The Chicago Smart Business Dealmakers Conference kicked off with insights and strategies for navigating the post-exit landscape, as well as the speakers' perspective on what's been a tricky M&A market.
After surveying investors and business owners this summer, UBS Managing Director James Jack revealed that 40 percent of those who were expecting to exit in five years said they wish they sold their business a few years ago when M&A markets were hot and valuations were high.
The M&A market has been slow for the past year, says Marc Talluto, Chairman of the Board at Thirdera. That's what makes the timing of a deal so important. The macroeconomic environment, with rising interest rates adding to the cost of capital, can put pressure on a deal and cause challenges down the road.
For instance, in recent years, when a company ran out of cash, there was always more money to go get, even if they weren't running a good company or were not thoughtful with their expenses and salaries. Now, the financials and fundamentals of the business are more in focus by investors and potential buyers. That's causing businesses to make harder choices than they'd prefer to make as capital is less available. But that might not be a bad thing.
"In the end, that's actually helping these companies to make these proper decisions," Talluto says.
By doing the right things now, Talluto says, it will pay off in a couple years because they're running the business properly and not just banking on the next influx of cash.
UBS Senior Vice President–Wealth Management, Matthew Norwood, says this environment can be a challenge because many companies are accustomed to living through more than a decade of near-frictionless capital.
"To me — I'm a recovering commercial banker — 8 percent seems a lot more normal than where we've been in the last decade or so," Norwood says.
What's happened because of these higher interest rates is that the bid-ask spread has widened. The cost of capital is much higher, so buyers are reducing their multiple and sellers are pushing away from the table and there hasn't been a mass equilibrium where people come back and set the market across industries, he says.
"But for every rule, there's exceptions," Norwood says. "Deals are still getting done. Good assets are certainly going to get a bid."
The environment in Chicagoland is predicated in part on its Midwestern values — less flashy, less about the brand and more emphasis on good operating metrics, which can help set companies in Chicago apart from those building on the coasts, Talluto says. As far as the general business environment, businesses are doing well in large part because of that focus on fundamentals.
While Chicagoland companies seemingly have a solid grounding in fundamentals, that doesn't exclude area businesses from participating in sectors that are driving innovation.
"What's been really interesting to see is the tech capital has actually migrated back to Chicago from the coast and there's been some really great success stories," Norwood says. "Now we're beginning to become more of a hub for some of the unicorn businesses that are growing."