David Longo, Chairman & CEO of CBI Workplace Solutions, founded the workplace solutions company 27 years ago, a venture that began with the end in mind. That meant thinking about what the company would look like when he’s no longer with it.
“I don't think that you wake up at a certain point in time and decide to exit the company,” he says. “So we have been very focused on building the leadership team that predominantly runs the day-to-day and is positioned to be able to replace me in the next eight to 10 years.”
Part of that planning involved determining how to structure the company financially. He says his family wanted to keep a significant investment in the business, he had some minority partners that were retiring or exiting the company who wanted to be able to create liquidity for themselves, so those were all considerations. Another aspect is that CBI has what Longo considers to be a really large growth expansion opportunity as the industry is evolving.
“We position ourselves very different than a lot of our competitors. We really lead with the consulting part of our business. And that is helping us serve clients both regionally and nationally. I would say the greatest limiting factor for us, it's not capital right now it's just talent. But we intend to continue to grow and expand our business.”
In 2019, Stephens Capital Partners made a majority investment in CBI — Stephens, an independent financial services firm based in Arkansas. That due diligence process, Longo says, offers an opportunity to learn and grow.
“One of the biggest things for someone like myself is you really go through a process to understand, ‘do you want to do this?’ You're in a situation where you’re majority control of the business, you've built it from the ground up, are you really truly going to be comfortable having a partner in the business? And in our case, and I would tell you with myself, I felt very at peace with doing that.”
Part of that confidence can be attributed to the partner. He says Stephens Capital was both a cultural alignment and a philosophical fit given how CBI wanted to run the business. The transaction gave Longo a greater understanding of the company’s identity.
“What can happen when you're always focused on getting better is you kind of tend to look at all your little warts that you kind of know about yourself, and you're constantly fixing those things.”
What was affirming to the company was the number of organizations that wanted to take second and third look at the business when it was marketing. That allowed the company to be very selective with who it brought to the table to do management presentations, and still did 12 of them.
The consistent feedback from suitors was that they valued how Longo differentiated itself in the market, thought highly of the competency of its leadership team, and were pleased with the level of policy, process and procedure that was in place for the size of the organization that it is
“And because of that we received a good amount of really strong offers and were able to find the right partner. And it wasn't just about dollars, it was about fit and dollars. And so I was very pleased that they affirmed that, quite frankly, i think that they thought we were better than we thought we were.”
Longo talked about the state of the office work, as well as the company’s growth strategy, at the Charlotte Smart Business Dealmakers Conference. Hit play on the video above to catch the full conversation.