What acquirers look for in a Consulting Firm

I was interviewed recently, as part of a podcast series, on the topic of what acquirers look for when searching for consulting firms to acquire.

Drawing on my experience from both sides, helping firms to acquire and “packaging up” firms to get them ready for acquisition, there was more than enough content to fill a 25 minute session.

Enjoy listening to the podcast here and feel free to provide comment or contact me to debate the content and/or share your own experiences.

The future’s uncertain…….and bright!

Theresa May stood outside Number 10 after her audience with Her Majesty the Queen on Friday and announced that she will now form a Government to provide Britain with “certainty”. Really? The only thing more certain coming out of this election is that the country has a much stronger second party in Opposition than was the case before she called it.

Whatever your political persuasion, we are faced with a “fog of uncertainty” as Larry Elliott wrote in The Guardian, investors are “unnerved by economic uncertainty” as reported on the BBC, and business leaders are “appalled at the prospect of more political uncertainty” as Sarah Gordon reported in the FT.

So should we be despondent? What does all this uncertainty mean, for business and for our Professional Services and IT Services industry in particular?

Well, let’s take a look at what needs to happen in the wake of recent events. Both Public Sector departments and private sector businesses have a broader range of forward Brexit scenarios to consider than they thought before and they’ll need help with scenario planning now and with solution design and implementation later. Security, both physical and cyber, needs another round of thinking and additional solutions to be implemented to make citizens, consumers and businesses be and feel better protected. Businesses with strong export trade have a window of opportunity to exploit with an even weaker pound – let’s help them expand in existing overseas markets and conquer new ones. Equally, our own services are now even cheaper to buy by non-UK clients for a period – we should be talking to our international client base and capitalising on this.

Quite apart from these, there’s a huge amount of change happening that has no link to whether things are certain or uncertain in UK politics – the pace of change won’t slacken just because of a somewhat unexpected election result. We’re heavily involved in lots of this change and the demand for our expertise and resources won’t diminish any time soon as:

  • consumers continue to utilise digital channels alongside traditional ones, requiring omni-channel business strategies and  integrated IT and supply chain solutions
  • software manufacturers push their customers towards their shiny cloud-based solutions and the customers have to decide whether to go with this and the IT transformation programmes that result or stick with existing systems that work well enough but which may need to be self- or third party-supported
  • big data gets ever bigger – analysing data and extracting the critical intelligence needed to make business decisions swiftly is becoming ever more important
  • the opportunities created by artificial intelligence become better understood – it’s not just about automated factories any more
  • ….and so on….

The political environment may be uncertain but the future for our industry is bright!

Overseas acquirers are on the lookout!

 

 

 

At the time of writing, I’m looking at a foreign exchange website and seeing that £1 will buy around €1.18 or US$1.25, making our overseas summer holidays more expensive this year. Maybe stay at home and mix with the larger volume of inbound tourists?

Overseas businesses are seeing things more like US$1 will buy 80p or €1 will buy 84.7p, which is much more sterling than they’re used to – so, now that it’s clearer to them that the UK won’t cease to exist after Brexit and is even likely to prosper, they’re seeing the UK as a good investment prospect, as evidenced by recent announcements from Qatar, Nissan and Lidl.

The UK has always been a stepping stone for US businesses wanting to expand into Europe and vice versa. Outside of this, the English speaking world likes to set up a base in the UK and even list on the UK Stock Exchange, which has tended to provide a stable foundation to build upon. The weakness of the pound, which isn’t likely to change much any time soon, is contributing to an increased volume of such activity.

In our Professional Services and IT Services world, we’re seeing a similar picture and there is a number of UK-focused acquisition programmes led by overseas headquartered firms that I’m aware of. This activity in the market is pushing valuation multiples up a little but it doesn’t matter too much for the acquirer as the exchange rate is more than making up for this.

Does this mean that the time to package up your firm and sell it is now? Well, it depends. Initial search activity from overseas buyers may not necessarily be as well focused as it could be – “let’s go and research what’s available in the UK and see if there are some reasonably decent firms that we can pick up for an OK price!” – so you may get some initial inbound enquiries and/or interest if you hang up a “for sale” sign. It doesn’t take long beyond a first meeting, however, for an acquirer to focus in on the fundamentals of a firm, including:

– quality of work

– breadth and depth of capabilities

– a client base to leverage

– a decent revenue, gross margin and EBITDA profile

– a baseload of forward business.

I’m amused to see how some firms have been “respraying” themselves to look “hot” – e.g. process improvement consulting firms now displaying a Business Transformation message, IT advisory and project management firms jumping on the Digital bandwagon and some even trying to “double up” on Digital Transformation! If it’s a genuine change in direction for these firms, they’ve invested in the new positioning and have evidence (case studies, industry awards, a decent number of trained consultants etc) to back this up (Note: it’s normally a three or so year programme to change direction properly) then fine. A swift respray, however, is unlikely to work since these overseas acquirers aren’t desperate to buy – they’re taking a look and may buy if the search exercise uncovers something genuinely interesting. In my own activities on the acquirer side, it isn’t difficult to distinguish between the ends of the spectrum and “pure respray” firms are unlikely even to know that we’ve taken a brief look!

So the overseas acquirers are here for a reason, they’re investing but they’re not being silly!

BearingPoint’s acquisition of LCP Consulting

Appointed by BearingPoint to introduce appropriate consulting firms to them from my network, I was delighted to be in at the start of this acquisition activity.

BearingPoint is a significant player in mainland Europe, most notably in France and Germany, and is growing fast in the UK.  Our aim was to find consulting firms in the UK that would provide greater local capability in supply chain and similar services and also fit well with the existing horizontal capability teams and vertical practices of BearingPoint elsewhere in Europe.

LCP Consulting is an award-winning consultancy and the team there is seriously strong.  They needed a home where they could spread their wings and grow more quickly.

This tie up is a great example of “1+1=3” – both organisations bring things to the party that the other has been looking for.  Culturally, they fit well too and it was evident even at the first meeting that the two firms could create something special.

Well, the deal is now done and well done to all!  I look forward now to seeing the special things being delivered in the market and the BearingPoint brand gaining increasing recognition in the UK as a result.

See here for BearingPoint’s press release.