Wealth Management

Voted #6 on Top 100 Family Business influencer on Wealth, Legacy, Finance and Investments: Jacoline Loewen My Amazon Authors' page Twitter:@ jacolineloewen Linkedin: Jacoline Loewen Profile

June 30, 2010

Integrity is the safest way to make money, it’s terribly important

When I worked for the fastest growing bank in Africa, the CEO would often go on about how much he hated derivatives that were just beginning to emerge into the market place. He said if he could not understand it, he did not want it in his bank - it was making money like a casino not through good, rigourous banking. Michael Graham picks up this theme:
Berkshire is especially pumped about their $26 billion cash and stock purchase of the 78% of the Burlington, Northern Santa Fe Corporation (BNSF) they didn’t own. An extensively rebuilt and wisely regulated American railroad system is ushering in a whole new (green) era of national and international importance for the railroads. BNSF was described as their all-in wager on the economic future of America. It’s Berkshire’s biggest purchase ever.
Attendees and questioners from all over the U.S. also bore witness to the wealth their investments in Berkshire Hathaway has brought them. One elderly gentleman we met from Wichita Falls, Texas had come all the way to Omaha just to say thank you.
Munger’s comment that “Integrity is the safest way to make money, it’s terribly important” drew loud applause. So did his thoughts that there’s nothing wrong in “celebrating wealth when it’s fairly won and wisely used”.
There was laughter of a different kind when much of the blame for today’s turmoil was laid at the doorstep of Washington where “those who take the high road are seldom bothered by heavy traffic”.
Trust! Buffett has been criticized for his view that Goldman did nothing illegal in helping craft a between-professionals subprime mortgage deal which the seller wanted to decline, whereas the European institutional buyers of “Abacus” calculatingly took the opposite view. Munger agreed with Buffett, though musing about the ethics of such transactions. In his view derivatives play a useful role in genuine commodity and trade transactions, but when they are nothing but synthetic, casino-like bets (often also dreamed-up by academics) they should be “got rid of from the face of the earth” (loud applause).
 Trust, the plain-vanilla (“Dairy Queen”) way, couldn’t have come through more loudly or clearly. It’s a cornerstone of investing and of the Berkshire approach.
How much longer – the question of succession comes up with an increasing frequency at these annual gatherings? We were reassured that a short list of successors has been chosen, that the board knows who they are, and that the Berkshire and Buffett-Munger culture will live on.
At the same time the Qwest Center has been booked for 2011 and 2012!
By then there could also well be clearer answers to Buffet and Munger’s biggest worry; namely, how much longer Berkshire can keep building wealth for its shareholders at a rate superior to the growth in its benchmark S&P 500 index, as it has done for 38 of the past 45 years. We were told how a compound annual gain in its per share book value of 20.3% is going to be next to impossible to sustain. What should be done when Berkshire can no longer beat the S&P because of its sheer size? The question was posed rhetorically. A dividend perhaps? Knowing them, you can bet that whatever is done will be different?
There can be no question that these one-of-a-kind annual meetings and Berkshire itself will be different when its two great champions are gone. In the meanwhile, is Berkshire Hathaway a jumble of diverse parts, or an undervalued work of art like no other? I’m in the latter camp, also believing it deserving of a place in most, if not all, investment portfolios.

June 28, 2010

Private equity-backed M&A deals remain far short of the boom times

Business owners will get more phone calls to partner with private equity fund managers but these good times will come to an end as money flows more to growing markets like India and China. In the meantime, Reuters tells us Buyout funds are making a comeback, scouring deals from Australia to America after nearly two years of virtual shutdown, but private equity-backed M&A volumes remain far short of the boom times.

Bankers say that while a return to the mega-deals of 2006/07 is still some time away, there is now a steady flow of transactions, with private equity activity picking up in the second quarter.As of June 22, private equity-backed mergers and acquisitions in the second quarter were up 125 percent from a year earlier to $40 billion, and were up by a third from the first quarter, Thomson Reuters data showed. For the year, such deal totaled $70 billion, more than double a year earlier. The general stock market recovery early this year encouraged PE funds to push through listing plans, while a freeing up of debt markets opened up markets for secondary sales to other buyout funds. But with the European debt crisis denting the stock rally, there are concerns about whether PE activity can keep up the recent momentum.
"M&A markets are fragile. There was a slight loss of momentum in the second quarter. Coming off year-end into Q1, momentum was good," said Jeffrey Kaplan, global head of mergers and acquisitions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"There was strong strategic activity and active PE bidding, much of which slowed down. EMEA has seen the biggest slowdown," he added, referring to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.The $70 billion of PE-backed deals this year through June 22 compares with the record $542 billion in the first half of 2007.Availability of easy credit is the key for a pickup in PE buying, and bankers say the U.S. market has seen the most dramatic improvement in financing, driven by large financial institutions.Europe has lagged in its ability to leverage because it is more of a bank-funded market. Overall, choppy equity markets and the rising cost of debt funding will make private equity dealmaking more of a challenge, though bankers say the market for mid-sized deals should open up.
"It will be a while before we get back to mega-deals," said Mike Netterfield, head of financial investor coverage for Asia at RBS.
"We're seeing some larger deals, but it'll be a while before we see the days of the TXU, HCA kind of deals," he said, referring to big U.S. private equity deals involving the likes of TXU, now Energy Future Holdings, and hospital operator HCA Inc.
"The liquidity isn't quite there just yet for mega-deals."

