For John Ziss Jr., one of the best parts of dealmaking is the opportunity to interact with others in the landscaping supply and delivery industry, says John Ziss Jr.
“You never know what you’re going to find out or who you’re going to meet,” says the executive vice president of Kurtz Bros. Inc.
“Ultimately, something that might not happen this year could lead to an introduction two years from now that could become a deal,” he says. “Or you might end up doing the deal four years later. I think it’s always great to meet people and really get to know them. You never know where it could lead.”
Founded in 1948, Kurtz Bros. specializes in waste-to-resource solutions, providing products and services to both the landscape and construction industries.
In April, the company acquired Canton-based Earth ‘n Wood Products Inc. in a deal that expands its footprint into the Akron-Canton region.
“We looked in our backyard and said, ‘OK, these are areas we’d like to be in,’” Ziss says. “So from there, I started hunting and talking to owners to see if they were interested in selling. One thing leads to another, and we acquired a business.”
In this Dealmaker Q&A, we spoke to Ziss about how he balances M&A strategy with the day-to-day operations of his 72-year-old family business.
Where do you begin in assessing your readiness to make a deal?
You have to assess whether the leaders of your business can take on the new responsibilities that come with growth. Can you yourself handle those responsibilities? How does the growth fit in with your business strategy? If it’s independent of your business strategy, that’s a bad thing. If it’s part of that strategy, and you know why you’re looking to make a deal, then you can develop a plan around it.
You also need to look at the processes that your business currently has in place. How do those translate? How will those be implemented into the newly acquired business? Who’s going to take on what role to do the integration? What synergies related to the integration are there going to be, and who is going to own those outcomes?
It’s really a divide-and-conquer strategy. You have your checklist, and those are the things that you focus on. It’s important to set priorities. If you try to focus on everything, once the deal closes, you’ll end up missing the forest for the trees.
The way I see it, it’s all interwoven. Then it’s a team decision. You know what it’s going to take to grow through acquisition. Are you ready to step up to the plate and do it? Is your business ready?
What role do you play in acquisition strategy?
I’m heavily into the fact-finding and due diligence of the potential deal. That’s where a lot of my focus has been recently. But I also work with the group. ‘Hey, we need to find these things out. We need this, this and this. It’s giving that to our folks so that they can have some of the experience and grow in their bandwidth when it comes to integrations and acquisitions. Part of it is leading the charge and identifying who is going to lead the process, but it’s also, how can we get others involved?
I also have to give a lot of credit to Rick Costello, our vice president of strategy and business development. He’s a very talented guy who has been with us for a couple years helping the Kurtz family of businesses look at M&A opportunities. He’s been an absolute asset to our organization.
What’s the key to closing a deal?
It comes down to having trust on both sides. It takes a lot to move a deal over the finish line. Trust that you’re going to create value for the former owner and continue to be a good steward of their business. If you communicate that and communicate the value created for them and they trust in that, then you should be able to close the deal.