INTRO: Broadcasting live from the business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for High Velocity Radio.
STONE PEYTON: Welcome to the High Velocity Radio Show, where we celebrate top performers producing better results in less time. Stone Peyton here with you today. Please join me in welcoming to the podcast, with Oaklyn Consulting, Mr. Monty Bruell — how are you, man?
MONTY BRUELL: I am great, Stone. How are you today?
STONE PEYTON: I am doing well. I have really been looking forward to this conversation. I have a ton of questions. I know we won’t get to ’em all, but I think a really good place to start would be if you could articulate for me and our listeners your mission, purpose, what you and your team are really out there trying to do for folks.
MONTY BRUELL: Sure. Oaklyn Consulting is a regional mergers and acquisitions firm. We help people buy companies, we help people sell companies that they’ve built. We’re in the succession and transition business.
A lot of times, a founder, CEO will spend decades building a business, except they have not really thought about how they’re going to maximize the value that they’re gonna receive for that. How will they exit that business? Will one generation of a family transfer it to the next generation? So, Oaklyn Consulting works with business owners, and we say in the lower middle market, you know, we do deals from say, $5 million all the way up to $100 million. We help people figure out what they’re gonna do with their company, and we drive them toward that transaction.
STONE PEYTON: So it strikes me that succession planning would be important for virtually any business owner, but are there particular industries, types of businesses, segments of that business owner population for whom it is even more critical, or fewer of them are doing it than really should be?
MONTY BRUELL: Well, as you said, Stone, succession planning is important for every business owner. But what we find is that with closely held family-run companies, succession planning is super important, because you sometimes will have members of the family who think they’re going to be running the business in the future, and they may not be. That may not be what the owner wants to have happen.
And then you have employees who may have worked for a company for 20 years who want to know where they fit into the future of that company. With my practice in Atlanta, I focus primarily on minority- and women-owned companies. And with those companies, you have issues around certification: Will the company continue to be at least 51% owned by a minority or a woman? That’s very important to the future success of the business.
And then you have issues of legacy. Because as hard as it is for any business to be successful over the long run, it’s doubly hard for a minority-owned company or a woman-owned company. And so you wanna leave a legacy. You don’t want to just sell your company willy-nilly without any regard for what’s gonna happen to it in the future. You wanna make sure that the legacy that you have built is recognized and that it continues on into the future.
STONE PEYTON: So, I gotta know, man, what is the backstory? How did you find yourself in this line of work? What was the path, man?
MONTY BRUELL: Well, it’s an unusual way to find one’s career path. But last year, I ran for mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the reason that I wanted to run, primarily, was to address economic disparity. When you look at households in poverty, for example, throughout the South, two-thirds of all households in poverty are headed by single women. So our poverty is concentrated with single moms, their kids and families. Imagine if you could create businesses that are woman-owned, that can help other women, that you can expand the middle class, you can create good-paying jobs.
And so, when I didn’t win the mayoral race, I began talking with people, and my now-partner Frank Williamson and I sat down, and Frank said, you know, it sounds like you could really be a good investment banker, that you could help some people figure out how to grow their businesses and create jobs. And that’s really how I got into this line of work. It was my passion for helping people and wanting to create good-paying jobs in areas, and in communities, and for people where that was lacking.
STONE PEYTON: So now that you’ve been at it a while, what’s the most rewarding? What’s the most fun about it for you?
MONTY BRUELL: Well, I would say there are two things that I really enjoy. In Atlanta, we have these companies that I call “Heartsfield Jackson babies.” They were created in the 1970s when that airport was being built. And now those founders are 70 years old and they’re trying to figure out, how do I start my retirement? How do I sell my company, how do I transition it to the next generation? Whatever that exit strategy is. And so it’s really rewarding to help people who are coming toward the end, if you will, of their business career, to find a way to do that with dignity and with economic success.
And then on the other side of that, I love working with 45-, 50-year-old entrepreneurs who have built a successful business, but now they want to take it to the next level. I have one client who has a company that’s doing about $20 million a year in revenue. They’ve got 100 or more employees and my client just looked at me and he said, “How do I drive this to a $100 million and 300 employees within the next four years?” And so I love that challenge of helping that kind of client develop a strategy and access the capital that they will need to make that a reality.
STONE PEYTON: So when you first sit down and start visiting with a client or even a prospective client, what kind of questions do they have? What are they concerned about, scared of, excited about? What is that like?
MONTY BRUELL: Well, the primary issue is developing a relationship where, number one, your expectations are aligned. That we as consultants aren’t misleading the client, and that the client has realistic expectations about what can happen.
And the other thing is there’s an issue of trust, because when an owner is talking about either growing their company or selling their company, they’re talking about their baby. I mean, this has been the primary focus of their lives for a number of years. And so you really have to get to a point where you trust one another.