How Private Capital Helps Entrepreneurs and Family Businesses Grow

Private capital can assist owner managed or family businesses realize their liquidity or growth capital needs through flexible structuring. The deal structure is customized to the timing needs of the business owner. At the onset of the investment from the PE fund, the company is valued at fair market price. The business owner is able to cash in on this fair value to diversify the family’s financial holdings or for estate planning purposes. The “second bite of the apple” occurs upon exit of the PE fund when the total value is received exceeds the full sale now.

Private capital provides a tool to solve common family company issues such as succession planning, while also putting the company on a growth path. 

The long term elephant in the room

I listened to Michael Lee-Chin describe learning about Warren Buffett's wealth strategies he learnt back in 1979. I always like to hear about the annual Berkshire meetings which are legendary but this year's one has a different tone altogether. Michael Graham gives us the inside scoop:

My sixteenth pilgrimage to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual Woodstock of Capitalism (refer later) was to bring a reminder of Warren Buffett expressive likening of financial crises to the exposure of those swimmers without bathing suits when the tide goes out.
This ebb tide, it’s not the banks or corporations of 2008 – 09, but sovereign governments that are bringing a type of risk traders and investors haven’t had to worry about since the Asian financial crisis – sovereign default.
It might well also be that the growth of government that began with the Keynesian experiment after World War II is reaching the limits of acceptability. And all the more in Western democracies after the lifesaving, pedal-to-the-metal government stimulus and deficit spending of recent years. (Thank you Tony Plummer and your astute Helmsman Economics commentaries.) Regardless, there must now come unavoidable and extremely unpalatable preventatives – the shrinking of bloated or disproportionately-large bureaucracies, deep cuts to government spending and stringent deficit reduction.
In the EU, it’s no longer Portugal, Iceland and Ireland, but a growing number of others where fiscal discipline and rehabilitation are urgently required. In the UK, a tough-talking new cabinet has led off with a 5% pay cut of its own salaries, along with example-setting limits on ministerial limousines and first-class air travel, and the promise of draconian spending cuts to come. The same in Spain and Portugal which are both urgently addressing unsustainable deficits with big budget cuts. In France, all government spending has been frozen except for pensions and interest payments. And on and on!
Yea for deficit reduction as what could be a recuperative austerity wave begins to roll clean across Europe.At the world level, the IMF is urging governments to cut public debt in order to prevent higher interest rates and slowing economic growth. To these ends it is also advocating stepped-up value-added taxes in countries that already have them, and their imposition in countries that do not. Its message to a debt and deficit-laden U.S. couldn’t be more pointed.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also weighed in with hard-choice, deficit-reduction urgings ahead of the G8 and G20 summits he's host at Deerhurst and in Toronto.
Wouldn’t it be great if the Western world were to at last be getting the message about the risks of spending and borrowing one’s way to disaster!
Of course, words are one thing, implementation and perseverance another. There should be no doubt about the angry resistance to come, or the political (and re-election) temptations of monetizing deficits and repaying debts in still-cheaper (i.e., further-devalued) currencies. They’re continuing fork-of-the-road risks investors cannot afford to ignore.
Also to be kept in mind is how the fork of expediency could lead to the next wave of inflation (even hyperinflation) which might be subdued for now but, considering today’s strangling national and international indebtedness, has to remain the longer-term elephant in the room.
The other fork in the road leads to austerity – spending cutbacks, higher taxes and new frugality. It can only be tough, but is surely the healthier road to take even if it means reduced future investment returns. (In Charlie Munger’s view, refer later, there is no better way of being happy than getting your expectations down.)
The disciplined fork will not halt the shift in global power to Asia led by emerging powerhouses like China and India. Nor will it soften the aftershocks of the EU debt and deficit crisis on global trade, capital flows and economic growth.
However, in what cannot be a zero sum game, if China, India, Asia and the BRIC world continue to do well, we should do well too.Crisis, discipline and opportunity were words featuring prominently at an overflow Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting that was to leave 38,000 attendees, including the Grahams, much encouraged about the worldwide future for investing.
I always come away from these meetings the better for the wisdom, humour and taciturn wit of the ageless Warren Buffett, rising 80, and Charlie Munger, 86.
This time, I may not have learned that much new, but it was refreshing all the same to be reminded of time-proven homilies like investing not requiring brilliance as much as it does discipline and the avoidance of stupid mistakes. (A related example touched upon is fuel from corn which was described as “stunningly stupid”.) And also that investing requires continuing learning because the world keeps changing, and it will be hard to fail (in investing) if “each night you go to bed a little wiser than when you woke up”.
I am also always reminded at these meetings how Warren and Charlie love declining share prices because “we can then buy more”, whereas it “pains” them to buy more when share prices are going up.

