Last year was busy – What does next year have in store?

It’s been a long time since I posted here. 

It’s been a busy year and we’ve been busy advising on some interesting transactions.  Here are some of the highlights

Sale of Young Calibration to NMi Certain BV. 

Another sale to an overseas buyer.    Young Calibration is based on the South coast near Brighton.  And this was a first for me in that the whole transaction was conducted virtually.   I’ve done deals substantially virtually, but in this case right from first meeting with the selling shareholder Adrian Young to the complete everything took place in Teams or Zoom.     Young Calibration has UKAS accredited labs and industry leading knowledge and experience in thermal fluid systems testing, cleaning and development. It works with a wide spectrum of industry sectors including automotive, aviation, medical, environmental, and pharmaceuticals.  The deal is strategic for NMi and should allow the companies to capitalise on opportunities in electric vehicles charging, and respond to new regulations in automotive and motorsport sectors.

MBO of Titan

Titan is a St Neots based engineering company.  It began in motorsport racing and having changed and broadened over the years is now at the forefront of manufacturing complex steering technologies for advanced vehicles.  This was an MBO lead by an experienced team who bought the business from its private shareholders.  These shareholders had had the foresight to bring in a professional management team to develop and grow the business, and it’s great to see that coming to fruition in a good exit for them, and a great opportunity for CEO George Lendrum and his team to continue to grow the business.

Sale of Cambridge Bioscience and Research Donors to Nordic BioSite Group


This deal sees three European life science distribution businesses coming together.  NMI’s plans to assemble a pan-European life science research distributor took a big step forward with thee acquisitor  gives them an entre into the market for high quality bio specimens.    Another international deal, and another conducted virtually.  I have at least met Mike Kerins the CEO since the deal was done over a glass of Champagne.

Sale of X-On to SOuthern Communications Group

Last but not least, completing within a couple of weeks of our firm’s financial year end we advised on the sale of X-On a cloud telephony business focussed on the UK primary care sector.   Approximately 11 million GP patients in the UK are now served by 1,400 GP practices using X-On’s Surgery Connect.  This is about 17.5% of the telephony market in primary care.   X-On was sold to Southern Communications Group and it should allow X-On to further capitalise on demand for its market leading product.   Again, a deal conducted largely virtually, but I had met CEO Paul Bensley and his co-Director Paul Heeren before the process kicked off.


What themes can one draw out from the last year.  Increased digitisaion of deal doing – which is oiling the wheels.  And that there’s plenty of activity still.  That strategic buyers and PE funds are still very active and there’s plenty of liquidity in the market.  From what I can see so far, it’s continuing into 2022/2023

What does the crystal ball say about M&A in 2022 going into 2023

This last section is an edited version of an article I wrote for Business in East Anglia

Crystal ball
Deal volume has held up well despite Brexit, and even global pandemic.  So how about the dual impacts of war and inflation?  Maybe better than you’d expect.   A recent Deloitte survey (admittedly done before Putin’s tanks started moving) found that 92% of businesses expected deal volume to increase.   Many owner managers are ready to sell because their businesses are doing well and yet after some difficult years they now feel they’d rather do something else and buyers are paying good prices as they have the means and the motive.

Here’s some 5 drivers of activity we’d expect to see:

  1. The private equity sector has record levels of cash which needs spending. This is driving activity and supporting prices, whether PE funds are buying directly or supporting their existing portfolio to buy.  I don’t see this lessening, and with the turmoil in the quoted market, and lack of returns to be made elsewhere I can see investors continuing to pile into Private Equity as an asset category.
  2. Deal making digitisation is increasing as the examples above show. This allows us to be more agile and to reach further from base to advise businesses – so if whether you’re based in Cornwall or Caithness I'd love to hear from you!
  3. Cross Border M&A is a strong driver with well funded overseas buyers finding the UK an attractive place to do business. As illustrated by the Cambridge Bioscience and Young Calibration deals above.
  4. The war for talent there’s been much talk about “the great resignation”, and we’re already seeing deals being done where the acquisition of a good team is the main driver. Expect to see more acquihires – acquisitions driven primarily by the desire to get hold of a team of people - particularly of knowledge led businesses such as consultants, agencies, and professional firms.
  5. Hot spot sectors driving activity - Tech deals remain buoyant– COVID led to an acceleration of the transformation of many areas of commerce to harness cloud based technologies. Healthcare also a hot spot, our recent deals underscore this trend.   We’re also seeing a lot of activity in Fintech particularly around London.


A good time for business exit or succesion - high company multiples and before any scary tax changes?!

The latest Argos Mid-Market Index which shows movements in private company prices has just been published. It shows data up to Q3 2017 and indicates a record high of 9.5x.  As you can see from the graph it has been steadily climbing since 2009.   So if you're a business owner it's a good time to think about exit.  Or at any rate to make sure you have a credible exit or succession plan in place.   Many owners of private companies have much of their wealth locked up in their shareholding and so even an equity release transaction - perhaps by selling shares to a third party like a private equity house can help balance their personal portfolio.

ArgosThe other factor I now start to hear in conversation with business owners is concern about the tax regime that a new government might bring.    The capital taxes regime re the sale of company shares is particularly benign with Entrepreneurs' Relief effectively reducing the rate to 10% on the first £10M of lifetime gains.  Whilst Entrepreneurs' Relief was brought in by a Labour government there is an up swell of concern that a Corbyn led government might change things.

None of this may happen of course but it does underscore the need for every business owner to have a plan for exit and succession - even if it is explicitly not intended to happen for some time.

We're running our Business Exit Strategies Seminar in Stevenage on 23 November the day after the Chancellor Philip Hammond's budget speech.  So we should have clarity at least on his short term tax plans.

Our event, which is free, gives useful insights into a range of topics:-

  • The current M&A market
  • Strategic planning
  • How to build value in your business
  • Business valuation
  • How to achieve succession through a management buyout
  • Tax - how to mitigate and also how to use your tax affairs to build value in your company
  • Company sales - how to sell your business, pitfalls, why some companies don't sell

There are a few places still available - and the venue (Novotel just off the A1M) is easy to get to from Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and North London.  So have a look at our website for the full program and booking.





Succession Buyouts as a route to succession in Family Companies

Planning for exit and succession can be difficult in any business, but in family businesses there are additional factors to consider.   One of the problems with family succession planning is that the two key objectives – liquidity and preservation of the business legacy appear to be in conflict – how can you get cash without selling up?   A sale to a trade buyer may be unattractive if the plan is to keep things in the family, and this is where the idea of a sale to family comes in.  Family Business Cubes

This is a form of management buyout – the family members buying the business are very often the team running the company.    Often it goes beyond that to key managers – hence the occasionally used abbreviation the FAMBO. This is meant to mean Family and Management Buyout, or Family Buyout, although just to confuse things I’ve recently seen it used in East Anglia to refer to a Franchisee and Management Buyout.   It can also be called a VIMBO or Vendor Initiated Management Buyout – because the its usually (though not always) the older generation which initiates the sale to the younger family members.  At PEM we prefer to refer to such deals as Succession Buyouts – because that neatly encapsulates the overarching strategic intent of the deal.

Because family relationships are involved things can go wrong so as to delay the transaction or even kill it completely.  So here are some key thoughts on how to preserve family harmony whilst successfully completing a buyout.

Plan ahead and don’t rush each other. It is really important that harmony and trust is maintained. Nothing breeds suspicion more than the idea that one family member wants to take advantage of another, either by being pushy or appearing to scheme behind the scenes. This is true whether a family member is a buying or selling. An aggressive buyer almost ensures that the seller will react negatively; an aggressive seller communicates desperation and may undermine his or her own negotiating position.   Actually this is also true of Succession Buyouts amongst long standing colleagues who are not related.

Take account of peoples personalities Families ought to know one another pretty well. They know about personality traits or past circumstances giving rise to unusual levels of loyalty, or even resentment, or jealousy.   This might all come out in the run up to a transaction, sometimes they are deep-seated psychological feelings, and can be almost childlike—“Dad always preferred you.”   Being alert to such attitudes and steering the transaction in a sensitive way that respects feelings will help ensure success. Often the most important thing is to make sure everyone is listened to.

Get the business professionally valued If your shareholder agreement doesn’t prescribe a valuation methodology, it will be helpful to everyone involved in negotiating a transaction that there should be an independent assessment of valuation. Fairness is the key to completing the transaction and maintaining positive family relationships, and possibly sanity.  Neither buyer nor seller wants to looking back on the transaction with regret or suspicion.

Find some trusted advisors. Truly independent advisors who have the best interests of the family in mind can be hugely helpful in communications and facilitating agreement amongst the family. Each family member can get some independent advice, but its much better to select an adviser with a track record of brokering/facilitating such deals amongst close knit family or business groups to work for the company/family as a whole with the objective of reaching an agreement that works for all.  A skilled adviser will listen to all the agenda’s and try to manage any emotional pressures that arise during negotiations.

Tax and estate planning My tax colleagues would point out that it’s really important to consider the tax and financial affairs of the whole family, up and down the generations. And a deal like this is an opportunity to consider these things holistically.   Has the family provided for everyone as they intend and have they done inheritance tax planning?  Again these are things that need to be done early. One of the consequences of some buyout structures is that IHT planning becomes more important – don’t leave it to the last.

Family businesses are important to us all – according to INSEAD they account for 57% of US GDP.   There’s a general perception that many don’t make it beyond one or two generations. I’m not sure that’s true, INSEAD reckon there are 5,500 bicentenary family businesses around the world, and we’ve certainly worked with some family businesses which are now at fourth or fifth generation stage.  Visit our website to read about some of the family buyouts we've worked on.

Cambridge and East Anglia Businesses asked to think strategically about growth

Flyer_front_cover_Cambs_Oct15With the Cambridge and the East of England economy continuing to perform strongly we're hosting a free educational morning seminar targeted at local small and medium size business owners (in the £1m-£100m turnover band).

Alongside our own corporate finance, and tax specialists we have speakers from our joint event hosts Barclays and Business Growth Fund who will give insights into raising debt and equity finance.   The whole event is designed to give business owners practical ideas on developing a strategy for growth.

Any acquisition should have a sound strategy underpinning it.   And it should look not only at the why and how, but also at the long term implications – when will you see benefits? Will it make your business more attractive to buyers?”

As well as giving advice on acquisition, we'll cover using strategic growth to maximise the value of a business.  The event is going to be comprehensive, guiding attendees from growth right through to succession or trade sale.

The seminar will run from 8.30am to 12.30pm at The Trinity Centre in Cambridge on 22 October. Registration is free; for more details or to book, please visit

Management Buyout at Hospitality Software Business

I'm pleased to report that we helped the management team at Alacer Software to acquire the company from its parent company Lifecrown Investments.  

Alacer is a developer of hospitality software that allows all manner of businesses in that sector to run their businesses more efficiently.     Instead of having a patchwork of various different systems Alacer brings together all elements of their business (bar, conference, spa, front of house, reservations and so on) into one system.   This makes life much easier as it then involves one supplier, one system and is properly "joined up".

Alacer was the only software business in its parent group, which itself was focussed on a very different market sector - so the logic of the buyout was compelling.

We were able to help Rob Day, MD of Alacer, to negotiate and structure the deal.  I'm glad to say that we continue to help them with the business in an advisory role post transaction.


A big thanks to Rob for agreeing to appear in our first PEM Corporate Finance video, and to the spielbergian skills of Peggy McGregor of PEMCF and Connor Nudd of PEM for pulling the video together.   Alas too late for this years Oscars.

Have a look also at coverage of the deal in Business Weekly and on our website.






Management buyout at Kloeber

KloeberI'm pleased to be able to report on a recent management buyout that we advised on.   Lee Green, Matt Higgs, Phil Dascombe and Dan Todd have acquired Kloeber, a manufacturer and supplier of glazing products. 

Based in Somersham in Cambridgeshire, Kloeber is a manufacturer and supplier of glazing products - including bi-folding, sliding and entrance doors, windows, roof lights and bespoke glazed screens.

It has had a lot of attention in the media, with its products featuring on TV programs such as Grand Designs and DIY SOS. In 2012 the company’s signature ‘FunkyFront’ door – a contemporary take on entrance door design – received Build It magazine’s Best Joinery Product Award.

Very often management buyouts take place at long standing mature businesses.   In fact Kloeber has not been around that long, and its rapid growth is a real success story.  Launched in 2006, the company capitalised on the high demand for quality glazing products from the home improvement and self-build sectors.

Kloeber 2Despite a general decline in the UK window and door market, the bi-folding door market grew by 17% (to £43 million) in 2011, an expansion that greatly benefited Kloeber. Within the first year of trading the company had designed a full range of timber glazed products. It later added uPVC, composite and aluminium products to its range.

The management team having run the company on a daily basis for the past three yearsacquired the company from its founder Director, Gavin Morris who now wants to focus on his other business activities while retaining a reduced involvement and shareholding in Kloeber.

What is also noteworthy about the deal is the raising of raise finance from RBS in a still tight debt market - particularly for this type of buyout funding.

Legal advisers to the deal were Rob Matthews at Keystone Law for the vendor and Jason Williams at Hewitsons for the buyout team. Finance for the transaction was arranged by Steve Noon of RBS in Cambridge. 

Passing on the family business in a tax efficient way


We’re often asked how to achieve succession within family businesses.  For this type of business Start Up FamilyBusiness Exit Strategies mean how to pass it on and not how to achieve a trade sale of the company.  Very often this will be done in the form of a Vendor Initiated management buyout, particularly if those who are to succeed are not just family members.   The VIMBO or succession buyout structure can also work well in a family deal, if Mum and Dad want full value rather than gifting the business, and if they need some sort of carried interest or ongoing income.


That said simple is often best.   And particularly in small deals variations on the share buyback theme can be useful. 


We recently helped a family business in Suffolk achieve succession using this type of structure.   It wasn’t a huge business, but was sustainedly profitable, and had grown to have branches in Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.   Mum and Dad had been running their business as a company for many years, but had involved their two sons in the business as full time directors.  As the sons took more responsibility in the business they felt that it was time for them to take control.  The aim was to achieve the transfer and for the parents to have the profits which had accumulated in the company to be paid out to them tax efficiently.    If the arithmetic stacks up this can be done using a buyback of shares.  

The tax legislation which gives favourable tax treatment to an individual when a company purchases some of its own shares provided certain hoops are jumped through.   In outline the steps are:

  • The sons get given some shares (a 32% minority holding) in the company a few years before Mum and Dad were ready to fully hand over the reins.  Result = no tax charge for parents or children due to the availability of tax reliefs - it qualified as a trading company.
  • More recently, when Mum and Dad decided to retire, the company bought back their shares.  This was done     correctly and so the proceeds will be taxed as capital receipts for the sale of their shares (and not subject to income tax).  Entrepreneurs’ Relief should be available as both the individuals and the company meet the conditions and so the tax charge is only 10%.
  • The company then cancelled the shares so that the shares held by the next generation are the only shares in issue and they all of the company.


Family-business-339395lIn all deals there are some company law rules to be observed, or the danger is that the purchase of shares is an invalid purchase with unfortunate consequences.  As ever there are also tax rules to follow – and they’re often not quite so clear cut.   In this case the two keys matters that had to be established were that the company was a trading company for the purposes of Entrepreneurs’ Relief and that the purchase of shares is for ‘bona fide commercial reasons’.  The ability to “clear” this with the revenue in advance is helpful.   Of course there is usually a financing issue too.  In this case the company had the cash to payout. But what if the company doesn’t have enough cash?    There are ways round this – and indeed this might be a cue to consider a Newco buyout structure.

Private equity funding for worlds first IVF clinic

I'm pleased to say that PEM Corporate Finance has advised on the recently completed private equtiy funding for Bourn Bioscience Ltd, the parent company of Bourn Hall Clinic.   They raised equity finance from Mobeus Equity Partners to support their plans for geographic expansion. An initial £3.5 million investment for a minority shareholding is supplemented by a commitment to invest significant follow-on finance.

Bourn Hall LogoThe first IVF clinic in the world, Bourn Hall Clinic was founded in 1980 by Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe - the IVF pioneers whose work led to the birth of the first test-tube baby in 1978. Since its founding, this internationally renowned clinic has helped to make over 15,000 births possible.

Today the company boasts three full service IVF clinics, based in Cambridge, Colchester and Norwich and supported by a number of satellite units. With 120 staff and the delivery of over 2,500 IVF cycles per annum, Bourn Hall Clinic is the largest independent fertility services provider in the East of England.

The UK market for fertility services has grown considerably in recent years, driven by increasing awareness and acceptance of IVF procedures, favourable demographics and improved success rates. Bourn Hall Clinic is looking to continue its geographic expansion, leveraging its strong brand and reputation.

We have worked with Mike Macnamee and his team at Bourn Hall before, advising on their original management buyout from Serono and later on their acquisition of ISIS Fertility.  Hopefully with this warchest there will be more deals to come.    More detail on this on our webpage


Company valuation is an art?

We think its more of an art than a science.    And this is borne out by legal precedent:

"in the field of valuation the experience of the valuer and his ability to form a sound commercial judgement is of overiding importance. The process of valuation cannot be reduced to the application of a set of abstract formulae..."

Justice Vinelott - High Court Case Re Cumana (1986)

I lead our business valuations activity, and as such I often get to see earlier attempts at valuing the company, or sometimes in a dispute the valuation prepared for the other side.  I'm always astonished at home little knowledge is shown of the business being valued.    Its like a surveyor valuing a house simply by driving past it at speed.   And companies are more complex to value.   I've also seen valuations where earnings multiples are simply plucked from the air, or derived from quite ludicrous comparatives.   And probably the worse offenders are the valuations that clearly suffer from "death by spreadsheet".  In other words lots of complicated, but meaningless, analysis.

We believe strongly that valuation reports should be useful, and if possible interesting to the company that commissions them.

If you're interested in learning a little about the factors that will influence the value of your business, why not come to one of our seminars where we cover the topic.  We're runing one in Norwich this week 14 March at Dunston Hall Hotel.   We're running them again in Cambridge at the Trinity Centre on 13 June, and in Borehamwood at the Holiday Inn on 20 June.  If you'd like to find out more about the program or to book visit our events page

How can I sell my business for maximum value?

Exit For most busines owners once they've begun to think about exit strategy "how do I get the best price" is often top of the list of questions.   We're addressing that at a series of three seminars this autumn entitled Business Exit Strategies.    They're being held on 3rd, 10th, and 24th November in Hemel HempsteadNorthampton and Brentwood.   These are half day free seminars designed to demystify the topic and to offer genuinely practical insight and ideas for business owners.  For full details and the ability to book easily and confidentially visit our website.

For those owners who want a decent price but also the ability to acheive a sale to their management team to reward the people,  and to secure continuity we have a special session in the seminar on this topic.  Its an area we specialise in and we'll be sharing some pracitcal advice and some real case studies.

Trends in buyouts v M&A

Cmbor Buyouts are usually discussed as being distinct from M&A - more usually thought to be corporate merger and acquisitions - although of course they're just another flavour of acquisition transaction.     Barclays Private Equity and the Centre for Management Buyout Research have recently published their review of activity in Q1 of 2011.   Lots of stats but interestingly on the one had management buy-out volumes are at historic lows and at the same time MBOs rose to account for a greater proportion of M&A activity in a flat market. 

Within the MBO market the smaller deals - which they classify as below £10M have suffered the biggest downturn with just 269 deals at a value of £508M completed in 2010 compared to only 75 deal;s at a value of £137M in the first quarter of this year.  Not surprising given that the lack of bank liquidity for deals is most pronounced at that end of the market. 

Despite that the overall prognosis is marginally positive - some signs of recovery in volumes and just as importantly in the UK exit market.     Given the recent Eurozone problems, and that of the US economy I can imagine that the Q2 report when published will be even less bullish (if possible).