you know, these types of interruptions and so forth. You know, they’re they’re reasonable, but they’re avoidable. I mean, on the buyer side, look, they don’t want to be stuck holding a lemon. 

    And on the seller side, they want to be, you know, on the hook indefinitely for things that are out of their control. And they’ll they’ll protest, but an experienced buyer is going to say, well, you know, you’re asking me to bet 10s of millions of dollars that your memory is perfect. And I just can’t do that. Well, what’s been nice is that the insurance industry came in a few years ago, and introduced a product called reps and warranties insurance. And what it does is it looks at the seller reps in the purchase sale agreement, polls the buyer to find out what diligence the buyer did to make sure those reps was accurate as possible. And then they say, hey, for a couple bucks. If something blows up, and buyer you suffer financially, don’t go to the seller come to us, we will give you a check. Just show us the loss. And we will go in. Buyer has certainty of recovery. 

    So their downside is now been hedged. They also avoid the real uncomfortable situation of having to claw back funds from their their seller. On the sell side. Number one, they have more cash at closing because rather than having a large chunk of funds being set aside in an escrow account for cash on hand, the insurance policy covers 90% of that. So not only does the seller get 90, 90 plus percent cash at closing, they’ve got the peace of mind when they get to keep it because that risk of a clawback is now gone. It’s out with the insurance industry. And it’s it’s revolutionized mergers and acquisitions to the point where well your targets are in for your platforms are 100 million dollar transaction value and up, you’ve been very, very active in add ons, deals that are way under 100 million probably isn’t as low as 15 to 20 million. This product rep and warranty wasn’t available for those until now. 

    That’s now been something that’s been coming along now, in the same benefits for the larger transactions are now being available to the smaller ones. Which is great because saving two or $3 million for an owner and founder on a small deal. That’s a huge, huge difference. You know, but you don’t have to take my word for it. You know, Scott, good, bad or indifferent, tell us about your experience with rep and warranty.

    Scott: Yeah, so over the past seven years, it was funny when I started in private equity, you know, rep and warranty insurance. It wasn’t it wasn’t that prevalent, you know, certainly it’s existed. It was used on select deals. But over the past, you know, five or so years, it’s really evolved. And I’ll tell you now, we’re at a point where I can’t think of the last deal I did where we didn’t have a rep and warranty policy. And as you mentioned, even on the smaller deals, it used to be you would have difficulty finding underwriters, to quote the smaller deals. People would say 20 million TV was kind of the mark, and now we’re at a point we quoted, we had, you know, put one out to market a bit ago and we have four different underwriters quote a deal that was under $20 million of TV, which is just really impressive and tells you how far this market has come. 

    But to your point in terms of what it’s allowed us to do, it creates doing a deal, particularly with um, I wouldn’t say it’s sellers, who aren’t normal sellers. So, you know, founder and family of businesses, they may only do one transaction in their entire life. And that transaction they’re looking at, and they’re looking at that, you know, the the purchase agreement, which is 100, you know, 120 page document. And lawyers, and I love lawyers, and we can’t do our job without lawyers, but they’re very good about making you think about that 1% scenario. And so you’ll get founders and family owned businesses that think of that purchase agreement, talk to the lawyer, and just get so petrified of, well, okay, I’m gonna sell the business and you’re gonna give me money. 

    But if there’s a clawback scenario, or a large portion of my money is going to get put in this escrow account, which earns, you know, very little to no interest and we don’t have access to it, it creates friction. In thinking back to before rep and warranty was as prevalent as it is, the conversations that we would have with sellers at that point in time. We’re fortunate to not have those conversations anymore, in the sense that we can have an insurance policy that backs them up on that it says, look, you were on define how much you were on the hook for you are on the hook for an ordinary rep amount of X. And anything beyond that the insurance company is going to pick up. And oh, by the way, your escrow is only going to be this many dollars versus in the past, you saw escrows that were 5%, maybe 10% total enterprise value. 

    Patrick: Yeah. 10% we saw.

    Scott: Yeah, really big numbers that you when you’re thinking about calculating your proceeds, in your mind as all sellers do. Especially if they’re rolling in the deal and putting equity in incremental deal go for that was a large portion of the proceeds that we’re going to take off the table, right. And so the progression of rep and warranty insurance has alleviated a lot of those burdens. And like I said, I don’t see it going away. If anything, I just see it becoming more and more prevalent, more and more underwriters out there. And it continuing to be a part of of every single M&A transaction. 

    Patrick: Yeah, I mean, we’ve been really striving to get this on the checklist, if you got rep and warranty, at least is on the checklist. Now it’s something that you know, can get addressed on each deal. May not be a perfect fit for every particular deal. But the fact that it’s there is something to look up look at and and quite frankly, I mean, it is a tragedy if you’ve got avoidable situations where you’re taking wear and tear on people’s soul, because they get so fearful. It can be avoided. And here’s how it goes. And I would say on this on the on the buyer side, my goodness, the in a lot of cases, particularly where the buyer has leverage reps and warranties at no cost because 99 out of 100 sellers will pay the entire cost just to get the benefit of the of the indemnity indemnity transfer. They really really do appreciate it. Scott, now tell me because I had referenced this slightly, but we are talking about industrials, because you’re in Houston. So you’ve got the energy sector over there. 

