Patrick Patterson went from the third person at what ultimately became Level Agency to its co-owner, sitting in the CEO seat for the first time. And shortly after taking over the business, he brought in PE partners — also a first — to help accelerate the company's growth with M&A-minded advisers who can help the agency accomplish its ambitions goals.

When COVID hit and Level Agency went remote, Thomas Donahoe, the company's founder owner at the time, moved to South Carolina and began to think about the next stages of his career. He also wanted to make sure that what he created was in good hands.

Donahoe explored the idea of a management buyout with Patrick Van Gorder, now Level Agency President and COO and Patterson, in the hopes that Level would continue to grow.

"And you know, it's funny, ownership is one of our values here," he says. "And I can tell you that on March 31, 2021, when we bought the company, I got a real lesson in it. I have a fairly high risk profile where I'm able to take risk and feel good about it. I think on that day when the dust settles and you realize, My house is on the line, my life is on the line, my family is on the line, it actually took me a step back."

Conversations with Van Gorder began to have a different tone to them, having to quickly come to terms with the realities of the responsibility. But they also were excited about putting their fingerprint on the brand.

After bringing on a PE partner and making other moves to accelerate the agency's growth, Patterson moved his self-imposed goal posts

"Our 10 year vision we think we're going to accomplish now in two and a half," he says. "And so, we've actually changed our 10 year vision. Now, instead of being the largest agency in Pittsburgh, we want to be one of the 12 top performance marketing agencies in the world."

Patterson spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about the management buyout, how he connected with his PE backers and what it took to close the deal, what life is like with a PE partner and the agency's plans for the future.