Growing a company

Feb 27, 2017

Should you buy a firm or sell yours? That’s the question, and regardless of the answer, there’s a lot that goes into a successful merger or acquisition.

In the ever-evolving AEC industry, both large and small firms must constantly evaluate the market and make decisions about how to best position themselves for success. Often, this evaluation causes firm leaders to ask the age-old question: Should we buy a firm or sell ours?

The merging and acquiring of firms grows increasingly popular within the engineering community. Before diving into the M&A pool, it is important to better understand where your firm best fits.

First and foremost, leadership must decide if their firm is the buyer or the seller. This seems like an obvious choice, but you should give it some deeper thought before thinking you know the answer. If your firm has the capital, perseverance, and culture that can cultivate growth from an exterior source, you may be well positioned as a buyer. If there is no in-house “heir,” you lack capital, and no foreseen opportunities in outside markets or geographies, you and your firm may better benefit as the seller.

If you’ve been determined as the seller, there is much preparation to be done! Like dating, first impressions when on the market are imperative. Financials/balance sheets need to be cleaned and the office space must be organized – as we all know, appearances matter. Beyond attracting a buyer, it’s important to consider your staff and your clients. How will they take the news? What will their perceptions be? How will your role change with them? Announcements must be strategic and planning this transition is key. The last thing you want to do in this situation is leave your loyal employees out of the loop due to a lack of communication with them. A well thought out path needs to be planned in order to maximize your value.

Determining value is an artful dance between the buyer and the seller. Know your approximate value and utilize tools available to aid in this determination. Be aware that firms can have different values depending on the needs and strategy of the purchasing partner.

Although much preparation is to be done by the seller, the buyer must put in effort as well. The most important decision, even more than financials, is deciding what role the merger or acquisition will fill within the buying organization. Do they add value to a specific geography or market sector? Do they provide more employees to handle the growing backlog?

Integrated culture can’t be forced. Like a successful project, it needs to be designed and again, effective communication is key. It’s imperative that before any transaction takes place, that an integration plan is developed. The seller must encourage staff to engage and spend as much time as possible with the buyer. It’s the buyer’s responsibility to engage the seller, make efforts to cross pollinate, and promote internal relationships across senior, mid, and junior level staff.

As with any transaction, it’s natural to feel remorse after completion. Problems will arise and success is determined by the solutions applied. The buyer and seller should meet early and often to continually improve the integration process. As the seller, embracing change is key. As the buyer, it’s important to keep focused on the end-goal, but realize the journey is just as important. M&A’s are long-term solutions for both the buyer and the seller. Patience is the key. As Steve Jobs once said, “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.”

Joseph Viscuso is Pennoni’s senior vice president and director of strategic growth. He can be reached at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.