    Scott: Sure.

    Patrick: Give me give me a profile of your ideal client. What is Sterling Group looking for now?

    Scott: And be very clear. We don’t we don’t touch anything in energy. So it’s odd to be done here in Houston, and be one of the few private equity firms that that doesn’t touch the energy space, we touch the downstream a little bit but midstream, upstream, different types of investing different firms. It’s just, you know, Houston’s where the firm started. And we’ve stayed here, but the vast majority of our companies are outside of Houston, and certainly you know, most outside the state of Texas. But an ideal partner for us and ideal company, that would be a target is a good business. In a consistent industry. Typically, like I said earlier, usually not a sexy industry, usually an industry that folks don’t typically think about, that has a management team, whether it’s a founder or a family of corporate carve out management team that wants a partner that can help make a step change in their business and work with them to make that step change. 

    Or that has a you know, an industry that they know well that wants to partner with someone and go out. And can you continue to acquire competitors continue to grow through acquisition, we do many buy and builds. And oftentimes we’ll bump into founders in industries that think that they’ve created the best mousetrap. And oftentimes they have, and that allows them to go out there and swallow up competitors, or get the competitors to join the team. And then continue to grow and get the benefits of scale. And we’d like that playbook just as well. And we’ve partnered with with many folks in doing that.

    Patrick: So they the partners, you’re looking for our management teams where they’re looking to, you know, they’ve reached perhaps an inflection point. And they want to stay on and see this through or do you have other situations where owner, founder, they just want out?

    Scott: Yeah, we have we see both, probably equally as much. There are certain situations where you have bounders that have run the business for forever, and we’re looking for retirement. And and that’s fine. And oftentimes we’ll have those individuals sit on a board of directors and continue to help and advise and find a CEO that we all trust can run and grow business. But equally as much we see folks out there management teams that have gotten their business and grown it to a point where they know that that next level is a complexity that they’re uncomfortable with, and they want some help navigating that and growing the business. Or that next level requires capital that they may not have access to. Like I gave the example of out there doing a buy and build in an industry and that’s something that we can help them with and put in place a program that helps them do those add on acquisitions in an efficient manner. You know we’ll have portfolio companies that have made 12 13 14 acquisitions in their lifecycle with us.

    Patrick: It’s just I can imagine the inflection point for them is they’re they’re too big to be small but they’re too small to be enterprise.

    Scott: That’s a good way to put it. Agreed. Agreed. In looking at enterprise it can be daunting sometimes.

    Patrick: And that’s the resource the private equity provides on that so that that’s fantastic not to mention the second bite of the apple for owners and founders. So there’s a real great value proposition which is why you’ve got the big growth in these PE firms by numbers so forth. Scott we’re well into 2021 right now we can see only the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Give me your thoughts or what trends do you see for manufacturers or for the industrials for Sterling Group as we go through into the next year or two. What do you see down the road?

    Scott: Yeah, no it’s a good question. Yeah we’ll see I can make some predictions who knows if we’ll be right. I would say in the deal making environment first, I think we see a return to in person meetings. You know we have been doing deals throughout the pandemic, closed a couple last year, we’ve closed a couple of the beginning of this year. And started off a lot of Zoom meetings and folks but it’s really hard to get to know management team over zoom and it’s there’s not a replacement for an in person meeting when you’re getting to know a management team and getting to know a partner that’s going to be a significant partner for the next 5, 6, 7 years of your company’s of your company’s life. 

    So I see us returning back to these in person management meetings and we’ll see how that goes. I think there are other folks who disagree, but we’ll see. And I think the pace of deals right now it’s already back to I think pre pandemic levels. The number of deals out in the market right now it’s been surprising. From a more macro perspective um I can tell you what I’d really like to see. I really like to see us get an infrastructure bill done investment in infrastructure would be very beneficial to some our companies that we own in the space and I think much needed for us. So we’ll see how that turns out but it would be a nice tailwind to the the current environment we’re seeing with our businesses.

    Patrick: For any of you out there that are in the industrial sector and you’re looking for some way to partner up and get past that inflection point really should look at The Sterling Group. Scott MacLaren how can our audience members reach you? How can they find you?

    Scott: Yeah so our web pages www.sterling-group.com and I’m on there. My email’s on there. Feel free to reach out. Happy to talk to anybody and certainly always happy to talk to any potential companies out there thinking of partnership.

    Patrick: Yeah let me highlight that also with the website because there’s more than one Sterling out there in the financial sector so it is sterling-group.com. And Scott absolute pleasure meeting you. Great to hear about the story. Again thanks for your service, and we wish you all the best going forward okay. Thank you.

    Scott: Thank you. You, too, Patrick. Take care.

