The Art of the Add-On (Fourth of a Series)

Last week we began a check-list sponsors tick off when sifting through acquisition candidates for their platform companies. Many items are company and sector-specific. How will product lines complement each other? Will different brands confuse customers? If so, can you benefit from synergies by maintaining separate identities?

But one private equity partner highlighted the most critical characteristic to finding the right add-on. “You need to find people you want to work with,” he told us.

“It’s really all about the culture,” he continued. “You often spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your family. If you’re working with people you don’t get along with, it creates a headwind that’s counterproductive.”

The partner went on. “Their management team needs to understand and be aligned with how the platform’s management team thinks. If you’re not on the same page with the growth strategy, for example, you can’t make it work. And sometimes we need to change horses if things aren’t working out. Everyone needs to buy into the vision.”

A principal at a Boston-based firm added a nuance. “There’s a misconception that add-ons are just about adding ebitda. But there should be a rationale. Is it geographic? Is it more products? You have to figure out the why before you deal with the what.”

We asked the first partner about integration issues. What’s your priority when you think about putting two or more companies together?