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In conversation with Mike McCarron Part 7: Planning an exit strategy

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- On Oct. 23, 2012, Wheels Group announced it had acquired MSM Transportation in a blockbuster deal worth $18.6 million.

Mike McCarron (left) and Wheels Group CEO Doug Tozer talk about the deal.
Mike McCarron (left) and Wheels Group CEO Doug Tozer talk about the deal.

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — On Oct. 23, 2012, Wheels Group announced it had acquired MSM Transportation in a blockbuster deal worth $18.6 million.

The announcement came as a surprise, in part because Mike McCarron, managing partner and the public face of MSM Transportation was just 52 years of age – seemingly too young to be considering retirement.

What was the reason for the sale? Why was the timing significant? And what was learned along the way about the arduous process of selling an established business? For the answers to these questions and more, we caught up with McCarron for an exclusive interview.

When we spoke to McCarron, he had just assumed a new position in mergers and acquisitions with Wheels Group (a role he was mindful not to discuss with Wheels until after the sale of MSM had been finalized).

Over the course of the next week, will be running the seven-part interview. The interview will also appear in the January issues of Truck News and Truck West magazines. You can also check out the November-December issue of Motortruck Fleet Executive to catch McCarron’s regular column, in which he writes about his reasons for selling the business.

Part 1: Why he sold his business

Part 2: Finding the right fit

Part 3: Negotiating the deal

Part 4: The biggest surprise & keeping it quiet

Part 5: Delivering the news

Part 6: Making the adjustment

Part 7: Planning an exit strategy

TN: What can an owner that’s looking to sell do to make their company more attractive to a buyer like Wheels?

McCarron: First and foremost, if you want to get out in the next five years, you have to be in that process now. It’s incredible, the things that have to get done that don’t get done on a normal basis. At MSM, we had a number of companies. Even cleaning up the minutes books and getting records up to date was difficult, and we were a very well run company.

At MSM, we were confident that we had no skeletons in the closet. It was just the way we ran the business, with integrity and full disclosure. People that have skeletons in the closet: they’re going to find them. You can’t hide. The due diligence is so deep. The first process is, you have to clean up past mistakes. Get the business ready, clean up the corporate minutes books, be ready for when that person comes to the door, so that you can begin the process, because if you have to do the clean-up then, the first perception the buyers will have of you is not a good one and they can walk at any time.

I really underestimated how much work goes into getting the business ready. We did all of this beforehand. By the time Doug Tozer banged on our door, most of this was already done. We even put all our companies together and consolidated their statements ahead of time, knowing nobody was going to buy seven companies.

TN: Based on your observations of this industry, do you think most owners have developed an adequate exit strategy or do you think it will be a mad scramble to get out?

McCarron: I wouldn’t say it will be a mad scramble. I don’t know if this is a product of our industry, I think it’s more a product of our age. But everyone is tired. It’s been a tough go and it’s going to be tough getting the business to where it used to be. A lot of the perks are gone and I just think people want to slow down. They’re starting to think about an exit strategy and if they plan that properly, they’ll be fine and their businesses will sell. But it’s not going to be as easy as going to the local ReMax agency and putting a shingle on the door.

I definitely believe that the 50-plus generation is starting to think about slowing down. My best guess is that on the freight brokerage side, that business got badly beaten up in 08-09, the ones that survived realized their best play may be to roll on with a larger player, one that can compete more aggressively within the third-party market.

People start looking at the amount of work it’s going to take to get it back to where it used to be. We look forward to taking what I learned about M&A process implement it at Wheels and to start engaging the process. 

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