  • Emily Holdman | How to Grow in 2021: Educating Potential Sellers with Valuable Resources
    POSTED 3.23.21 M&A Masters Podcast

    On this week’s episode of M&A Masters, we speak with Emily Holdman. Emily is the Managing Director of Permanent Equity, a lower middle market private equity firm based in Columbia, Missouri, that focuses on investments for the very long term. Emily is also named as one of Axial’s thought leaders for the lower middle market.

    We chat about growing organically with lead generation, as well as:

    • Entering finance from marketing and what her experience brings to acquisitions
    • Finding differentiation by committing to investment without the intention to sell
    • The intrinsic desire to be heavily involved with operations
    • Reaching sellers with a midwestern approach, by offering resources and information 
    • Evergreen tools and content marketing to educate sellers 
    • And more

    Listen Now…

    MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

    TRANSCRIPT:

    Patrick Stroth: Hello there, I’m Patrick Stroth, President of Rubicon M&A Insurance Services. Welcome to M&A Masters where I speak with the leading experts in mergers and acquisitions. And we’re all about one thing here. That’s a clean exit for owners, founders and their investors. Today, I’m joined by Emily Holdman, Managing Director of Permanent Equity. Permanent Equity is a lower middle market private equity firm based in Columbia, Missouri, where, as their name suggests, they focus on investments for the very long term. Emily is also named as one of the thought leaders in Axial’s Thought Leaders for the Lower Middle Market. So it’s an absolute pleasure to have you, Emily, welcome to the show.

    Emily Holdman: Thanks so much, Patrick. It’s great to be here.

    Patrick: Now, Emily, before we get into Permanent Equity, you’ve got a great story there, and your approach is really unique. Let’s start with you. How did you get to this point in your career?

    Emily: So I am not a banker by trade, and never took a finance class. I did study economics and journalism in school, and worked in major motion picture publicity straight out of school. That led into a marketing-related career. And so my short story is our firm’s founder, Brent Beshore, had a marketing firm. And about 12 years ago, I joined that marketing firm to lead their digital division. And I sort of grew up through operations as a part of the portfolio and then joined the investing side of things in 2011.

    Patrick: Now, unlike other people, we’re having the full business and, and banking and finance entry you came in on the other side, which is marketing/PR. So they’re very different.

    Emily: It is. I focus, obviously, on acquisitions, for the most part and support lead generation within our portfolio. So I still stick to marketing and sales. Everything goes full circle, I believe. So, I’ve done different things in my career that, at the time, feel really concentrated, but ultimately build upon themselves to serve our portfolio well over time, I think — I hope. And so as it relates to today in acquisitions, it’s a lot about marketing. And it’s a lot about sales.

    And so I still use the same things that I did, while working in the portfolio. But I think having an operator background, for the purposes of the types of acquisitions we do, is a better fit than using spreadsheets. A lot of you know this, I’m sure very well, but to the extent that a lot of it is narratively driven to understand how a company has endured over time, and how they found their product market fit and how they’ve come together as a team. And those oftentimes are more important than what you can find in the spreadsheet. So we stay pretty focused on that.

    Patrick: Let’s turn our direction over toward Permanent Equity. And I can assume with the name, there’s a purpose for it. But I like learning about a company’s history and their culture. And it’s usually reflective of how they named their firm unless they name their firm after themselves, which most law firms and insurance firms do. But, you know, why Permanent Equity? How did that come about?

    Emily: For a long time, our firm’s name was Adventur.es. We actually just changed the name Permanent Equity at the end of 2019. So the name itself is fairly new. And it is intentional, right? When you think about adventur.es, you know, people were always asking us, what does that mean, you know, what do you stand for? And so branding, right? We were constantly frustrated with ourselves. We had found a cheap domain. It was tied to our roots — “ad,” if you will, and then “ventures,” which made sense to us. And so that was the origination story for that.

    But ultimately, we’ve always had the same value proposition which is to invest with no intention of selling. And so if you think about that, it’s tied to durability, it’s tied to making a permanent commitment, a long-term commitment to be partners and within the private equity landscape, that’s somewhat of a differentiated value proposition. And so we wanted to be explicitly clear about that, and endowing the name to do so made a lot of sense. And at a broader level, it’s becoming a common term, right? So it’s our proper name, but the common term of permanent capital, or permanent equity is becoming more well understood. And so, we feel pretty good about getting to own the name.

    Patrick: Totally. Well, you know, what’s your reason for targeting lower middle market give us a little profile of of that Why?

    Emily: Sure. We were all operators by background. So the firm is made up of people who have worked in businesses of varying size well into the hundreds of millions of dollars down to the smallest, you know, kind of $5 million in revenue a year. And, and so for our purposes, we know what that landscape looks like, right? And we primarily look to invest in or partner with companies that are owned by families, right? Because again, when you’re investing for the long term, it’s a certain style of investing. And so we’re looking among founders and entrepreneurs and owners who have operated their businesses the way a family typically does, which means low to no leverage, right? Strong commitment to your team. A commitment to know who you are, and to abide by that and not just to appease shareholders or investors.

