For InterDesign CEO Chris Quinn, dealmaking is all about trust.
“Trust begins the very minute you decide to engage and go through the sale process,” says Quinn.
He should know. As CEO of Step2, he led the sale of the toymaker to PE firm Aterian Investment Partners in October 2016 before leaving to take the top job at InterDesign, a maker of bath, kitchen and other home products.
With prior executive stints at New Balance, Procter & Gamble and Clorox, Quinn understands the need to project an attitude that is the right mix of confidence, approachability and integrity. But experience has taught him that few things matter more in dealmaking than the ability to build trust.
We spoke with Quinn back in 2016 before the Step2 deal and wanted to talk with him about his approach to dealmaking. What follows is a transcript of the above video, edited for readability.
Create sale value
I was the CEO of a major toy company, Step2, and we went through the process actually on the sale side of selling the business. It was an incredible exercise and process. What I learned throughout that was a couple things. One is, it’s critical to be as transparent as possible with the organization that you’re basically helping to sell. That is because trust begins the very minute you decide to engage and go through the sale process.
The more you enroll the heart, spirit and mind of the organization, the more they are going to be prepared for their own future and secondly, the better value you’re going to get through the sale process because then people who are looking to acquire truly see the energy, the value — kind of that secret sauce that a company brings. So trust and transparency are absolutely critical and have been a great learning for me.
Finally, it’s about managing details and business momentum. Making sure we have the critical details that acquiring companies are looking for and that I in the future will look for when I acquire a company and then secondly, being able to ensure that there is business momentum. Hitting commitments, hitting targets and continuing to make sure that promises made are promises kept.
Be a student of your industry
In terms of continuing to stay alert and aware of M&A or acquisition targets, I think it’s a CEO’s job. The reason why is not just because of the financial implications or the capability implications. But the reality is the world is changing and it’s changing at an incredibly fast pace. If we don’t start leveraging M&A exercises or looking at different companies, we’re not going to raise our enterprise IQ. You need to be smarter. It’s like a doctor or a physician. There is a requirement that they continue to learn.
I think there should be the same requirement for CEOs that we’re raising our IQ and intellectual quotient related to what’s going on around us in the categories we compete in, don’t compete in and new and emerging trends. A great way to do that is through looking at M&A targets, books and potential businesses that are for sale.
Have details at your fingertips
The importance of having details at your fingertips at the negotiating table is absolutely critical. One of the things going through the sale process at Step2 was an extensive amount of dry runs and role play. The reason why is we wanted to make sure when we had tough questions and we were pressure-tested, that we had both transparency, so we could build trust. But also the right level of detail so we could satisfy those tough questions. An acquisition acquiring a company or selling a company is ultimately about the details. If you don’t manage those details, you’ll be making business assumptions that could cost ownership or shareholders a lot of money. It’s our responsibility to ensure we’re getting to that level of detail or we have people who are helping us get to that level of detail so that we make the best possible decisions along the entire process.
Identify key influencers
If you’re selling a company first and foremost, make sure you understand who the key influencers are in the organization and that you have early and often conversations whether they are involved in the sale process or not about what’s going on. If you lose those key individuals, those key influencers, those key folks who have a huge business impact, then that business you are selling may not be as valuable in the future as it is today. You really have to make sure you’re working with those key influencers.
On the buy side, it’s making sure you’re identifying who those future key influencers are. Don’t have a bias just because you’re acquiring a company, your business intellect is greater than the company you’re acquiring. As a matter of fact, do the opposite. Assume that you can learn from the company you are acquiring and go in there with a level of humility so that you truly can learn and you truly can maximize the value of that acquisition.