When Ben Doltis sold both his executive search companies to the ManpowerGroup in 2013, he realized he could take the principles of successful headhunting and apply them to an entirely different business – a mergers and acquisitions advisory firm.
In general, companies that are looking to hire new employees only have access to those people who are looking for a job. However, successful headhunters know that the best candidates are often the ones who haven’t even thought about leaving their current position and make it their job to seek them out and persuade them to move.
In precisely the same way, Doltis’s latest business, PCB Partners, finds successful companies whose owners haven’t even considered an exit. “Some people put a big ‘For Sale’ sign over their business, which is fine, but often results in loads of companies bidding for them and often a sale at a silly multiple,” he says. “PCB Partners doesn’t touch these businesses. We talk to the ones who haven’t thought about selling. And if it’s the right thing for both them and our clients, we influence and negotiate a sale.”
Founded in 2018, PCB Partners provides buy-side and sell-side services and focuses on digital transformation, professional services, management consulting and marketing services businesses. The business team comprises entrepreneurs, highly experienced corporate finance executives and private equity veterans. Bringing these skills together with a headhunter’s mindset is a unique balance.
“A great headhunter matches exceptional individuals with exceptional companies – I realized that an M&A firm could do precisely the same thing with businesses, as long as you had in-house corporate finance and private equity expertise.
Doltis’s cofounder, Tim Farazmand, was one of the failed bidders for his headhunting businesses and was managing director of Lloyds Development Capital (LDC) at that time. “We got on really well,” he says. “Although I didn’t sell to Tim, I knew he was the perfect partner for my next venture.”
PCB Partners is a global business with operations in the U.K., U.S. and Europe, and a presence in Israel, Australia and India, and clients in digital transformation, management consulting, and professional services. “Ultimately, what clients are buying from PCB is access to our unique network of entrepreneurial off-market companies and strategic buyers,” says Doltis.
In starting his new venture, he faced several challenges. Compliance, governance and FCA authorization play a significant role in establishing a corporate finance firm, a complex process that took longer than he would have liked. “We are a wholly retained M&A advisory firm and fee alignment at the start was a challenge with clients,” he says. “But once we were given a chance, we quickly earned our stripes by completing successful transactions.”
PCB Partners now has 20 staff and advisors, a mix of seasoned M&A and private equity professionals, and entrepreneurs who have built and exited their own businesses. In a relatively short space of time, the company has secured companies for some of the largest technology and services companies in the world. Last year they secured the IT services company Atos Italia, which employs 1,600 skilled employees in over five sites across Italy, for British private equity firm Apax Partners.
The firm’s most significant deal to date was securing Wemanity in France for Reply Group, which had been looking for a partner company to be the platform for them in France and its surrounding regions for some time. “Identifying an off-market consulting business of scale that was profitable in France required imagination, creativity and a real pull on our network in that region,” says Doltis. “Eventually, we connected with the right entrepreneur and team in Wemanity that was the perfect partner for Reply.”
With its focus on off-market assets, PCB Partners offers its clients a very compelling offer, with its fees based on the multiple their clients end up paying for any business they buy. “The greater the multiple, the less we earn,” Doltis explains. “We believe they shouldn’t pay over the odds when they buy a business, and we’re prepared to back that by putting our money where our mouth is in terms of our fees.”
In a climate of economic uncertainty, Doltis remains upbeat for this next period. “We don’t see the M&A digital economy going anywhere fast, and market valuations are broadly continuing to hold,” he says. “Nevertheless, ensuring that your business is market relevant and having narrow, deep competency and complementary clients is more important now than ever.”