    And really stick to what matters most in life, right? So your legacy, your reputation, what people are going to know, before and after you’re gone. When we looked at that landscape, really, founders and entrepreneurs have very few answers when they go to sell, right? Or at least you think you do. The most common being a leveraged buyout from traditional private equity is a complete swap out of model, right? You’re swapping what was, a balance sheet that looks very clean for one that’s pretty heavily leveraged, right? And with expectations that are tied to a very different time horizon than you have historically tied things to. And so for us, we think that that answer can work, right? We’re not enemies of traditional private equity by any stretch.

    But to the extent that we think it’s probably bluntly applied, we think that there are plenty of opportunities and companies that are best served by a different model.

    It used to be that you basically could become an ESOP, and you’re gonna have to carry paper for a long time as a seller, or you could sell to a strategic and lose your legacy. Or you could sell it in an LBO. And so we wanted to do something that we felt like based on our operating backgrounds, served the businesses or the teams and serve the sellers in a differentiated way. And, you know, continue to have fun, right? So, you know, by being operators by background, we like to get our hands dirty. And we don’t want to step on toes. We want people who are leading the businesses to continue to do so if they so choose.

    But to the extent that we want to be helpful, we like the problems that are faced by companies in that $10 million to $200 million revenue landscape, right? You’re still trying to prove yourself. You’re oftentimes competing against somebody who’s significantly larger than you. And you’ve still got to manage resources compared to opportunity pretty closely. You’re still facing the challenges of prioritizing who you want to be “when you grow up,” right? Because that’s always, you know, sort of a moving ball.

    We found that our backgrounds, our experiences are extremely applicable. The skill sets and relationships that we can use to help those companies through the various obstacles and opportunities that they have, are meaningful. And it’s fun!

    We kind of have a saying around hereL life’s too short not to have fun. So to the extent that we enjoy the challenge that we’re in, we like that segment of the market, we think the opportunity is there, that’s where we want to be.

    Patrick: Well I think the other thing that happens is when you’re a company, and you’ve got size, and scale and legacy, you’re whether you’re cleanly run or not, you have something to put out in front for other people, you just put numbers or reputation out there. If you’re smaller, you could be a pristine, clean operation. But you know what there’s, you got to separate yourself from others. And in order to do that, you have to have a story, you have to develop a story. And that’s one of the things I like about what you and I discussed earlier is that you look at this, and you’ve got a whole content based approach on on how you do business, and then it all comes down to story. So talk about that approach, because we do that and lead into this other thing that everybody’s gonna want to hear about called your wonderful work. The messy marketplace.

    Emily: So yes, so I’m a journalist by background. Brent, our founder is a talented writer. And so early on in our careers, we’re sitting in the middle of Missouri. And we’re saying how do we compete, right? Because nobody’s going to care what we’re up to in the middle of Missouri. And so we really thought about how do we best articulate our experience? And how do we build trust? Because for sellers, in particular, as well as intermediaries and others in the marketplace, the hardest part is just building those relationships. Right? And you want to do business with people you trust, especially in transactions, right?

    And so we were trying to figure out how can we do that from Missouri. Obviously we did our fair share of roadshows and ACG meetings and steak dinners and all of that kind of stuff to get to know people and to know the landscape and respect it. But we wanted to talk to people in a different way and more tied to how we have done business in our companies over time. And so starting in 2011, we started writing quite a lot. And so our intent behind the writing was to basically put ourselves out there and say, you may hate our approach to operating, you may find us to be brash, or too focused on one thing or another, but to the extent that we can be only who we are, this is us.

    And so we’ll put it out there and use it as a trust-building mechanism, and hopefully have something to say that can be helpful, right. So I have a belief tied to, you know, kind of the permanence of what we do that most relationships have to nurture themselves over time. And what we found in in transactions in particular is, most sellers want to passively get to know potential buyers for quite a while, right? You can marinate on whether or not you’re going to do it anything a transaction or change of change of control, whatever it may be, for quite a while. And so what we found is the landscape of information available to sellers, while they’re sort of passively trying to get to know the landscape was last lacking, for lack of a better term.

    And so we said let’s try and be helpful, while putting ourselves out there, differentiating what we can about who we are, which was primarily tied to our value proposition, and also something fondly known as “the No Assholes Policy.”

    Those were things that, it didn’t matter where we were from, they stuck with people and were shared. So ultimately, what we found is that over time, we were able to build our email list. And distribute content, both on our site and through other third party sites in a way that helped to increase our reach and in a different way than through deals that are “actively in the marketplace.”

    Owners will read our annual letter or an essay that we have on risk, and they’ll read it, they’ll pass it along to their advisors, they’ll sit on it for a year or two years, and then they’ll reach out, and that’s perfectly fine by us. We have the patience and the ability to do that. And we think that it serves the market in a different way. I think I made the reference to you before, we look at it as putting hooks in the water, right? So you’re fishing, and you’ve got to have the hook sit for a while. And ultimately, you’ll see if you’re fishing in the right spot or not.

