The Four Key Qualities of a Great Business Broker
By Trip Holmes
When I think about my own 35 years as a business broker, not only in what I’ve accomplished in collaboration with Sabre Capital’s partners and clients, but also in the many other business broker colleagues whom I admire, I see some common denominators of success. These are the qualities I ask of myself on a daily basis, and as I evaluate opportunities to have someone join our team as an associate or strategic partner, I look for these same attributes.
In this business, there’s so much to learn, and you can do this in a variety of ways. I try to be intentional about devoting some time each day to reading about anything and everything that could influence the economy and financial markets.
I also enjoy learning from conversations over lunch, in networking meetings, or on the phone with folks in the North Carolina business community. One of the reasons this state is such a good place to do business is that we have some amazing professionals in banking, accounting, legal, and other sectors that support entrepreneurs and family businesses. It’s rare that a week goes by that I don’t learn something new to put into practice.
Be a Critical Thinker
Working with family businesses in the middle market is a real challenge, one that I’ve been tackling daily for three decades. And I can tell you that you’ll fail if you can’t think critically about each transaction and all of the players within them.
To get a deal done, and done well, you need to be able to think about a host of factors, never failing to turn over a stone. You need to think about what makes economic sense to your seller and the buyer, what makes sense for the business itself and its employees. In addition to financial implications, you need to think about legal and compliance, and you have to do all of this with a steadfast allegiance to your client and their confidentiality. You have to be proactive in your thinking, exploring every aspect of the transaction, while remaining vigilant with regard to all of the risk that can cause a deal to fall apart.
One thing I’ve learned is that people run at different speeds. Some folks run at their leisure, while most people run pretty hard. Then, there are those few who are always trying to outrun everyone else. This third group is special, and I’ve seen these folks in many walks of professional life.
The ones who outrun are those who always have time to make something happen quickly—meet a client need or help a partner out. They manage expectations and crush the competition with a combination of quality and speed to meet every request. It’s easy to return that call or email tomorrow, but it’s not easy to succeed as a business broker by making those kinds of decisions.
For me, having empathy is perhaps the most important attribute that business brokers—and many other professionals—must have to be truly elite. Being empathetic means you actually care about people and what happens to them, and it’s driven by your ability to put yourself in the shoes of others.
Empathy is especially important for those working with family business owners. In order to understand their goals and motivations, you have to put yourself in their shoes. The business itself, whether other family members work there, can feel like the owner’s baby. And this feeling is of course compounded if any family members, especially siblings and children, work there. Being empathetic to these situations gives a good business broker the necessary sensitivity to drive not only for a good transaction, but a great one that exceeds the family’s expectations.
If you’re an aspiring business broker or early in your career, I don’t want you to think that these qualities are unattainable. It’s my perspective that we are all works in progress. I treasure my own personal and professional development over any feelings of whether I’ve arrived or not. Furthermore, we all fall short in one or more of these areas, even when we think we’ve mastered them, from time to time. The most important thing is to have qualities like these as goals, so that you can see how you’re measuring up to the needs of others.