Tony Fischer is the President of Alan Manufacturing, a Lancaster based company specializing in water purification systems.
This is a first in a series with Tony. In full disclosure to our readers I have done work for Tony on a professional basis, and he is a friend of mine now for many years. I decided to break my interviews with Tony into separate articles because I want to focus on the unique skills that Tony has developed. In this article we explore how Tony left industry and purchased a business.
Read how Tony left a secure position in a secure industry to purchase a business
There many successful career people that have always dreamed of having their own business but struggle with many of aspects leaving a career in pursuit of business ownership. Some of the thoughts people have are: “If I leave me career, I may not be able return to the industry at the same level.” ” I may lose some or all my capital. ” “My credit score may be damaged.” “I don’t know how to find the right business for me.”
Tony didn’t buy a franchise, or start a side hustle – he bought an existing company with a customer base, employees, vehicles and equipment. In a recent interview, I asked Tony how he made the transition from holding senior executive positions in financial services, (including President of a $100MM division) to an owner operator.
Eric: You had the experience of purchasing First Call Ambulance service back in 2004. If I recall you were working in the financial services field and you had a mind to buy a business. You did your due diligence, purchased the company, ran it as an owner operator, sold it then went back into industry for a period of time. Then you decided again to purchase another business – Alan Manufacturing located in Lancaster Pennsylvania. What did you learn for the last experience as you evaluated target businesses and did your due diligence? How did that shape your thinking?
Tony: As I was working for someone else, I was always acting and thinking like an entrepreneur. So, I was always acting and thinking like it was my business. Trying to learn from the businesses I worked for, to see how things worked. I intentionally worked for a small financial services company because I wanted to learn everything. I wanted to learn payroll, human resources and accounting functions because with the bigger companies I worked for you get a very narrow experience. So, I needed to find and employment opportunity that would show me the business process end to end. How to set up a legal entity, file for permits, run a payroll, pay invoices all the way down to buying equipment and managing employee benefits. I was moving myself towards running my own business as it was always on my mind, it was always something I wanted to do.
As part of working for another company I was involved in acquisitions, and evaluating the merits of those targets. Looking at the financials and the people component. Every job I had in industry; I was on those teams. So, I learned what was important when you make an acquisition of another company.
Tony focused on three things
I learned that it comes down to three things, the numbers piece, the people piece and the business piece.
While the metrics differ by industry, I learned that it comes down to three things, the numbers piece, the people piece and the business piece. First do the numbers make sense? Does the acquisition price make sense? Secondly are the people ready. You are going to inherit a team. Are they motivated? How long have they been with company? Are they well regarded in the industry? There a thousand questions surrounding the financial piece and the people piece. This is very different than starting your own company. When you start your own company, you can mold it to be what you want it to be. No people and No money, but when you are buying something, there is existing money and existing people. So, these two areas are what I really learned to focus on.
So if I had an opportunity at an existing business I was working for, I would take it on to see how it worked. Then I got the point where I said, “I think I can do this, now I have to find one.”
What business do you buy?
When I was looking for my own business to acquire, I applied this approach. Looking at the finances and the human resources. Now the third piece I mentioned was the business itself. What business do I buy? Many people have the idea thought process “I love to do X” so I am only going to buy a business that does “X.” But that is not always the case when you are looking to purchase a company.
“You know something, I could do this, let me see how good I am at this.”
Good opportunities do not always come in the shape you expect them to. Because people say work in the job you love, that is not always a reality. You pick what you think you might like, because even the things you love have difficult days, and you go for it. Then you totally focus on it and you make it what you want it to be. As you learn the business and become more competent, you really get to love it.
Mike Rowe, host of the show Dirty Jobs, talks about a psychology where people who perform some of the most undesirable jobs, begin to really love what they do. What happens [if you turn this mentality around], is they gain experience, start to get proficient at the job, soon get recognized as one of the best in the field and then begin to really love what they do. There is a whole mental migration that happens. This is the same thing that happens when you buy a business and immerse yourself in it.
Eliminate the businesses that are not right for you
Of course, there were certain businesses that were off my list like hospitality and food service. Eliminate the things you don’t want to do and keep an open mind on everything else. Look at the metrics of the numbers and the people. Keep an open mind and ask “Could I learn to love this?” Does this interest me enough, is there enough there that I could become extremely competent at this and learn to love it? I would go through that mental exercise when looking at a business.
The importance of due diligence
When I was looking for a business, I had a network of brokers that would send deals my way. But when you are ready to leave your fulltime job and buy a business but you have to be invested the business you are buying. Businesses just do not run themselves. If you are not there, the business that you had purchased will fall apart in a short period of time.
That is what your due diligence is about, I had to make certain that this company could make money after the acquisition . There is a lot that goes into that. You have to interview employees and customers. Your employees are not just going run the company. So, you have to be an owner/operator. You have to have your hand it without being overbearing. You also have to set it up for the long term for an exit. With First Call, the financials looked good, and it was health care industry. I had family in Health Care, and I could really learn to really like this. I don’t know anything about it. But it was interesting enough to me, so I bought the company.
Investing capital and managing people
The location had a lot to with the available pool of talent I had to choose from. It was more employees than I ever wanted I was up to 35 at one time. And I didn’t have an infrastructure like an H.R. Department or operations people. We had a supervisor, but I ended up performing a lot of those rolls myself and that took its toll. So, you learn. And another thing I learned about that business was as an owner operator you will make a living, but you don’t really make any money until you sell it. We built it up, and doubled the revenue. So, we sold it at a premium, so in my mind, that was successful. But a lot of hard work, I wasn’t absentee.
Eric: Thank you Tony. I want to summarize for my readers, a few key points. Tony was able to make the transition from a career person to an owner operator by adopting a mindset of a business owner while he was employed elsewhere. When he worked for large firms, he positioned himself to be on the team that evaluated acquisitions, when he worked for smaller firms he immersed himself in the operations.
Tony developed a method of evaluating companies by focusing on three metrics; finances, the team of people, and the business itself.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes