Apr 17, 2023
Greg Fincke is a Managing Director at Equiteq, a global sector focused investment bank that works with entrepreneurs in the IT services and management consulting sectors to create exit strategies. They have offices in London, Singapore, New York with smaller outposts around the globe. They typically advise on companies with 3-25 million EBIT range, and revenue up to $200 million. The firm has 70 members around the world and did 20 transactions last year with an aggregate value of a billion. An expert in M&A deals, Greg discusses how the big deals are typically handled.
What it Takes to Build a Sellable Consulting Firm
The conversation focuses on the question of what it takes to build a sellable consulting firm. Greg suggests that one of the key factors to consider is key person risk; if a potential buyer is looking at a buy versus build situation and the equation starts becoming too expensive for the buy, it may be difficult to close the transaction. To build value and reduce the risk, it is important to have multiple people who can drive the business forward. Other factors to consider include developing a strong brand, having a good network of clients, a diversified client base, and a good mix of services or products. Additionally, it is important to have a good relationship with other consultants, vendors, and potential buyers. Finally, it is also important to focus on long-term goals and invest in the growth of the firm.
Greg explains that when looking at the financials of the firm gross margin is an important factor. Buyers typically want to see firms with a gross margin of 40% and discounted when under 40%. When thinking about valuation, you're looking at how the business looks financially and what they do. Greg talks about gross margins for consulting firms when the owner is selling the business. He explains what the two types of gross margins are and how to calculate partner cost, and typical multiples are for a consulting firm.
Scaling a Consulting Firm
This conversation focuses on the difficulties of scaling a consulting firm. On one side, there is the need to acquire new clients and promote the services of the firm, and on the other, there is the need to create, onboard and teach new consultants. Achieving a balance between these two elements is crucial, as buyers are looking for firms that can deliver services that scale, on both supply and demand, and are willing to pay a premium for it. Greg talks about buyers’ preferences, suggesting that they would rather work with firms that have good web traffic and reputation and are able to generate inbound leads, rather than those that need to grow the sales side and bring in clients. He explains why they consider IP an important factor of consulting services. He talks about talent recruitment and retention, and the value of a firm that offers a strong career plan and training and coaching systems as this demonstrates the ability and control to scale with in-house talent instead of relying on recruiters to find talent which can be unreliable and expensive.
Beyond Corporate and Private Equity
According to Greg, the best options in firm valuation in management quality are how well companies are run, retention, sales and profit growth, and who your clients are and how you engage with them. Fortune 500 and private equity are the two most valuable in the market, and vertical specialization. From a delivery model, being able to deliver fixed fees on good margins is most desirable.
Smaller consulting companies are seen as less valuable because their financial spend is significantly lower. These companies tend to engage in one-off consulting projects and do not have a consistent spend on consulting, making them less desirable to broker deals. Greg states that the buyers for deals have changed over the last five years and shares a few examples of company M&A his company has facilitated.
What Partners Can Expect when they Sell the Firm
Greg shares what partners can expect in terms of a percentage and timeline. The numbers vary widely depending on the buyer. He explains what can happen to the team after a sale, and how it often inspires an entrepreneurial spirit. He mentions that often buyers are looking for a new service line and that the synergy between companies should accommodate this growth and value, in this scenario the team stays independent, in other cases, there may also be an integration of teams.
Greg reflects on how clients move forward after selling a firm; often they take a role in the management team of the larger company, and some have retired from business to sail around the world, or just retire, but he hasn’t encountered any who regret the sale or decide to start a new business.
He talks about the advice he gives companies when the founders are not quite ready to sell such as having a goal for the sale, this entails examining what the bottlenecks for growth are, whether that is client or talent acquisition. Greg helps them focus on the goal and target market growth. This may include building talent to open doors, and investing in marketing. He talks about the buyer universe for smaller firms, how this differs from the larger M&A buyers, and who takes care of the billion dollar deals.
Greg shares how his company secures clients, his team’s laser focus on a specific industry, and the type of advice they give clients.
02:42 Exploring the Value of a Consulting Firm: Key Person Risk and Building Value
10:43 Scaling a Consulting Firm
13:16 Growing Sales Through IP and Recruiting Processes
17:01 Management Quality, Retention, Sales and Profit Growth, and Client Engagement
22:19 Private Equity and Strategic Acquisitions in the Consulting Space
23:53 Selling a Firm: Earnout Periods and Expectations
37:35 Recent Private Equity Acquisitions in the Management Consulting Industry
39:42 Billion Dollar Deals in the M&A Space
40:32 Exploring the Range of Options in the Consulting Industry
43:37 Building Value in the Consulting Industry
47:09 Resources for Learning About the Consulting World
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