And so these relationships just aren’t about the money. It’s not just about the economics. You’re really developing a real personal connection with one another.
STONE PEYTON: So how does the whole sales and marketing thing work? Are clients finding you? Are you finding clients? Do you find that you have a structured approach to attracting new clients? How does that work for a firm like yours?
MONTY BRUELL: I’d say there are really two things. I try to develop relationships with business influencers — so, attorneys, CPAs, people who are trusted advisors, because that really helps me and it helps our firm if it’s not Monty Bruell cold-calling a business owner saying, knock, knock, knock, here I am, let me help you.
It’s really much better and much smoother if someone that they already know, like their lawyer or their accountant, says, you know, I’ve got the guy for you, or I know a firm that can help you. So that’s number one.
And then the other thing I will say is, you never know when the client is going to need you. So, I just try to meet as many people as I possibly can, build personal relationships with them. And it may be two years down the road before that person comes back and says, “I’ve been thinking about selling my company. Would you be willing to talk to me?” Or “I want to grow my business. Can you talk to me about how to do that?” So it’s not really a case where I make a sales call and I close the deal, because that’s not really how mergers and acquisitions works. It’s rare that you’ll meet someone at the precise point in time when they’re ready for your services.
STONE PEYTON: I’m sure there are some consistent patterns, some consistent elements in, in your work with virtually any client. But I gotta also believe every situation’s gotta have its idiosyncrasies, right? If you’re working with a 75-year-old matriarch getting ready to exit and ride off into the sunset, that’s gotta be different than working with, I don’t know, maybe some folks in some underserved communities. Can you talk a little bit about the value of having a firm like yours, with your expertise and your experience in being able to navigate those different kinds of situations that would present themselves?
MONTY BRUELL: Well, really, what people are looking for when they hire an M&A advisor like Oaklyn Consulting is they’re looking to access our relationships. They’re looking to access our reputation, if you will. So I spend a lot of time talking to people involved in the capital markets, people who are either investing equity or who are banks who are doing work on the debt side. And so, it’s really interesting that it’s all about making connection. I would say that’s the number one thing. So, sometimes, we meet with clients and they’re not ready, or it’s just not the right fit. And we try to help them get ready or help them find an advisor who will work for them.
But you’re right, Stone, every situation is different. We have a standard model, if you will. We know we gotta come in and do evaluation. We know that we’ve got to provide a list of prospective investors or prospective acquisition targets. All of that is fairly standard.
But it’s kind of like being a quarterback on a football team. The play is called, you know what the play is going to be, but when the ball is snapped, it doesn’t always — in fact, it rarely happens just as it’s drawn up, right? So you’ve gotta have a little athletic ability — in this case, a little M&A ability — to be able to pivot and be resilient and take the client where they want to go, even though the play broke down somewhere and you’ve got to make it work anyway.
STONE PEYTON: So do you find that, at least in the initial conversations, because while these folks may be really at the top of their game with respect to their craft, or have done a marvelous job in meeting the market with the business that they’ve created, they’re not succession planning experts, they’re not M&A experts, they may not have bought or sold businesses before. Do you find that there are some myths, misconceptions, assumptions, preconceived notions that sometimes you have to sort of set the record straight and educate and form and help them understand what this arena is really like?
MONTY BRUELL: Well, I think the number one misconception is that as the M&A advisor, we just care about the transaction, that we are just trying to get a deal done so that we can get paid. And that’s not really even how our compensation works at Oaklyn. We bill our clients essentially like lawyers and accountants. We don’t collect a big success fee at the end, because we want our objectives to be perfectly aligned with our clients’ objectives. And so I never want a client to feel like he or she is being pushed toward a deal just because it’s in Oaklyn Consulting’s best interest. We want every deal to be in the best interest of our clients. And that is really the most important thing that I think that we have to address.
And then the second thing I will say, is that listening is so important. When I first meet a client, I don’t really even talk much about their business. I wanna know, really, why are we having this conversation? What prompted the client to want to sit down with me? What are the hopes, dreams and aspirations of that client? If you’re 70, I want to know what you want to be doing when you’re 75. And if you’re 40, I want to know what you want to be doing when you’re 50, because that’s really where we’re trying to go.
It’s really not about what’s going on today, it’s about what’s going on tomorrow. And we want the client to be in control of that, and we want to be the facilitator that helps the client get where he or she wants to go.
STONE PEYTON: Words like “relationship,” “connection,” “listening” have surfaced in this conversation, I gotta say, far more often than I would’ve anticipated. Speaking of myths, misconceptions, preconceived notions, I would have envisioned your world as far more transactional. It sounds like it is deeply, deeply rooted in relationship and service and listening much more so. I mean, I realize there’s the transactional component, I mean, this is a relationship business, isn’t it?
