M&A Outlook 2011: Manic to Panic

The pace of shakeout and consolidation will only accelerate through 2011, according to one of the profession's leading practitioners of the art of the deal.
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December 20, 2010
by Rick Telberg

If you thought the pace of shakeout and consolidation among accounting firms couldn't get any more frenzied, then just wait 'til next year.
When all the deals are tallied, the year 2010 could well have hit new highs in mergers and acquisitions in some markets, including New York, Florida, California, Texas and Illinois. Now those same markets seem poised to step it up a notch.

To one CEO of a regional firm based in the Northeast, the pace has gone beyond busy, to frenzied, to manic and, now, in his word, "panicked." And he expects the trend to accelerate.

"All of a sudden a lot of managing partners are aging out," he tells me. "And they're figuring out that their buyout is now the only retirement plan option they have. They're saying, “I've got to get into the game."

At almost 60-years-old and head of his own firm for about half that time, the blunt spoken managing partner has built one of the nation's leading firms largely through acquisitions. By one count, he has already done 40 deals in his career and the pace is only quickening. "There was a time I had to go out and sell myself and my firm to make an acquisition" he says, "now I'm swatting them away." He says he sifts through six to eight possible deals per week.

Of the firm's millions of dollars in revenues, 70% of today’s fees can be traced back to acquired practices. By the time I caught up with him last month, he had already closed six deals in 2010 and he expected a couple more by year-end. If there’s a pattern to this super-firm’s acquisition appetites, it’s for small, multi-partner firms that are usually lacking their next tier of management and ownership.

But today, he and hid firm are setting their sights on the next big city along I-95. His first deal for a firm there came three years ago and now the company is producing $12 million out of the new town. The economics are compelling: a host of small, local firms with aging owners and rents of $20 per square foot, $30 less than at his head office.

To be sure, closing a deal is only half the battle. Integrating and managing the combined practices is the other half. So his firm keeps a swat team in constant motion handling the issues of consolidation, like payroll conversion, human resources, public relations and even new business cards. "It's important the other side see you have an assault force on the ground and ready to go," he says.

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Rick Telberg is president and chief executive of Bay Street Group LLC, advisors in marketing, management and strategy.

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