These are times that try men’s souls

Business owners are wondering if we are heading for flat growth which means values of businesses may not be preserved from the same old, same old. With BP and Europe, we have had a busy first half of the year. Something to keep in mind is that there always seems to be something bad happening in the world. I have been reading forecast books written in the the early 1990s - one by Peter Drucker - and they all miss the Internet and the incredible increase in global connectivity. It has unleashed wealth for millions of people.
I was reminded of the gloom only forecasters by Michael Graham and liked his comments on Thomas Paine. Here is what he has to say about our troubled times:
No one would have thought, and I still can’t, of the mighty European Union with its (equivalent) $16 trillion economy being threatened by the over-indulgences and debt excesses of a handful of its smallest members whose combined GDPs total well less than $1 trillion. However, as with the banking crisis of 2008 – 09, excesses like these can be contagious. Hence, the need to beware of modern-day Greeks bearing debt and even after Greece’s rescue from the brink of collapse to question whether an emergency Euro 750 billion safety net for the remaining PIIGS (Portugal, Iceland, Ireland, Spain) is enough.
Yes, “Acropolis Now” could be presenting the 27–nation European Union and its 16–member Euro with a debt crisis threatening their very existence. The respected German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is one who believes it could be that serious. But, by the same token, could countries like Greece be canaries in the coal mine providing timely wake-up calls of much worse potential disasters needing to be urgently headed off?
 In another tumultuous era, Thomas Paine, the renowned American writer, began his 1776 pamphlet “The Crisis” with the words “These are times that try men’s souls”. Little did he foresee the incredible progress a stricken America’s was to go on to make in becoming the most magnificent wealth-building economy the world has ever known. And concomitantly to unleash human potential no other society may ever rival.
“Weiji”, the Chinese word for crisis has two meanings – danger or opportunity. No doubt which has dominated in China’s spectacular leap to modern-day world ascendancy? Yet not too many years ago, in 1997, an Asian financial crisis that included China posed destabilizing threats similar to today’s Europe. Instead, what followed was an astonishing recovery. And, if China and Asia, why not also the opportunity for constructive change out of crisis in our debt and deficit-riddled world?
By Michael Graham

Michael Graham Investment Services Inc. Tel: 416 360-7538 Fax: 416 360-5566 Web: grahamis.ca

June 27, 2010

Advantages and Disadvantages of U.S. Private Capital

I try to warn business owners that U.S. PE funds have a huge range of personalities. Some are unpleasant, such as vulture funds. The onus for due diligence lies with the business owner and it’s very important to do due diligence on the PE funds. “You are in a marriage where you cannot get divorced,” I like to say to business owners. The success of the relationship is determined by the personality and chemistry of the fund. Different styles of investing can lead to a deterioration of the relationship which can throw off the dynamics of the partnership and attaining growth may become hard pressed.

U.S. firms can provide American-specific expertise, in terms of market knowledge, networks, banking relationships and exit alternatives.

PE funds can also provide value through effective board members, helping make complex decisions and providing expertise on M&A. Upon exit, the PE fund can help pull valuation up by effectively positioning the company to sell to a bigger universe of funds.

The litmus test is the composition of the firm’s professional staff and track record with other management teams. I encourage CEOs to contact the CEOs of previous and current investments of the potential fund investor. Communicating CEO to CEO, there will be “no surprise in the end zone”. As a business owner, you will gain a better understanding of how the fund works -- if they are crowding on day-to-day operations or if there’s a previous onerous relationship.

This is the ultimate litmus test for business owners, contacting the entire list of CEOs that a fund has worked with. Business owners need to know how the fund they’ve partnered with will react when the going gets tough – this is when the fund shows their metal!

Boston Private Equity Fund Managers are Heartier than Canadians

I recently visited Boston to meet with the Private Equity Funds interested in Canadian investments. It was interesting to see how many were Harvard graduates, Harvard with distinction. I also noticed that Americans cultivate a hearty, can-do welcome. It does feel louder and more aggressive than many Canadians. I liked it but could see how America is where the strong do go to excel, while the shyer ones who do not self promote may be left in the dust.
America is a pushy place and I liked it. I was reminded of the huge cultural gap in style between Americans and probably the Brits and us Canadians. What do you think of this advice?
From Entrepreneur
(Read the full article.)

Everyone likes to do business with a winner. No matter what stage of your career, you need to look like you've made it. That means wearing a suit that will impress. As a universal rule, make it your business to be the best-dressed in the room. If you lack the fashion sense, a premier store will be more than happy to assign a knowledgeable salesperson to assist you.
And if you're thinking of the budget thing again, forget it. Put it this way; a smashing, well-tailored suit will last you for years. Allocate the upfront cost over dozens or possibly hundreds of business meetings and the investment becomes a mere pittance. Remember that your goal is not to save money; it's to make the sale--leave the penny pinching to others.
Bring your ego with you in full bloom. It's not enough to look successful; you need to act it as well. This demonstrates that you are also one of the smartest people in the room.
Again, take a page from Trump. Sure, he can be garish and way over the top, but no way is he going to check his ego at the door. Neither should you. So find a way to bring up your most significant achievements, tell an intriguing story and talk up your travels, discoveries and epiphanies.
The timid and the small thinkers will talk sports and weather. They will pale in comparison to the bold winners who regale their prospects and customers with compelling ideas and stories.
I'll never forget the afternoon I spent with legendary Washington attorney and presidential advisor Clark Clifford. He didn't just "meet" with me; he held court in a walnut-paneled office, wore a suit fit for a monarch and fascinated me with vividly colored stories that thrilled as much as educated and entertained. He established himself as one of the most important people in a town filled with big egos and left the impression that when it came to lawyers in the nation's capital, there could be only one choice.
This is the challenge and the opportunity before you--to make certain that of all the salespeople your customers and prospects come in contact with, you are the one indelibly imprinted on their brains. You don't sell. You thrill.

Mark Stevens is the CEO of MSCO, a results-driven management and marketing firm, and the bestselling author of Your Marketing Sucks and God Is a Salesman. He is a popular media commentator on a host of business matters including marketing, branding, management and sales. He is also the author of the popular marketing blog, Unconventional Thinking.

June 26, 2010

Do companies actually want to grow?

I have discovered in my work with business owners and private equity, that many owners do not want to grow their businesses. I found this wonderful twenty minute conversation between P. Bruce Hunter and Robert Gold invaluable. 
Robert is an accountant for many years to owners. He is himself an entrepreneur and business founder. Bruce drives a TEC group where he is to fire up Canadian business owners on the key issues. Bruce knows the right questions to ask - you know the ones, you do not want to think about them, never mind discuss them with someone like Bruce who is familiar with issues. I suggested to Bruce and Robert that they make this a weekly podcast conversation because they have a great chemistry. Here's Bruce about his podcast:
My recent interview with Robert Gold and Andrew Brown can be heard at BusinessCast.ca, the world's pre-eminent podcast for Entrepreneurs. I understand from Robert that it is the number one podcast on the Financial Post podcast page as of today. The subject of how to drive

Identifying Best Fit with Your Firm

U.S. PE funds can provide a compelling financial offer while also bringing relevant industry experience. As business owners, an investor that is able to gain a firm grasp of your business concept quickly is advantageous. Otherwise, the investor can be a costly drain on your time.

In selecting a best-fit investor, your needs as a business owner must be aligned with the investor you select. There are a wide variety of PE funds, tailored to a variety of business owner’s needs. Will the PE fund add identifiable value?

A lot of PE funds simply supply the capital injection and remain a passive investor for the term of the investment. Others are much more focused in providing a team effort with management to kick-start the growth plan.  If applicable, a PE fund can also assist with U.S. expansion.

I encourage business owners to ask for the track record of PE funds. Canadian companies should opt-out or avoid being the test case for a fund’s first Canadian investment. “What is the fund’s track record in Canada?” Call up the list of CEOs the PE fund has worked with in the past. They can shed light on the relationship and experience.

Evaluate the fund’s total strategy and investing style for compatibility. There is a huge diversity in the U.S. realm of PE funds. Funds typically vary in size of investment, industry focus, preferred stage of investment company, ownership of investment, and board participation to name a few. PE funds invest in late stage growth where products already exist and there is a revenue stream. Large investments can be up to $100 million USD in equity or as small as $10 to 15 million USD. With their equity stake, some funds may prefer a control or minority ownership position.

Typically PE funds reside on the board of the investee company as either active or passive board members. Active is good, but not undermining management, which often can be a slippery slope. The degree of diversity of investment professionals is also important as business owners should be looking for board members who provide expertise in a wide range of business areas. Maturity of the fund is also imperative as the stage of the fund’s life will dictate the timeline of investment. 

Chinese Stock market down 22%

We had a very busy week in Ontario. There was a 5.0 earthquake, with the epicenter 61 km north of Ottawa. The earthquake could be felt from Montreal to Toronto. A tornado touched down in Midland and now we are enduring the G20 Summit Lockdown in Toronto. I saw Goodluck, the Nigerian leader, get into his limo and spoke to Kola, one of the Nigerian guards. They have been enjoying the warm weather and are impressed with how clean and quiet Toronto seems. The streets are empty and it seems like a scene from Zombies in the City.

While this was happening around us, the markets were also enduring a very rough week pulling the returns for the month and the year back into negative territory. Year-to-date the S&P TSX Composite is down -.65%, the S&P 500 is down -3.77% and the Dow Jones is down -2.92%. What you may not know is that the Chinese stock market is down -22% year-to-date and other international indices are also in negative territory. The markets are currently in a trading range and we have gone back to touch the 50-day and 200-day moving averages. With more and more economic indicators coming in below expectations even the most ardent commodity bull has to step back and assess at least the near-and intermediate-term landscape. 

Private equity is awash with cash - for now. In two years time, the tides will have receded though. For business owners, entrepreneurs and CEOs, now is the time to look seriously at private equity partners. There is no market mood to affect your valuation of your business and you get experts putting their thinking caps on to build your business. Right now, we all need all the help we can get.
Jacoline Loewen, expert in private equity and family business and author of Money Magnet: Attracting Investors to Your Business which is now a text book at Ivey Business School.

If you’re following Steve Jobs’ advice, you must know the risks to growing

A business owner was happily engrossed by his business and making a great deal of money. Inspired by a speech by Apple founder, Steve Jobs, however, his dream became to grow the company more. This CEO knew that he had the drive but worried about putting so much of his personal money at stake. He could not afford to take the risk, but nor could he go to the public markets at that stage. To help his company evolve, the CEO sold 75% of the company’s shares to private equity partners. They helped build up the staff, create systems, and identify acquisitions. Ironically, his 25% share ownership ended up giving him more financial return than if he had kept 100% to himself. How incredibly satisfying when the difficult course turns out also to be the best! Of course, if you’re following Steve Jobs’ advice you must know the risks to growing. One additional point—Jobs may have lost his spot at Apple for a decade but he says the company made it through that period due to the private equity financial partners in place.

Risk is relative. A medical device company wanted to launch a new product. As the owner knew it would cost $5M to bring to market, he weighed the risks. “Right now, I’m profitable. If all goes well, the product will grow my $10M company to $30M, with a cash flow of $1M. If it does not go well, I’m in the hole for $5M and it will take me five years to break even and get back to where I am now.”
But private equity partners will be lured to the possibility of growth. They catch a glimpse of the big fish in the dark water and appreciate the gleam of its scales; they will pick up the harpoon and take on the struggle, bleeding from holding the line, facing unbelievable adversity to bring home the fish others can only admire from the shoreline. That medical device company’s CEO settled on admitting to the conservative nature of his personal and financial goals. “I built this business in my garage and now it has to fly without just me. Let’s get in partners and share the risk.” He got enough cash off the table to cover his retirement and compensate for all the hungry years, but he was still able to stay around to enjoy the new growth with the partners who brought valuable new skills—vision, contacts, and patient capital through the storm.

June 24, 2010

How to Take Advantage of American Capital Flooding into Canada

In terms of American private capital investors, the U.S. based industry is broadly comparable around the world. The typical private equity structure is 2/20, which means that the fund is structured as a 10 year partnership. The committed capital is provided by an institutional investor such as the Harvard Endowment. The fund managers draw down a 2% fee (used to keep the lights on) and are expected to obtain a 20+% gain over the threshold. In light of the Great Recession, the fee structure has been under much debate.

U.S. funds are able to leverage their U.S. industry experience to help Canadian companies expand their business footprint and help launch them into a market close to home before tackling the worldwide stage. Through an American fund’s U.S. pedigree, a fund can leverage their experience in the American markets to pick out the consumer market nuances and help Canadian businesses expand south of the border.

Many Canadians currently reside in the U.S. as professionals in the private equity industry. With Canadians on the inside of the U.S. based PE funds, there is a natural orientation to help out fellow Canadians and their companies by bringing capital to Canada. However, business owners beware; funds in Boston or Chicago are probably more likely to invest than funds in Houston and cultural fit is a factor that cannot be overlooked. 

June 23, 2010

What Do Canadian Entrepreneurs Have to Offer?

When the flow of credit to companies dried during the credit crisis, large companies cut expenditures in their Research & Development budgets and hoarded cash. Now that the general economic outlook has eased and companies are starved for innovation, business owners and management are now looking at ways of obtaining growth.

Canada possesses a legacy of strong returns and successful deals. Also, boasting the largest announced leverage buyout of our time.

As Canadians, we live in what is often called the “Great White North”.  Our neighbours to the South and the rest of the world have a common perception that there is less competition in Canada. This is a commonly accepted truth for private equity funds as the U.S. has a greater number of funds with larger capital base. However, there is currently no known analytics verifying the perceived lower level of competition.

Currently, Canadians can also boast about the strength of the Canadian economy. No banking system is fundamentally as sound as ours. Our education system and clusters of innovation across the country provide us with a talented and high calibre workforce. Our legal framework is also well developed to facilitate the growth in private equity. And with the continual “Brain Drain” to the U.S., we have Canadians working on both sides of the border.

As an added bonus, Canadian investments are not counted in “foreign” concentration limits for PE funds. Typically, in a PE fund’s investment mandate, the Limited Partner (“LP”) list restrictions in the types, size, risk level, etc. of investments. Such restriction may include the amount that a fund can commit to one investment opportunity (not >25% of entire fund capital) or foreign investments (not >25% of capital committed overseas). The advantage for Canadian companies is that North America is not treated as “foreign”. 

Private equity--Use it or Lose it

Use it or lose it. That is the choice faced by some buyout firms sitting on piles of capital they have raised but not invested. The firms are unlikely to give it up without a fight. That was the message I heard while visiting Boston last week and speaking with a large number of private equity firms. They definitely are stressing about finding good companies as the American market is over-served and seen to be saturated. The funds had been counting on Europe but now that is a big muddle. Australia is too far and the time distance burns out the teams. So that leaves Canada
The Wall Street journal's JOHN JANNARONE  explains the increased pressure in private equity investing which is good news for Canadian business owners.
A fund-raising arms race last decade was followed by a sharp slowdown in investments, leading levels of dry powder to surge. Such undeployed capital stood at a record $280 billion among U.S.-focused buyout firms at the end of 2009, according to research firm Preqin.
The catch is that firms generally agree to invest capital within five years or return it to investors. For some, the deadline is fast approaching. U.S.-focused buyout funds have $51 billion that must be used before the end of 2011, Preqin says. Another $213 billion needs to be invested by 2015.
Raising new money isn't that easy anymore. So, the worry is that firms will lower the bar on the quality of investments to ensure existing funds are put to work. One risk is that firms begin to chase after deals and overpay. 

June 22, 2010

Why Private Capital?

One of our clients was a Canadian domestic company with large margins and a solid customer base of Canadian banks was looking to enter the public markets.  This would have been a nightmare. The public market option is typically not ideally suited for mid-market companies, often lacking liquidity as investors lose interest after the initial public offering.

In addition to the high initial costs of an IPO, business owners must pay annual fees for audited financial statements and supply quarterly reports to their shareholders. There is often the conflict of interest in meeting short-term expectations with long-term growth plans. The initial sacrifice of payout to the investor should be rewarded with later value from the realized growth potential of the firm.

Furthermore, the lack of privacy of confidential information, once a company goes public, may decrease a company’s competitive edge as margins are disclosed to competitors, suppliers and customers, among other strategic information.

Private capital has the flexibility to meet a wide range of business owner needs, while providing privacy of confidential information and a long term outlook in realizing growth potential. A PE fund provides strong financial expertise to complement the management team. With no short-term external reporting requirements, management is able to better focus their capital on growth opportunities that add value to existing shareholders. PE funds assist in improving business operations through efficiency or by supplying expertise in exploring new markets for growth.

PE funds are also able to leverage their existing relationships with banks and lawyers to provide the business owner with access to a broader base of financing options than they had before. American private capital investors in particular are able to use their relationships with banks and lawyers south of the border to support investment opportunities in Canada. This provides a much larger pool for Canadian business owner’s to dip their toes in and Canadian business owners are no longer restricted to the kiddie side of the pool.

In amidst all the talk of PE funds building equity value, let me  emind the business owner that there is a lot of hype around adding value and that there is often the need to cut through all the clutter. Some PE funds are able to add tangible value to building the business through growth, others are more focused on cost cutting, and others are all about the hype.

It is also important to consider the decision making process as PE financing entails the addition of a partner. It is important to retain the rapid decision making that exists prior to the PE fund investor while incorporating the additional expertise of the board members.