    But it takes quantity over time, combined with quality, because people aren’t going to share things that they don’t find value in. And so we’ve done our fair amount of experimentation with length of content, type of content. And what we found is we’ve published plenty of things that we wish we could go back and edit down or make longer in some cases, but it’s been a fruitful relationship, and has enabled us to get to know a lot of people who, particularly sitting in the middle of Missouri, we probably would have never otherwise encountered. We’re proud of that. Because even if we never do a transaction with those people, we have goodwill sitting out in the market. And that’s proven to be very helpful to us over time.

    Patrick: Well, and particularly now, as a result of pandemic, the whole business development process has been turned on its head and are no longer, you know, dozens and dozens of in face meetings or conferences, things like that, those are all gone away. And the savvy firms were those that have thought about doing something like content, getting materials out there not only about themselves, just in general as kind of what we’ve done to and I don’t know if this has come across for you, but it has happened in our experiences at Rubicon M&A.

    Out of the blue, somebody will reach out to us to help them with insuring their M&A transaction. And we will say in response, thanks a lot. Do you need any more information about us? Is there anything about us that you need to know to make you feel better as we go forward? And just know, you know, here are three of your content pieces that we’ve had, and they’re a year old? And they do kind of, you know, they accumulate interest. I would say just like putting putting some money away in a savings account? And

    Emily: Oh, yeah, the evergreen nature is super interesting, right? So we do something similar with tools that we have on our site. There’s a whole section of the Permanent Equity site called Resources. And within that we have both the written content, but we also have things like an Instant Appraisal tool. It’s a risk adjusted calculator that calculates a valuation on risk-weighted variables, right? But we have it set up so that it’s open source. You can use the tool and never send it to us. And so just for a personal calculation for a seller and intermediary looking for third party value validation on what they’re trying to value, it gives them a tool that they can use.

    What we found, which is super interesting, because we can’t see the inputs, right? Unless they send them to us. But we can see an IP address. And so what we see is IP addresses that use the tool repeatedly, right? Then all of a sudden, that IP address sends us an email. And it’s fascinating, because it’s something that says, again, people sit on things for a while. They think about them, they use them, they use them in conversations with other people. And this is how we interact with so many things. But we don’t think about it in the M&A landscape, because it’s so transactional — at least in structure.

    A good judicious owner is going to do their homework. So there’s these opportunities to now find those types of tools. And again, to your point, you use it as a trust transfer, too, if you get enough value out of something that a firm is putting out there, then you kind of feel like you know them, or at least are familiar enough with them that when you have the first conversation, it’s not cold. It’s not so sterile, which just makes a tremendous difference, especially right now, when that first conversation is very likely not in person.

    Patrick: I think it’s really important to emphasize this, that you are not downloading any of the visitors information as they go on and utilize your Instant Appraisal tool, because that’s a way that people are going to hesitate. They want to fill out a survey, but stop and think, well, now am I going to get hit up by a salesperson or something? And so that that is a great way to encourage engagement. And again, this is a long processing decision, if you want to sell your business unless you’re in a crisis mode. And it takes a while for people to warm up about it, even if they don’t necessarily get the information or the outcome that they’re expecting when they use the calculator.

    Emily: Absolutely confidential. We only see a valuation is someone sends it to us. But you know, it’s funny, we’ve heard from people who have ultimately contacted us that they input the information as it is in reality, and then they changed some inputs to try and understand, okay, if I work on this, how does it change the calculation? And it’s great, because it can help people to prioritize changes. It’s a useful tool in that sense.

    Patrick: Let’s talk about the approach you have or or how you guys are transacting? Because I mean, let’s not forget the name, the new name, now Permanent Equity. Okay, talk about your hold period. It is not indefinite, but it’s got a specific timeline.  We’ll get into that, why? And again, how that feeds into how you’re going to enhance a company’s existence when they partner with you.

    Emily: Sure. So to the extent that we’ve always been oriented, like I said before, with investing with no intention of selling. And for the first nine years or so of the firm’s existence, we were able to do that naturally because we were structured as a family office. All of the capital was coming from one source, and that source was comfortable with basically an indefinite hold — undefined. And that transitioned in 2017, when we had a group of investors that came to us and said, under what conditions would you all take outside capital and run under a fund model.

    And for us, we needed the incentives to be aligned in a way that didn’t feel like we were changing our identity. And so standing back with what we knew to be true as operators, and then what we had grown to understand as investors, there were certain things that were critically important to us. And one of them was we never wanted to be forced to do a deal. And so if you think about from a performance standpoint, tied to management fees, it’s very difficult not to do a deal when everyone is paying you to go do deals.

    And then from the standpoint of how how things interact and how you prioritize post close, we’ve never made an investment, trying to think about exactly what the exit looks like, right? That’s not why we’re making the investment. We wanted something where we felt like when we made the investment, we were never going to then be a forced seller. So many private equity firms are, based on their fund’s structure with the term length itself.

    So those were two of several key elements that were really important to us to sort of break down and reconstruct it in a fashion that felt authentic to us.

    What we ended up building is a model where we have a 27-year term, and that term is then potentially extended beyond that period, by a vote of the LPs. And so, comparative to a traditional 7- to 10-year fund model, we are very close to triple that amount, right? And then we have 10 years to invest the capital.

