External Growth

All companies, even those that are profitable, face pressure from today’s economic environment.  Whether its regulator hurdles, increased competition, geopolitical risk, or new technology, the world today is constantly changing.

Unfortunately, many companies realize this too late and “suddenly” find themselves in an impossible situation that is incredibly difficult to reverse. The best way to avoid this fate is to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to facing business challenges. This way, you can spend the appropriate amount of time preparing your strategy for growth, whether that’s divestment, acquisition, or organic growth, instead of hastily making a panicked decision or naively hoping for the best. While there’s no way to control the macroeconomic environment, companies that thrive are able to anticipate change and craft their own growth strategies rather than letting the market dictate their path forward.

Those of you who are struggling may need take a serious look at your growth options and consider doing something different than business as usual. This may mean boosting organic growth, minimizing costs, exiting a market, or exploring external growth and acquisitions. If your company is in a strong position today now is the best time to build on your strength. Continuously assess market trends and future demand in order to adapt as needed and position your company for long-term growth.

Photo Credit: Cory Denton via Flickr cc

Credit unions and CUSOs are using their investing powers to be more innovative and entrepreneurial when it comes to technology and new products and services. Many are exploring co-investing with individuals and business founders who are looking for additional capital from credit unions. While these partnerships between credit union investors and individuals generate fresh new ideas, they sometimes face friction as the two cultures collide.

I had the opportunity to speak on this issue with Kirk Drake, CEO of Ongoing Operations and Brian Lauer, Partner at Messick, Lauer & Smith in the panel “Entrepreneurs as Co-Owners of CUSOs – Managing Different Business Styles and Expectationsat the 2017 NACUSO Network Conference in Orlando, Florida.

In a packed breakout session we discussed how credit unions and CUSOs should persuade individuals to work for their organization and how to build a bridge between two different perspectives. One of the most important things credit unions and CUSOs must do is recognize the asymmetry between a highly-regulated credit union environment and a swift, entrepreneurial culture. Recognizing these differences is the first step to understanding how to incentivize entrepreneurs not just from a financial standpoint, but from an emotional and strategic position so that you can grow your organization as a team.

“I’m not interested in selling my business right now.”

“We already have a strategic plan in place.”

“We are already talking to another buyer.”

“Why should I listen to you? I get asked to sell all the time.”

“I may sell in a few years when my company has a higher value.”

“Who are you????”

“No.”

These are the typical responses owners give when contacted for the first time about selling their business. While it can be discouraging to hear “no,” it would be more surprising to hear an owner say, “Yes, I am ready and willing to sell you my business over the phone right now!” Experienced acquirers know that an owner’s initial “no,” is simply a knee-jerk reaction resulting from surprise more than anything else.

The majority of owners of privately-held businesses, especially those that are healthy and run well, are not operating their business with the intent of selling. They are focused on growth and delivering products and services to their customers. Just because someone is not currently thinking about selling does not mean that their company is not for sale. Click to continue reading on The M&A Growth Bulletin.

This article originally appeared in The M&A Growth Bulletin, Capstone’s quarterly newsletter that delivers essential guidance on growth through M&A along with tips and tactics drawn directly from successful transactions completed in the market. Subscribe today to read the current edition and receive The M&A Growth Bulletin every quarter.

You don’t have to “go big or go home” to successfully grow your company through M&A. A small, well-executed acquisition that targets a specific need can sometimes be more powerful than a multi-billion dollar consolidation. Let’s take a look at a recent example from the news.

Earlier this month, Conagra announced it would acquire Thanasi Foods out of Boulder, Colorado. Founded in 2003 by Justin “Duke” Havlick, Thanasi is a privately held company with less than $20 million in revenue and sells two products: Duke’s meat snacks and Bigs sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

On the other hand, Conagra is an $11.6 billion company with an established product portfolio which includes brands such as Marie Callender’s and Healthy Choice. So why is Conagra purchasing such a small acquisition? Conagra needs more SKUs, especially value added or “premium” products that will deepen its relationship with customers like Walmart, which is Conagra’s top customer.

Although Thanasi is a small company, its products already have some traction and customer approval in the marketplace. Duke’s and Bigs are sold in 45,000 retail locations and are in fast-growing segments. Depending on how you look at it, Duke’s and Bigs is a compliment or competitor to Conagra’s Slim Jims and David-branded seeds. Essentially Conagra is purchasing a form of proven R&D to run through their pipeline of customers on a larger scale.

