I am speaking at the Cambridge Enterprise Conference in September. The conference asks the question "How do you create a sustainable, high growth, knowledge-based company?" Too often growth businesses sell out before they become successful very large businesses – or "gorillas" in the jargon – that the local economy might benefit from.
What is often missed is that whether one is on track to transform an idea into a new business or to grow a gorilla. The objective, if not the short term aim, should be to build value in the company in a way that might be realised. This doesn’t mean one must sell out – but there is research to suggest that entrepreneurs feel satisfied if they are building real value, and more importantly feel in control of the process.
People think grooming of companies only happens in preparation for an exit – but the process works just as well for building value, and creating that important feeling of control. A useful test for an entrepreneur is to ask "how would you feel if a strategic purchaser makes an unsolicited approach to buy your business?" What first impression would you make? Grooming is all about reducing the risk that the business is not fully valued.
Of the many grooming opportunities four key areas are strategic, financial, people, and shareholders.
Strategically the aim is to shape the business to be attractive to a potential buyer rather than making short term presentational tweaks. Strategic grooming might include closing or selling businesses that don’t fit, or conversely building business in areas vital to the exit story.
Tidying up a company’s finances is also key. This should include better financial controls, more emphasis on reporting profits, better management of working capital and creating a credible track record of budgeting. Credible budgets and forecasts can enhance value – many buyers will review old forecasts to assess historic forecasting accuracy.
People are paramount. Having the right team in place adds value. Too many businesses depend on the entrepreneur leading them. A Management Buy-out becomes a possibility as an exit, or for financial planning reasons if a good team is in place. Above £10m of value a good team permits the sale to a financial buyer – plenty of them around in today’s market.
Shareholder issues which can be addressed prior to a sale include forming price expectations, and who will give warranties - institutions typically don’t.