    We’re on our second fund now. So that fund has 10 years to invest the capital. So again, it takes time to get to know sellers. We have time to get to know opportunities. And we don’t feel like we have to move within the first year and deplete down our fund in order to be considered a success for the LPs.

    Patrick: I’m sorry, not to interrupt. I’m sorry but this just sticks out, okay. 27 years, is divided by nine three times, I can see that. But why not 26, why not 28? Why was that was that somebody number in high school or something?

    Emily: No, it was a lawyer’s number. One of the largest investors in the first fund — the original number was 50 years. We’ve always thought about it as being a true generation of capital. The attorney came back and said, you know, I’ve never seen that, and I’m not signing my name to anything that has that kind of duration. And so we said, okay, what’s the longest you’ve ever seen? That’s where 27 comes from, so it’s somewhat arbitrary. But to the extent that we have the options for renewal past that period, it’s really again, trying to make sure that it’s in the best interest of the companies and in the best interest of the investors to continue to hold the companies. We are never going to be a forced seller, and we really valued that proposition.

    But on the other side, we don’t take management fees. We’re self sustaining based on the portfolio that pre-existed the fund structures. That gave us the ability to make that transition without feeling it at a fund level, or at firm level, which was… we feel very fortunate to have had that position. And so we were able to just focus on finding the right opportunities.

    So the first fund was essentially a thesis fund. That was $50 million. We made four primary investments out of that fund, and then raised $300 million in our second fund, which closed at the end of 2019.

    It was an interesting process. Our capital base is mostly from family offices, individual investors, and in the second fund, institutions that have been incredibly, incredibly supportive and gracious in understanding our model. And getting comfortable with the value proposition as it differentiates itself from traditional private equity, particularly at the institutional level. You can imagine, they’re used to a very specific structure that has worked for a lot of people for a long time. And so, being able to think outside the box, we were really fortunate to find the right partners for that.

    Patrick: I would think also as a target partner company for Permanent Equity. And this is just a personal bias of mine. Is your approach on how are you going to improve the company, you bring them in, you’re going to grow them, you’re gonna get them bigger, but there’s one direction you go, which, which is, again, I say, near and dear to my heart. But why don’t you talk about because your growth is not on minimizing costs, or minimizing expenses or getting efficiencies, you focus on sales. Talk about that.

    Emily: Yeah, if you think about it, how is the company going to be here in 10 or 20 years? You’re not going to cost cut your way to that. And you can’t really focus exclusively on just putting a bunch of disparate companies together, making a mutation, and turning it into a corporate behemoth that then has an EBITDA number that’s much larger so you can get a multiple expansion. I get how it works. But for the purposes of longevity, you’ve then got to work through the mess of what you just put together. Right? And so for us, we focus a lot more on the systemic health of the organizations.

    We’re primarily looking for it through growing the opportunity side of the organization. And that can be done in a lot of different ways. In construction that can be tied to bonding capacity. In a lot of companies, especially those that are B2C focused, that can be improvement upon the lead generation funnel, and creating, obviously, line extensions and other ways that they can continue to meet market need. But we really look for that side of the table, and to continue to improve both the teams and the incentives that are aligned with seeing us continue to grow in a systemically healthy way. And we’ve seen that bear fruit for us.

    So, we’re really fortunate in the companies that we’ve been involved in now for close to a decade. It’s kind of the tortoise and the hare situation. “Slow and steady wins the race” is our bet. We could have very quickly added on various things to some of the companies, but where they are today has been primarily fueled by organic growth. We’ve done some small things to make acquisitions and whatnot, but we have really driven operators, and where the firm can be really helpful is focusing on very specific ways of improving lead generation or improving the cost structure around that. Not in a way that’s focused on cutting costs, to your point, but more in a sense of trying to make sure that as much opportunity as exists in the marketplace, we have sort of the arsenal of tactics to go and try and go after it.

    Patrick: Okay, let’s get into one thing. And this is from a prior conversation you had with me with regard to specifically lead generation. And that was one of your companies that was stable, things were good. And then COVID hit. And because you’ve done the work ahead of time to improve lead generation, they were on the precipice of just a boom. Swimming pools.

    Emily: Swimming pools, yeah, we’re talking about swimming pools. So we’re fortunate to be partners in Presidential Pools and Spas, which is based in Arizona, and they’re the largest residential swimming pool builder by volume in the country. And so they build a tremendous amount of pools every year, and they’ve been around for over 30 years at this point. So they have just a great reputation within Arizona. But when we got involved, they primarily had most of their leads come from home shows, from walking into the building, or from calling. They had a website, but… and we invested in 2015. So this is, you know, kind of five years back, right?

