For more than 20 years, Christine Pouliot a partner at PwC Canada, has been helping entrepreneurs navigate one of their life’s biggest decisions: to sell their business.
The following is a recap of a conversation Christine had with Lisa Courtney Lloyd from Market Maker Agriculture on business ownership transition and the considerations that can lead to success.
Christine’s interest in working with entrepreneurs dates back to her university days when she recognized that it takes a certain personality to be an entrepreneur; to build on an idea when there is no book to follow. She likens them to athletes, where success takes time, determination, and resilience. So, when entrepreneurs contact her to sell their business, she understands the enormity of the decision — they are selling their life’s work — and she spends a lot of time on the human side of the transaction.
“At the end of the day, you may have the best equipment, top quality services, solid financials, but if there is no human or cultural fit with the buyer, the transaction will most likely fail,” says Christine. “For most private business owners, money is important but the legacy they will leave to their teams and community is just as important, because for most of them, their team and their business are their second family.”
This mindset guides Christine and her team throughout the entire project, beginning with the kickoff meeting where Christine does more listening than talking as she tries to understand what is most important to the owner. “Contrary to what most people may think, there is not a lot of financial discussion at that first meeting.
“Selling what’s dear to your heart can be an emotional roller coaster so I try to set expectations and encourage owners to consider all aspects of the transaction early on. The experience and outcome will be much better if they have a clear vision and know what they are willing to accept before the heat of negotiations.”
For Christine, the beginning of a transaction is the honeymoon stage when everyone is getting to know each other and is happy to be working together. Then as can be expected, as the parties drill into the details, conversations become more complicated, and disagreements occur. In Christine’s experience, if the buyer and seller are aligned in values and have taken the time to understand each other and their respective objectives, even those discussions and negotiations are easier.
When prompted, Christine says what is most underestimated by entrepreneurs is the time it takes the complete a full transaction cycle because owners don’t usually consider the time needed altogether to get the company market-ready and, to execute the transaction and to complete the transition post-transaction. In her experience, it can take up to 18 and 24 months from the decision-making moment of selling your business to a successful integration.
When asked what success is for Christine, there is no hesitancy in saying: “It’s seeing the partnership come together. I love being part of a project that takes a company to the next level and helps people realize their dreams.” People Projects.
Christine’s abbreviated list of what sellers should think about before negotiations begin:
- Valuation: how much do they want for their company?
- Is the timing right for the business and the management team?
- Do they want a role post transaction?
- Do they wish to sell 100% of their company or are they willing to keep a minority stake post-transaction?
- Is their business in good order?
Christine Pouliot is a partner in the Deals practice at PwC Canada’s Montréal office and Leader of the Canadian Private companies’ sector for Deals, and Leader of the Technology, Media, Telecom markets in the Quebec Region and sits on the Quebec Leadership Group committee.
She is also a managing director with PricewaterhouseCoopers Corporate Finance Inc., where she assists entrepreneurs and companies with capital raisings, mergers & acquisitions as well as sales and divestitures. She has more than 20 years of experience in corporate finance and has conducted numerous deal assignments involving both Canadian and international companies, with many of the latter being located in Europe and the United States. She also advises board members and executives with regard to the development and implementation of their M&A strategies.