An example of a “Homerun” investment for the Monitor Clipper Partners entailed a small Canadian investment in 2004. The founder owned 70% of a truly amazing business model and wanted to diversify holdings. The fund was able to dissuade the owner from listing on the public markets for the reasons listed above. Instead the individual sold half of his equity position to private equity investors, effectively taking money off the table. With the injection of working and growth capital, the business growth rate was accelerated. The 35% ownership structure and additional capital to turbo charge growth and expand the business footprint into the U.S., grew to become 75% of what the initial business value was, upon exit, three years later. For Monitor Clipper, this was their highest IRR on a three year investment and a Canadian investment to boot!

June 21, 2010

What Do Private Capital Investors Look for?

The private equity industry really got going in the 1970s when, Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts (“KKR”), one of the present day PE titans, was founded. The industry has flourished in goods times while being hit hard during the Great Recession. The fundamental framework though has always remained the same regardless of whether the economy was at the peak or trough of the business cycle. The criteria for evaluating investment opportunities are uniform globally.

The international criteria for what constitutes an attractive investment consist of solid industry characteristics, meaningful competitive differentiation, strong management with equity ownership, and business growth potential. PE fund investors look for a compelling reason to invest and love growth stories where the business owner is looking for capital to excel the current growth of their business.

Strong management with a meaningful equity stake in the business is a crucial criterion for investors. Often, if an existing owner is looking for a complete exit, this is a sign of worry for the investing party. PE funds like to create partnerships and can help owner managed or family businesses acquire ownership if they don’t have it initially. Funds can help take some cash off the table initially but with the continued presence of management and a capital injection from the investor, grow the equity stake remaining into a larger pie.

The alignment of growth plans between investors and business owners needs exist for the growth phase for the business to bear fruit. The due diligence process prior to investment from both parties ensures there is a strong alignment initially.
 Increasingly, entrepreneurs and business owners are competing on a global platform. Like companies, private equity funds are becoming more multinational. The Harvard Endowment invests capital in locally based Canadian private equity funds such as Torquest and Birch Hill Equity Partners. Private equity is an alternative asset class that allows institutional and high net worth investors exposure to a different risk-return scenario. Some mid-market and virtually all large cap funds are multi-national and as funds follow the attractive returns, increasingly they are moving to Asia.

Some PE funds are quite diverse in national or ethnic origin of personnel. You’ll be hard pressed to find many native New Yorkers working on Wall Street these days as Jacoline Loewen, author of Money Magnet can attest to. Broad similarities among private equity firms are evident around the world. The big differences lie in a firm’s strategy and culture and their ability to operate effectively internationally -- the litmus test for U.S. funds. 

June 18, 2010

You can't be for jobs and against business

Business has taken a beating and capitalism questioned this past two years. Common sense is beginning to flow back into the media as journalists hear from business owners that they might as well sell their companies and get a union job. 
Our business owners need to know they are appreciated and that their service to business, usually at the cost of family time, is recognized. Private equity takes on these same risks as the owner, putting at risk their own capital, unlike a bank. Private equity is also getting a beating as the American tax laws change to show that their risk taking will not be seen as equal to the business owner.
With the increasingly negative rhetoric about business, I was pleased to read Thomas Friedman's article on the best gift to a graduate -- a start up. Of course, encouraging start ups requires many elements of the business environment to work together. Above all, the knowledge by society that founding and running a business takes enormous effort is the most critical. Otherwise, taxing those who make jobs will push their incentives down. 
Here's Thomas Friedman:

We owe our young people something better — and the solution is not that complicated, although it is amazing how little it is discussed in the Washington policy debates. We need three things: start-ups, start-ups and more start-ups. 
Good jobs — in bulk — don’t come from government. They come from risk-takers starting businesses —  businesses that make people’s lives healthier, more productive, more comfortable or more entertained, with services and products that can be sold around the world. You can’t be for jobs and against business.
 I asked two of the best people on this subject, Robert Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, which specializes in innovation, and Curtis Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International, the Silicon Valley-based innovation specialists.
Carlson said he would begin by creating a cabinet position exclusively for promoting innovation and competitiveness to ensure that America remains “the world’s new company formation leader.” “Secretary Newco” would be focused on pushing through initiatives — including lower corporate taxes for start-ups, reducing costly regulations (like Sarbanes-Oxley reporting for new companies), and expanding tax breaks for research and development to make it cheaper and faster to start new firms. We need to unleash millions of entrepreneurs.
Litan said he’d staple a green card to the diploma of every foreign student who graduates from a U.S. university and push for a new meaningful entrepreneurs visa (the current one, the EB-5, requires $1 million of capital that few foreign entrepreneurs have). It would grant temporary residence to any foreigner who comes here to establish a company and permanent residency if that company generates a certain level of new full-time jobs and revenues. One of the best moves we could make, adds Litan, would be a long-term budget deal that would address the looming Social Security/Medicare payouts for baby boomers. Proving to the bond market that we have our long-term fiscal house in order would keep long-term interest rates low and thereby “encourage private investment more than any tax cut.”
Nevertheless, I’d also cut the capital gains tax for any profit-making venture start-up from 15 percent to 1 percent. I want our best minds to be able to make a killing from starting new companies rather than going to Wall Street and making a killing by betting against existing companies. I’d also impose a carbon tax and balance that with a cut in payroll taxes and corporate taxes. Let’s tax what we don’t want and encourage what we do.