    It was really a question of how are we going to improve their online presence, but also create tracking mechanisms to make sure that when someone contacted them, we can understand what they ultimately ended up deciding to do, as far as you know, improving their backyard. That’s all tied to addresses in the pool market. So you’re able to kind of see how that happens over time. So we built a lead scoring system, built a new approach for them in terms of how they spent money in the marketing funnel, and within a couple of years, we had dramatically changed the lead funnel as a whole. Now leads were predominantly coming from online. That was kind of a flip flop. For them, it had historically been a very small amount of their lead volume, and now became the dominant source, which has fringe benefits just around being able to track the information. Somebody who walks around your showroom, it’s harder to collect all the information than somebody who submitted through a form, and then you can keep track of them from there.

    But as the company has continued to grow based on a variety of different factors, lead generation not being the only one, but where we stood in 2020 is the company was significantly larger, but still has some critical mass issues. Capacity constraints around production are very real, especially in construction markets right now with labor constraints. You can only build so many pools physically at a time. And as the pandemic hit last year, it became capacity constrained, frankly, on both sides of the house. So both in the sales team, and for production, it became a metering system. We had to figure out how do you safely have conversations about what you want your backyard to look like. It was an issue, right, because it’s not something that you can do in kind of a remote capacity. A yard has to be measured. And you’ve really got to make sure that you understand the soil composition, and all of those things. So it’s technical enough that it can’t be done… it can be done socially distanced, but you can’t do it completely remotely in most cases.

    And then from a production standpoint, you can only build so many pools. So we ended up having to gate the lead system. We were fortunate enough to have advanced the lead funnel system to a point where we had the mechanisms in place to be able to continue to make potential customers feel like we cared that they had contacted us, but that they were in somewhat of a waiting room until a salesperson was going to be available to talk with them, and help them to design their pool. And then from there, they have to get in line for production.

    In March, we’re questioning whether there is going to be any demand at all. And by April, it was very clear that we were going to need all of those mechanisms in place. And to be quite frank, those mechanisms are still in place to varying degrees, just depending on what our capacity can hold on to. And we think it’ll be another strong year for that team this year as they continue to work through the backlog of people who now recognize that their home is more important than it’s ever been.

    Patrick: It’s just a great story. It’s very, very memorable. How does this track with your profile? Share with me what’s the ideal profile of a target company that Permanent Equity is looking for? It’s not purely just construction.

    Emily: No, no. We we look at a couple of different things. factors. We are not industry focused for a variety of reasons. But we focus on the durability of the value proposition. So if you look within any given market, what we’re focused on are things that, if you’re if you’re going to like measure durability versus growth, we’re far more interested in durability. Growth matters. We love growth, but to the extent that the prioritization is always going to be in durability, which necessitates then what we lovingly describe as more boring companies, right? You do what you do. You know what you do. It’s well defined, and you’ve probably been doing it for a while. Profitably.

    And that’s sort of the baseline of what we look for. And then a large part of it for us is around team. So we want to understand again, what are the priorities of the sellers? Do they want to stay involved in the organization? We have a very different value proposition for people who are looking for a majority recap and a partner, compared to an LBO. Under our model, you would still benefit from distributions because there’s no leverage on the company. So that’s a very different value proposition for them. So we feel like we have a compelling proposition in situations like dissolutions of partnerships, as well as everyone continuing through a recap.

    And then from a legacy perspective, for those that are looking for retirement, and haven’t been satisfied with more traditional options, there’s very compelling conversations to be had. My favorite story to that end is two aerospace companies, sister companies that we purchased in 2019, from a 95-year-old seller. And this individual had been approached for years by traditional private equity. But she had a team that had been incredibly loyal to the organization. Some of them working there in excess of 40 years. So it was very important to her that the organization continue to maintain its autonomy and identity, and that those people would have the jobs that they had been so loyal to, through that transition period, and for as long as they so choose to stay.

    We found an incredible match in that and felt like it was mutually just an incredible fit. Because that’s a legacy that we intend to honor long term. And again, because of our actual financial structure of the deal as well, that company had no debt. So it was able to work through a decline last year, especially in the first half of the year, without having to make major restructuring changes to the organization. And that’s just a really fortunate position to be in.

    Patrick: So what you can’t overlook, if you’re listening to this is that you cannot take the human element out of this, you know, for M&A. People are not in M&A every day, they look at it as news headlines, Company A buys Company B and they move on.

    Emily: And they’re just assets to switch around, right? It’s not complicated. No! It’s made up of human beings.

    Patrick: Exactly. So you’ve got a group of people choosing to partner with another group of people with the outcome, the the ideal outcome is one plus one equals five or more. And, and having the the nice and being able to sell the fears of the people involved is very, very important. And I bring that up just to, you know, as we think about fear in there is the amount of risk that’s there, this deals aren’t done in a vacuum at all, when and what sellers come to find out very painfully, sometimes in those surprises that they are personally liable to their buyer partner financially, in the event, something post closing blows up that they didn’t anticipate, and it’s built in within the contract.

    And that can bring some friction, particularly for somebody who’s owned a business for a while and all of a sudden, they’re not used to selling and now they’re going to be personally liable for something that could be out of their control. And that creates a little bit of tension. And what we’re very proud of it in the insurance industry is that there’s an insurance policy that can insure deals. Now is available for lower middle market deals as low as $15 million in transaction value, where the policy takes the indemnity obligation of the seller, transfers it away to the insurance company, so that rather than the seller being liable to the buyer for financial losses, the buyer suffers post closing that were not accounted for in the rest of the seller reps.