MONTY BRUELL: Oh, absolutely. The transaction is really the easiest part of it. I mean, imagine, Stone, if you’re out looking for a house. Now, you’ve gone to the bank, you’ve gotten preapproved for the mortgage. You know what’s gonna happen when you sit down at the closing table. But you have to look at 50 houses before you find the one that’s right for you.
And sometimes you know it right when you drive up. You just look at your real estate agent and you go, uh, no, not this one. And sometimes you have to go back to the house three or four times before you realize that it’s not for you. And hopefully in the end you find the one that is the perfect one for you.
And a business transaction is very similar to that. It’s not one and done. It’s not just about saying, OK, you wanna buy a yellow house? We’ve got a yellow house for you. No, it’s really more complicated than that. It’s gotta feel right. And so, a lot of people don’t think about, as you said, the relationship or the feeling part of the deal. And that’s really the most important part.
STONE PEYTON: Well, and following on this relationship, investing in the other person kind of theme, I gotta believe you must have had the benefit and continue to have the benefit of one or more mentors that have helped you really learn how to serve in this ecosystem.
MONTY BRUELL: Oh, absolutely. I don’t know if he would consider himself a mentor, because we’re partners, but I’ve already mentioned Frank Williamson, who started Oaklyn Consulting. He is a person of the highest integrity, who strives to do the right thing, and I love being a part of an organization where that’s our culture. And I have to applaud Frank for establishing that as our culture.
As a general business mentor, many, many years ago, when I first came out of college, I went to work for Jack Lupton, who at the time was the largest Coca-Cola bottler in the United States. And Jack always said to me, we want to be number one in every market in which we choose to compete. And what I got from that is you don’t have to compete. You don’t have to go after everything. You don’t have to do things just because somebody wants you to, but when you decide to get up off the bench and get into the game, you give it your all. And that is an important lesson that I’ve just carried with me throughout my entire business career.
And so, when I think about mentorship, I’m thankful for the lessons that I learned in Coca-Cola bottling and from Jack Lupton, and I’m grateful today for having a partner like Frank Williamson.
STONE PEYTON: OK, before we wrap, if we could, let’s leave our listeners with a couple of pro tips. Maybe a to-do list or just a couple of actionable items, things for them to be thinking about doing. Reading. It may be topics like things to consider when selecting a buyer, things to consider or be thinking about as you prepare to hand off your legacy to the next generation. But let’s leave them with a couple of actionable items.
MONTY BRUELL: Well, I think a couple things that I would say would be, first, if you are running a small business, you typically have your accounting and your finances set up to minimize your tax liability. That means you’re loading the business with expenses and you are not necessarily trying to show just how profitable the business is.
Well, when it’s time to sell tha business, you want just the reverse to happen. So if you’re thinking about selling your business, say, in five years, you want to have financials that look like you are a robust, viable, thriving business. Or, you want to hire an advisor who can come in and help you restate your financials so that you’re maximizing the value that’s represented there.
And the last thing that I will say is that when you’re thinking about succession, whether you are acquiring a company to go to the next level, or you’re looking for somebody to come in and take over your existing business, transparency and honesty are very important. Think about how insecure your heirs feel or your employees feel if they know that the time is coming and they just don’t know what the plan is. They don’t know where they fit in. They don’t know if the business is going to be sold out from under them. They don’t know if you’re going to go out and buy another business, and they thought that they were going to be the next CEO, but all of a sudden, there are other people who are vying for those positions.
So you’ve gotta conduct yourself with transparency and honesty. I think that’s the very best advice that I could give to any business owner. No matter what sector they’re in, no matter what their company.
STONE PEYTON: Well, I am so glad that I asked, and I’m so glad that we captured that for the benefit of our listeners, and it’s helpful to me, too.
You know, my business partner and I, we own a pretty successful media company, and at some point we’re gonna want to figure out a way to transition that to our studio partners or to our families. So, thank you for that. All right. What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you, tap into your work and start learning about these topics?
MONTY BRUELL: The best way to find out what we at Oaklyn Consulting can do for you is to go to our website, which is Oaklyn, O-A-K-L-Y-N, Consulting.com. It’s not Oakland like in Oakland, California. It’s Oaklyn, O-A-K-L-Y-N. And then my email is [email protected].
STONE PEYTON: Well, Monty, it has been an absolute delight having you on the show today, man. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for sharing your insight, your perspective, and keep up the good work, man.
MONTY BRUELL: Stone, I have really, really enjoyed it and look forward to hopefully getting together again.
STONE PEYTON: It is my pleasure. All right, until next time, this is Stone Peyton for our guest today, Monty Bruell with Oaklyn Consulting, and everyone here at the Business Radio X family saying, we’ll see you in the fast lane.