Acquisitions don’t have to be huge to be significant. Especially in the middle market, a carefully planned, small, strategic deal can exponentially grow your business and help you reach your goals. Meaningful transactions are those that help your company become increasingly focused and effective, so don’t get too caught up in the numbers.

Photo Credit: Graham Cook via Flickr cc

There’s a myth that acquisitions are only executed by huge, publicly-traded, Fortune 500 companies, but that’s simply not the true. In reality, there are many acquisitions conducted by small and middle market firms that are private transactions and are not reported to the media.

There are many reasons to consider acquisitions, regardless of the size of your business. A smaller, highly focused acquisition can grow your company and be incredibly profitable. In fact, small transactions allow you to execute your strategy covertly and avoid alerting your competition to your growth strategy. With a small, strategic acquisition there is less of a risk of integration issues and acquisition failure because the deal is not transformative for the organization. At the same time, a small, strategic acquisition can fulfill a targeted growth need and positively impact a company’s long-term growth.

Another reason people don’t consider acquisitions is because they think they are too expensive. While acquisitions do require a significant amount of financial resources to execute, the cost of organic growth or doing nothing may be higher than the cost of M&A. When looking at the bigger picture, it may be more expensive to develop a new product on your own or take too much time. Companies often use acquisitions to move quickly and implement a ready-made solution. If you are concerned about cost, keep in mind there are ways to mitigate the price of a deal. Only you can determine if acquiring or building your own solution is best, but you should consider both options simultaneously.

Whether or not you decide to grow through external or organic growth, you should consider both as tools, regardless of the size of your company. For every company, unintentionally falling into the trap of doing nothing is dangerous. Innovation, either from external growth or through in-house development, is key to long-term success. Think about companies that lost their edge do to failure to innovate. Blockbuster didn’t adapt from DVD to streaming and lost out to Netflix and Redbox and the once dominant BlackBerry, which failed to compete with iPhone. The cost of unintentionally doing nothing can mean your services and products become obsolete, so make sure you consider your next steps with the future in mind.

Photo credit: Barnimages.com via Flickr cc

The possibilities may be endless, but your resources are not. For many business owners with limited time and money, deciding which ideas to pursue can be a challenge. Here are three ways to prioritize your options for growth:

1. Start with your company vision

The best way to make sure you’re moving in the right direction is to take a step back from all of your ideas and begin by looking at your vision for your company. Who do you want to be as a company? When you have a clear picture of your goal in mind, it will be easier to visualize what steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Without a clear vision you could end up pursuing options that actually drag you in an opposite direction.

2. Use tools to stay objective

While it’s natural to be somewhat subjective, after all business growth is exciting, you don’t want to make decisions based on emotions alone. Try bringing objectivity into your decision-making process by using tools to evaluate and compare your options. When it comes to external, growth, we typically use the Market Criteria Matrix to evaluate the best markets for growth and the Prospect Criteria Matrix to evaluate acquisition prospects. This tool can be adapted to evaluate any opportunity for growth.

Keeping your vision in mind, develop about six key criteria of your ideal opportunity. Next, you develop metrics to quantify the criteria. For example, if one of your goals is to expand your operations to the West Coast, one of your criterion would be location and the metric could be located on the West Coast. Give each option a rating using a 1-10 scale and see how well the options compare to each other and to the criteria you’ve established.

3. Gather data

Making a decision without the proper information can be a big mistake. Conduct research to validate (or invalidate) your assumptions. You don’t have to uncover every granular detail, but it will be helpful to have an understanding of trends and how they will impact your market in the future. One of the best sources of information about the marketplace is your customers. Try identifying the needs and wants of current and future customers. It may even be as simple as conducting a customer survey or asking your sales department for input.

While it can be overwhelming to process through all your options for growth, the good news is that you have many options! Hopefully these three suggestions will help you organize your thoughts as you plan your next steps.

Photo Credit: Bs0u10e0 via Flickr cc

Should your credit union acquire a bank? If you are looking for new ways to grow, acquiring a bank may be an option for your credit union.