    If that happens is still the buyer coming after the seller, buyer goes to the insurance company. And we like that because buyer gives peace of mind knowing that if something bad happens, they’re hedged on potential losses. Seller gets a clean exit. In most cases, the insurance policy replaces some or all of any withhold or escrow so there’s even a great financial benefit in a component. And to take away the fear for sellers, I would say in our experience, nine times out of 10, the seller will pay for that insurance policy, some or all of it on behalf of the buyer. So it’s taken care of. And the type of product I’m talking about is called Reps and Warranties insurance. And I’m just curious, Emily, good, bad or indifferent. You’re doing these M&A deals a lot. What experiences have you had with rep and warranty?

    Emily: Yeah, so we are still pretty old school on our reps and warranties. We still go through and draft drafted the entire section. And we don’t use insurance. We can understand where it can be applicable in the marketplace. For us, our diligence process is differentiated enough. We use diligence as a way to get to know the sellers. We talk through both the fundamental reps, obviously, but also through risk factors that are embedded in the business, and making sure we’re of mutual understanding as we move forward. That is really critically important to us. We still go by it in an old school fashion. But you know, the market, I think we’ll continue to see plenty of people using that type of product, particularly those that are focused on very quick closings.

    Patrick: Well, now as we’re coming in, we’re just at the beginning of 2021, I do have to underline again, that you were named as one of the top 20 thought leaders for 2020 by Axial for lower middle market M&A. So let’s let’s lean on you as the thought leader, what do you see going forward? Or what trends do you expect to see in 2021? Either macro or lower middle market M&A, or at Permanent Equity in particular?

    Emily: I’m not sure that it’s as much about leadership as it is just a willingness to be opinionated and vocal about it. But to some extent, I’ll take the the compliment either way.

    I think where we’re sitting now, 2020 was slow from a deal opportunity standpoint, and we knew it was going to be. We anticipated that from the spring onward. I will say that it was a very fruitful time for us to just work on building relationships, and just being there for people who are going through stressful times. That time of uncertain uncertainty is some of the most stressful and particularly when you’re in the driver’s seat of a company, that is a tough position to be in. So we just tried to be there for people, if that makes sense.

    As we move forward, we’re seeing some people who, for a variety of reasons, whether demanded by time and age, or just, kind of thinking through what they want to do next are coming back to market. We’re starting to see a return of deal flow, which is positive, and we’re excited about that. But we are continuing to see people who are sort of trying to figure out how much of their 2020 outcomes are sustainable long term. And so the narrative built around that I think is going to be something that we’re going to continue to unpack and understand, probably for the next two to five years. Patrick, I’m sure you remember — I got heavily involved in 2011 in looking at M&A transactions, and so it was kind of on the back end of 2008 to 2009. It was two years later. And by that point, you would start to see the narrative story for each organization.

    It’s like, never waste a crisis. There’s so many things that we’re going to learn over the next couple of years. And from an operator’s perspective, it’s a really good time just to think about the fundamentals of how your business is structured. And recognize what you’ve done well through this period of uncertainty, and I think that for the market at large, and particularly for transactions, it’s been a nice reset.

    In 2019, I remember being pretty frustrated by the hubris of both sellers and other private equity professionals. Leverage is abundantly available and there’s nothing that’s going to derail this economy and just sort of all the things that were kind of steamrolling and snowballing in a positive direction, and then, we all got a humble pie.

    Right? And us included. But to the extent that I think people having a reminder on why leverage needs to be judiciously thought through. It can be helpful in certain situations, but to the extent that it’s not an obvious answer for everything, at least from our perspective, we think that that has been reset to some extent.

    And then we think that there’s going to be plenty of opportunities for people coming out of this to see economic expansion and we’re ultimately, I’m very bullish on the future of the American economy, North America as a whole. And we think that for sellers and buyers alike, that landscape is going to be pretty strong.

    Patrick: Emily Holdman, how can our audience find you?

    Emily: I’m fairly easy to get ahold of. My email in particular is all over our website, but it’s e@permanentequity.com. And I also tweet quite a bit so you can find me on Twitter as well. And don’t be a stranger is what I would say. I’m pretty quick to respond and happy to talk through things, even if they’re sort of in infancy in terms of deal structure or an opportunity.

    Patrick: No, you’re not hard to find, if I could make a recommendation to my audience, go check out permanentequity.com, click on the About tab, and you’ll scroll down to Our Home. And then you can click on that and you see all the nice intimate elements of the firm. The house that they use as their office, and all kinds of interesting factoids, real estate prices, top restaurants in and around.

    Emily: We’ve got to increase the profile of Columbia, Missouri. It’s a great place to live. I think it’s supposed to be one degree this weekend, so maybe don’t come visit us this week. But it’s usually pretty good.

    Patrick: Emily. Pleasure having you. Thanks again for joining me today.

    Emily: Thanks so much, Patrick.