“I've never seen an environment like this, from an M&A (standpoint),” says Joe Pulizzi, entrepreneur, speaker, author and founder of Content Marketing Institute as he helped kick off the Cleveland Smart Business Dealmakers Conference this past week. “Just with the opportunity to start businesses with fairly little capital. And that's what's exciting to me, and I think a lot of people are taking a different look at it, but I've never seen so much opportunity.”

Stewart Kohl, co-CEO of The Riverside Company, sees much the same thing. The M&A markets, he says, are on fire.

“If you own a company today, it's the best time in my 33 years of doing this to sell it, in terms of the speed and certainty and price you're going to get,” Kohl says.

And for those eager to buy a company, Kohl says it's not likely they’ll get the lowest price, but it is going to be a great time in terms of seeing more innovation, more opportunity, new ways to make money, more ways to make companies perform better than before.

“I increasingly am referring to this as the next normal rather than new normal because I think the reality of our world is that change happens. It happens more and faster,” Kohl says. “Industries evolve and we need to evolve. Normal implies a certain level of passivity, that you're kind of just sitting there and saying, ‘Everything's normal.’ And I don't think that's almost ever the right attitude.”

Jeff Bechtel, says from FNB’s perspective, the banking world is in a strong, healthy position.

“And we know our part in keeping this going,” says Bechtel, FNB’s president – Cleveland Region. “We provide capital and there's tremendous competition in liquidity. And ultimately that makes its way to good deals for business and consumers.”

David Heller, president, co-founder and CEO of The NRP Group, says while his company has unbelievable optimism looking out into the future, the organization also recognizes that there are challenges.

“If you look at lumber prices today, someone could look at it and say, ‘How in the world can you survive being a developer and a builder of multifamily housing when you don't have the ability, a lot of times, to raise your rents, particularly in the affordable world?” Heller says. “And so there are some serious challenges that we have as an industry.”

But, Heller says, that's today's challenge. Tomorrow there will be a new challenge. The key to overcoming whatever obstacles, new or old, stand in the way, is people.

“And so if we have that A+ workforce — we're working together, we're communicating, we’re operating at the top of our game — whatever that challenge is, we need to be able to thrive and to be able to get around the other side of that mountain,” Heller says. “And so that's what we're working with our workforce on is to not get caught up in the fact that lumber prices are a challenge or other commodities that are out there. How can we look at that, make better decisions than our competition, move us forward and make sure that every time a challenge comes at us that we're able to respond to it, assess it and move forward.”

Pulizzi, Kohl, Bechtel and Heller discuss how they navigated their organizations through the pandemic, their thoughts on the current and future state of deal flow, and best practices in M&A. Hit play on the video above to catch the full conversation.