Why I Use Other People's Money says Michael Lee-Chin

“Do you know a wealthy person? Hold their image in your mind and I will show how there are a few golden principles to how they grew their wealth,” said Michael Lee-Chin, one of Canada’s billionaires at Airsprint Jet’s client reception. Michael shared that there are rules to getting rich and that he would bet that this person of wealth you were imagining, used these rules. He challenged that the answer would be "yes" to his five questions. So here are Michael’s five questions which are the golden rules to growing wealth:
  1. Did this person of wealth own their business and a few other businesses they knew very well?
  2. Did they know these businesses were in a good long-term industry?
  3. Did they own these businesses for a significant time?
  4. Did they manage the tax implications?
  5. Did they use other people’s money to grow their businesses?
Question number five is the most critical – how to use other people’s money to grow your own wealth.  It is also the most challenging for business owners.
To think about using other people’s money and then to grow the business is talking higher risk than many owners can handle. Rather than investigate further, they throw up road blocks. First is an initial gag reflex to sharing control and decision making power, which comes with using other people’s money. 
There is fear of inviting in financial experts who are weasels and who may steal the business. 
Then there is satisfaction with how the business runs today; the owner may not feel a pressing need.  Most owners meet their level of revenues that they can manage, and they stop there. Why risk any of their personal money to grow? Rather take it out and buy property, stocks and other --frankly--lower return investments.
Michael Lee-Chin would remind you that the time for opportunity is when everyone is afraid – like right now. He also talks about how some level of success invites complacency. Michael says that the the winners learn how to other people’s money – private equity--and understand their road blocks. these are often fears. Understand these fears. 
Decide if you really want to create wealth. If you own a business and you want to become wealthier, learn how to use other people’s money – private equity money. 
Lee-Chin learnt this in 1979 when he came across a copy of John Train’s 1980 book The Money Masters—and was exposed for the first time to the buy-and-hold value philosophy of investing guru Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. “All of a sudden I was twigged on to an investing strategy that made sense to me,” says Michael. He borrowed money to purchase $500,000 of Mackenzie Financial stock. After four years, this stock appreciated seven-fold, and Michael used the profits to own his own business, a small Ontario-based investment firm called AIC Limited. At that time, Advantage Investment Counsel had assets under management of just $800,000. Within 20 years, AIC grew from less than $1 million and – at its business peak – posted more than $15 billion in assets under management. In September 2009, it was purchased by Manulife. At all stages of the business growth, Michael used other people's money and is now on Canada's Billionaire's list. As Michael ended his talk, his helicopter out on Airsprint's runway began to crank up, and then he was gone but he left behind a great deal of energy in that room of business owners.

Jacoline Loewen, expert in private equity and author of Money Magnet: How to Attract Other People's Money to Your Business.

June 17, 2010

And why bother with values?

Values are just behaviors – specific, nitty-gritty, and so descriptive they leave little to the imagination. People must be able to use them as marching orders because they are the how of the mission, the means to the end -- winning.
In contrast to the creation of a mission, everyone in a company should have something to say about values. Yes, that can be a messy undertaking. That’s OK. In a small enterprise, everyone can be involved in debating them in all kinds of meetings. In a larger organization, it’s a lot tougher. But you can use company-wide meetings, training sessions, and the like, for as much personal discussion as possible, and the intranet for broader input.
Getting more participation really makes a difference, giving you more insights and more ideas, and at the end of the process, most importantly, much more extensive buy-in.
The actual process of creating values, incidentally, has to be iterative. The executive team may come up with a first version, but it should be just that, a first version. Such a document should go out to be poked and probed by people all over an organization, over and over again. And the executive team has to go out of their way to be sure they’ve created an atmosphere where people feel it is their obligation to contribute.
Now if you’re in a company where speaking up gets you whacked, this method of developing values just isn’t going to work. I understand that, and as long as you stay, you’re going to have to live with that generic plaque in the front hall.
But if you’re at a company that does welcome debate – and many do -- shame on you if you don’t contribute to the process. If you want values and behaviors that you understand and can live yourself, you have to make the case for them.

Read more at Jack and Suzy Welch.

June 16, 2010

One question when doing your Mission - How are you going to win in this game?

Business owners needing to push their people more in a shared direction look to the Mission statement. Yet, when I am working with companies, I meet many owners who believe the Mission is a description only, not an aspirational dream. They also stick to the safe words and descriptions - "we find world class solutions for our customers." So what? That is what everyone is doing. If your Mission is the same as any business in your industry, tear it up and start again with your senior team. Make sure you put in a financial goal too.
I have followed Jack Welch's principles of strategy for twenty years and I think his definition of the Mission is the best I have seen. By the way, good Private equity firms  know how to use the Mission statement. Make sure you ask about their expertise in using them.
Jack Welch believes that: 

An effective mission statement basically answers one question: How do we intend to win in this business? 

It does not answer: What did we used to be good at in the good old days? Nor does it answer: How can we describe our business so that no particular unit or division or senior executive gets pissed off? Instead, the question “How do we intend to win in this business?” is defining. It requires companies to make choices about people, investments, and other resources, and prevents them from falling into the common mission trap of asserting they will be all things to all people at all times. The question forces companies to delineate their strengths and weaknesses and assess where they can profitably play in the competitive landscape. 
Yes, profitably – that’s the key. Even Ben & Jerry’s, the crunchy-granola, hippy, save-the-world ice cream company based in Vermont, has “profitable growth and increased value for stakeholders” as one of the elements of its three-part mission statement because its executives know that without financial success, all the social goals in the world don’t have a chance.Now, that’s not saying a mission shouldn’t be bold or aspirational. Ben & Jerry’s, for instance, wants to sell “all-natural and euphoric concoctions” and “improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally.” That kind of language is great in that it absolutely has the power to excite people and motivate them to stretch.
At the end of the day, effective mission statements balance the possible and the impossible. They give people a clear sense of the direction to profitability and the inspiration to feel they are part of something big and important.
Read more of Jack Welch's views and Suzie Welch.

