Rob Dube saw an opportunity to accelerate the growth of his business, which he and his close friend, Joel Perlman, had started straight out of college. So in 2004, the duo negotiated a deal to sell Oak Park-based imageOne to a public company.
“I wish I could say it was a well-thought-out plan,” Dube says. “We actually were approached by the company. It was a strategic buy on their part. We felt it was a way we could do well financially and create more opportunity for our team. As the saying goes, vision without traction is hallucination.”
While there was a strong vision in place, everything changed after the acquisition closed.
“Being a wholly owned subsidiary, we were on the sidelines and not one of their main priorities,” Dube says. “It became extremely frustrating to move forward toward the vision. In addition, the company that had purchased us had many executive changeovers, which led to a CEO changeover, which led to a new vision. imageOne was not part of that new vision.”
In this Dealmakers feature, we spoke with Dube about how he and Perlman got their company back and a valuable lesson Dube gained that would change his life.
Anxiety has been part of Dube’s life since he was a young boy. When things began to go south at imageOne after the sale in 2004, he found himself feeling pretty low.
“I was extremely anxious — as much as I could ever remember — when I read an article in Time about meditation,” Dube says. “I was really frustrated and kind of at my wit’s end, so I decided to give it a try. I just focused on my breathing and set a timer for five minutes. I was surprised that, at the end, I actually felt like I kind of calmed down. All the problems were still there, but I just felt a little bit better.”
In the years ahead, meditation would give Dube a platform to teach his peers in the C-Suite community about the value of being mindful. But in 2006, Dube and Perlman were intently focused on rectifying the mistake they had made in selling their business.
“Essentially, we forgave two payments to take the company back,” Dube says. “We would have had to stay on for two more years to see two more payments from the sale. But we forgave those payments, and they just handed the company back to us.”
It was a lucky break, Dube admits.
“Had they hung on to the company, it probably wouldn’t be around anymore,” Dube says. “We weren’t going to hang around, and I think as time went on, they probably would have just tried to roll it in to their existing operations, which would have killed it.
As he looked back on the whirlwind journey from sale to buying the company back, Dube says he learned about the value of engagement in the dealmaking process.
“I was much younger then and very excited,” Dube says. “I think I would have slowed down and really spent more time with the acquiring company to understand better how we were going to execute. I would have made sure that everybody was bought in and that there was absolute clarity on both sides as to how this was going to work. The way it ended up playing out, what’s the saying? Ready, fire, aim? I think it was more like that.”
In 2017, imageOne was named to the list of Forbes’ Small Giants: America’s Best Small Companies. As the company continues to grow, Dube expects that dealmaking will play a role in its future.
“We just couldn’t compete, quite frankly, with the money that was out there,” Dube says. “It was too attractive to many of the companies that we were targeting. So we are continuing to grow organically and maybe we’ll get back in the mix on the dealmaking side. We’re looking at a managed services company right now and putting together a letter of intent.”
Dealmaking success is all about understanding what both parties are looking for out of the transaction, he says — in other words, being mindful.
“I’m really trying to understand where they’re coming from and what’s driving their requests,” Dube says of his approach to deal negotiation. “Even if it seems like an unreasonable request, something is driving it. I would rather try to understand that better than to get frustrated by it, because the frustration starts to cause angst between the two sides, and it starts to feel like we’re against each other. I want us to feel like we’re in it together. Let’s figure this out together. I do believe that leads to a healthier negotiation and getting to a place where both sides are happy walking away with the deal that’s been made.”
Dube took the lessons he learned from meditation and has become a sought-after speaker and successful author. He also created the donothing Leadership Retreat, an annual five-day event in which guests are guided through mindfulness techniques designed specifically for business leaders, entrepreneurs and dealmakers.
“Our ability to be fully present and in the moment and truly listening to the person on the other side of the table is an advantage,” Dube says. “You’re keying in on little things. It could be facial expressions, body movements, little intricacies and things that you’re not really tuned in on that can hinder the deal. When we are authentically and fully present with the person that are in a dealmaking situation with, they feel that energy, and they feel some authenticity. You want to do deals with people you trust.”