Pursuing entrepreneurship through acquiring a business is a fast track to reaching the highly esteemed title of CEO, one that many business professionals aspire to achieve. In this career path, you acquire a business, make sure it is, and remains profitable. This may seem simple, but there are pitfalls to avoid and important steps to take to be successful.
The path of entrepreneurship through acquisition, or ETA, is growing. The top business schools in the country, including Wharton, Stanford, University of Chicago, Kellogg, Harvard, and others, are taking this career path for Graduate students very seriously. Several schools have courses and Harvard even has a club for students in their business program. These courses focus on the concept of ETA and educate them on the steps to find a business, acquire and build it.
Stanford, Harvard and the University of Chicago hold conferences every year that attract students from across the country pursuing programs at Carnegie Mellon, Kellogg, Duke, among others.
How feasible is pursuing acquisitions as an entrepreneur? For some, it is an ideal path, and the time is right within the US economy.
Research shows that over 12 million businesses owned by Baby Boomers are expected to go through an ownership transition over the next 10 to 15 years. Many of these companies are a perfect fit for an entrepreneur to breathe new life into the business. Conveniently, there is a nearly equal number of younger people interested in owning a business, so the supply and demand on each side is perfectly proportioned to benefit both parties.
Everyone loves the idea of being their own boss or a CEO, but ETA takes a certain individual to be successful in this career path. It requires a significant investment of time to find the right business to acquire. It can be a lonely, time-consuming path that takes someone who is dedicated, driven, and not easily frustrated when they do not find what they are looking for right away.
This process of searching for the right business to acquire can take a long time before finding the right fit, often two years or more. The process is worth the time investment. Considering your long-term goals, you need to be selective and thorough in the due diligence, knowing what industry is of interest, what size company to look for and what possible budgetary restrictions may be needed. This will all help you, as the entrepreneur, know which rocks to look under in your search.
Zach Duprey, Director of the Search Fund Lending Center at The Provident Bank in Amesbury, MA, says it is important for entrepreneurs to act like a CEO before becoming one, including managing one’s search team, assets and strategic partnerships.
Zach and his team started their search fund division at Provident Bank three years ago to help young entrepreneurs find senior lenders, which is something that can be an inefficient, grueling process. They have grown their search fund team to where they not only serve the New England market, but now work with entrepreneurs from across the country.
Finding a lender has its challenges, especially as a young entrepreneur looking to take a risk in the market. However, Zach indicates success in the search process starts with building a team of investors and services providers, including a lender. Solidifying this foundation of stakeholders greatly improves the odds of a potential acquisition.
One consideration he recommends is that when you find your acquisition target, do not underestimate the value of the previous business owner during the diligence process. Maintain a good relationship with the owner so you can understand what it takes to run that business and juggle the management of sales, employees, HR, and other factors. This will ensure a smooth transition from searcher to CEO.
With the dramatic growth of business professionals pursuing ETA, the focus needs to be on how to create a sustainable path to maintaining the acquired business, and pursuing growth opportunities beyond that first company. The key is to take your time finding a business, getting to know that business, and focusing on growing that business. You need to pursue the business that is the best fit for your skillset and interests. Once you find that business, take your time to learn the ins and outs of how it operates. Surprises will come up as with anything in life. Once you have your feet under you, consider pursuing what you know best by then: acquisitions. Add-on acquisitions can be an opportunity to increase revenue and profits, in addition to organic growth.
Whether you recently started the journey of ETA, have plans to, or are interested in learning more about the concept, do plenty of research, so that you are ready to undertake such a task. While a daunting path, the rewards are just as great as having the title of Chief Executive Officer.
Gregory Rush is a co-founder and partner of Dunn Rush & Co, an investment banking firm providing high quality mergers and acquisition advisory services to middle market companies valued between $20 – $200 million, as well as a board member of XPX New England, a networking organization for professional advisors and business owners. Gregory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.