Sweet Success

Thanksgiving weekend included this family’s first trip to Hershey, Pa. For three little girls HersheyPark and Chocolate World were candy-coated nirvana. Life doesn’t get sweeter than designing your own chocolate bar. Sprinkles? Butterscotch chips? Yum.

For adult vacationers the story of Milton Hershey’s entrepreneurial journey was educational. His formal schooling ended in fourth grade. Two failed candy businesses preceded his Lancaster Caramel Company. An encounter with German chocolate-making machinery at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893 proved pivotal. Milton sold Lancaster Caramel and eventually did for chocolate what Henry Ford did for cars.

Our Hershey experience mirrored a recent private equity annual meeting we attended. The sponsor is one of the top middle market firms in the industry. As with many of its peers, 2017 was a good year to sell portfolio companies. A frothy credit market and hypercompetitive auctions helped boost exit multiples and overall returns.

As Milton Hershey discovered, business ventures are never guaranteed success. Several investments of our sponsor client ended up erasing shareholder value. Yet the partners were honest about the reasons for these failures. And focused intently on learning from their mistakes.

They also spoke forcefully about the drivers of positive realizations. First was revenue expansion.