A Friendly Holiday Reminder: Why We Do What We Do

By Trip Holmes


I’ve been doing M&A work with family businesses for 35 years, close to 40 years when you count my experience in these transactions as a banker for the first few years of my career, back when collars and lapels were so wide you could drive a truck on them.

While every client is special, I had an experience the other day that was a great reminder here during the holiday season of why we do what we do at Sabre Capital. I can honestly say that what I’m about to describe for you just proves that even after 40 years in an industry, you’ll never be able to say that you’ve seen it all, especially when you keep your mind and heart open to the possibilities.

After initiating a relationship with a business owner looking to retire, we typically sign a memorandum of understanding that includes a very tight confidentiality agreement. There are lots of reasons why this makes sense, chief among them that we can explore all options in front of us without disrupting the business, and, specifically not rattling the confidence and happiness of otherwise happy employees.

Thus, I typically don’t even meet senior management at companies until a deal is very close to fruition, or, as is mostly the case, after the work is done. Last week, my newest client turned this dynamic on its head.

After first meeting at my office, he invited me to his place of business. Let’s just say for the sake of this story that his company is in the business of making things. It’s a place where tough, hardworking people do tough, hard work. They get their hands dirty, and there’s a lot of big, heavy equipment around and lots of noisy banging as they go about their work. It’s the kind of place, even though they do this kind of work all over the world, that makes you proud to be an American.

We met in his office first. Then, he took me down to the shop floor and gathered his guys around. He said, “I want you to meet Trip Holmes. He’s my business broker, and he’s going to find somebody to buy this company, so I can retire and you can all keep your jobs.” I stood there, in awe of the trust this gentleman had created over decades of running this family business, and how he could say these things to almost all of his people standing there, without fear that they couldn’t handle the information.

While I made no promises, I was happy to tell these folks that we intended to bring the full weight of our business network, marketing capabilities, and other tools gained from nearly four decades in the business to bear on this work, and that we’d work to qualify the right buyer who would come in and not only retain everyone, but look to grow the business on the owner’s great foundation.

Looking back at me were some pretty serious faces, but you couldn’t see any panic in the room. While my client is a retiring Baby Boomer, part of the “gray tsunami” of retirees that are keeping guys like me pretty busy, he has the leadership skills to run a business in ways that transcend his generation.

The whole episode reminded me of why I do what I do. This isn’t just about “doing deals,” or even doing strategic transactions. Our business is about people, and the people aren’t just those who write my paychecks. It’s about a whole lot of other people, and I know my newest client would agree, that depend on their jobs to put food on the table, just like I do.  Business brokers bear a tremendous weight of responsibility, especially those of us—and there are a lot of us—who want to serve people. That means that we not only look for win-win transactions that bring buyers and sellers together and meet the goals of both sides, but also that when we’re in that initial matching stage, we bring together the right people, and demanding that this is defined as both what’s best for the business, as well as its managers and employees.

The world is a better place when we all are able to look out for each other. I so appreciate my new client for reminding me about the benefits of true leadership that’s centered on the needs of your people, versus “your way,” that only strokes your ego. We can never have enough examples of his type of leadership, and I’m grateful to be reminded of this during the holiday season.