June 15, 2010

Succession when your son is 50 plus is too tough

Succession, which has never been easy for families, is getting tougher. Today, greater longevity means many patriarchs stay in power much longer, forcing a whole generation of family members into other pursuits. 
“Kids” these days don’t want to wait until they’re 50 plus to take charge. By that time, they have usually found their own passion or are weakened by waiting in the wings, so to speak.
This is an enormous threat to the ability of the company to survive and thrive when the next generation do finally pick up the reins. Cracks in the family happiness are often showing too. There is nothing sadder than seeing a family where Dad has not given a clear line of succession and worked hard to pass over the real decision making and leadership before son or daughter reaches middle age.
At the same time, too many patriarchs adhere to the age-old practice of passing the reins to progeny, regardless of talent. That tradition brought acceptable odds of success in less competitive eras. One way to allow the next generation to remain in the business is to bring in 30% private equity partners who understand how to accommodate family business dynamics but make sure there is an excellent COO to run the show. I have seen some talented managers work well within the family business environment, respecting the family business ownership structure as well as drawing on the private equity skills.

Jacoliine Loewen, family business expert recommends:

June 14, 2010

Family businesses emphasize wealth preservation, not growth

Family businesses are a major part of the Canadian economy and being in one myself, I can see the strength of the more resilient culture. Employees may feel more of a sense of belonging and human connection more than working for a professionally run corporation. These are reasons that family businesses, in these troubled times, have been better performers. These are also the reasons private equity treasures family businesses above all other types of business ownership.
I have been working with family business owners over the past decade and I have come to see a big threat looming in their future which, if left ignored, will impact on the future of the Canadian economy.
My  major concern is that I notice the main goal for family businesses is to preserve wealth, over accumulation. In other words, the family business is less likely to invest in new projects for the sake of growth.
“Why would I risk our own money to grow? If it is not successful, I am out of pocket,” is the typical comment. Quite understandable, but in this new environment, that sort of thinking will be the ruin of the family business.
I am not the only one has picked up this pressing crisis. Jack and Suzy Welch also write about this increasing crack in the foundation of the family business which will threaten their survival.  Jack Welch says,
“That protect-the-assets approach often worked in simpler times, but it could prove devastating in a global environment where risk-taking and growth are essential to survival.”
There is direct action for family business owners to counter this global economy threat to the family business and I usually ask these question: Would you like to have the world's best business minds apply their ideas to the business? Would you like to grow into new geographic regions but without using your own cash? Would you like to reduce your growth risk by having experts who have already worked in those regions?
Private equity brings these valuable skills to the Board room table, and far more. To have Board advisors who are global and who bring a third of the money to the business, it is a winning path to growth of wealth. 
I strongly encourage family business to bring in private equity partners who sit at Board level, but do not get involved in the day-to-day operations. This extra investment will allow the family to take money out to invest in other companies which diversifies their own wealth while also addressing their reluctance to invest in the risk of growth. 

Jacoline Loewen, expert in family business and private equity, author of Money Magnet, now used as a text book for Ivey Business Schools' MBA program.

June 12, 2010

How to get your hotshot people boosting revenues

Private equity wants to know how to get a business bringing in revenues.
The first place I look is to see if the business leader wants control. The Mission statement can give the rough map of the path forward, but it also relinquishes control to the managers, something that often grates with baby boomer leaders who are used to commanding all. It is confusing, infuriating, and to some leaders weak, to reduce control, and just like the interpretation of motherhood, leaders may not want to accept alternative interpretations of what the Mission means.
I have observed, though, that most women leaders are able to accept that they cannot control their people. Women leaders are exciting when they roll out strategy with their teams because they tend to nurture an openness, leading to that first spark: Permission to have intellectual and emotional curiosity about how to enhance the business. Canada’s school system can struggle to develop this curiosity – my grandfather said members of one union teaching all of our children could perhaps be a little one-sided in their views – and I fear for our future work force if universities think that preventing raging debate in public means that the ideas also stop. That is one of the ways leaders have the illusion they are in control, as we witnessed recently with University of Ottawa’s debacle over Ann Coulter, an American Conservative pundit. The result is I am now curious about her books.
As leaders of businesses or universities, I think once we own up that we cannot control every action, and that luck and timing play a large role, we can improve our odds of success.
Here’s the catch: We desperately need to believe that we are in control of events. Only high self-esteem and a sense of responsibility for results boosts us from bed on cold mornings. With a detailed, language-rich Mission Statement, a leader can improve this sense of control for her team so that they feel personal accountability. They can get that spidey-tingle that there is work to be done, let’s do it.
If a leader’s attitude is that the Mission is to help guide those people brimming with enthusiasm to get out into the real world and take a few punches, fantastic. Without those experiences, management stagnates. Your hotshot people want to take on more in their interpretation of essential work, to try their ideas and leadership style to make it happen or not. Managers can get moving on their own initiative, fit into the company’s deep marketing “groove,” while developing the gumption to be able to change drastically when that groove proves to be a rut.
We are all very aware that today’s star product is quickly tomorrow’s Tiger Woods.
Having colleagues who are running counter to your views and not under your exact control is the only thing that ensures organizational adaptation and survival. Most long-term companies look quite different over decades and there is usually a leader who encouraged their people to take risks while following that North star and dumping the boat every now and then.