Capstone is excited to host a webinar attorney Michael Bell, who pioneered this new approach and continues to help credit unions acquire banks. The webinar will cover the strategy and mechanics behind a credit union-bank merger as well as challenges and proactive growth opportunities for credit unions.

Seizing Your Opportunity for Growth: Exploring the  Credit Union–Bank Merger Trend with Expert Michael Bell

Date: March 9, 2017

Time: 1:00 PM / 12:00 PM EST

Michael Bell is an attorney at Howard & Howard and a leading advisor to credit unions and national financial institutions seeking non-organic growth, strategic advice. In 2011, Michael completed the first ever purchase of a bank by a credit union. Michael continues advising credit unions in this area and has completed every credit union purchase of a bank to date. He is a “go-to” legal advisor in this area.

Founded in 1995, Capstone is a leading advisory firm focused on helping companies grow through proactive, strategic growth programs and mergers and acquisitions. As the leaders in strategic mergers and acquisitions for CUSOs, we have helped numerous credit union and CUSO leaders develop, evaluate, and implement initiatives for growth. Learn more at www.CapstoneStrategic.com.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan via Flickr cc

Many company owners and executives know that M&A could hugely accelerate their growth. But they hold back for several common reasons. Let’s take a look.

1. “There Are No Suitable Companies to Buy”

You’re probably right—almost. There are no suitable companies for sale. That does NOT mean there are no great companies to buy. You just have to look beyond those that are marked “for sale”. Generally, it’s much better to pursue not-for-sale companies, for a host of reasons. The company is less likely to have problems; you won’t be competing with other buyers; and no one need know about the transaction until it’s complete.

2. “If a Company Is Not for Sale, I Can’t Buy It”

Every company is for sale… for the right equation. Note the word here is “equation” not “price”. Many owners would be glad to sell if they could find a buyer with the right vision, and who understands their unique (sometimes very personal) needs — for example to look after family members employed by the firm, or keep the company brand unchanged, or provide certain special benefits with the deal. Click to continue reading on The M&A Growth Bulletin.

This article originally appeared in The M&A Growth Bulletin, Capstone’s quarterly newsletter that delivers essential guidance on growth through M&A along with tips and tactics drawn directly from successful transactions completed in the market. Subscribe today to read the current edition and receive The M&A Growth Bulletin every quarter.

When you think growing your business in 2017, you probably picture hiring more sales people, opening a new branch, developing additional products or acquiring state-of-the-art technology. Today I want to introduce a new concept for consideration: growing by exiting a business. Before you immediately dismiss the idea, take a moment to challenge your assumptions about company growth and allow yourself to be open to a new perspective. The reality is in some cases exiting may be the best path for growing your company.

Here are three ways exiting can help you grow.

  1. Get Focused – By exiting non-core business lines you can be focus on what you’re really good at. Take P&G for example. Over the last few years the company has adopted a strategic focus and shed over 105 brands in order to focus on 10 fast-growing categories. Shedding these non-core business lines will help P&G become more profitable. You may have some business lines you want to divest so that you can refocus your strategy and resources on what you truly excel at.
  2. Avoid Losses – If a part of your business is no longer profitable, you should evaluate whether or not you should keep going. Maintaining a business simply because you’ve always done so is not a good reason. The world changes and it may be that your customers no longer have a need for this product. For example, it would be crazy to continue manufacturing VCRs in today’s world.
  3. Grow Your Bottom Line – While overall sales or number of customers may shrink if you exit a market, your overall profit may grow. We once worked with an American manufacturer who made millions of die-casting products for various industrial customers. Unfortunately, many of their customers were purchasing cheaper products from China. Faced with this competition, our client decided to reinvent themselves into a maker of specialty components for the aerospace industry. They sold their old equipment and purchased the latest technology. As a result, their customer base shrunk tremendously, but profit rose.

When we hear the word “growth,” we automatically think about “more,” “bigger,” “expanding” not “less,” “smaller” or “shrinking.” While many would never consider exiting a business in order to grow, I encourage you to consider it as you develop your strategic growth plan.

Learn more about growing your business in our webinar 5 Options for Growth.

Photo credit: Maxime Guilbot via Flickr cc

Are you thinking about growing your business? In any business endeavor, having the right questions is often half the battle.

Join us for a new webinar on “7 Strategic Questions to Ask Before Pursuing Mergers & Acquisitions” on Wednesday, December 7. We will cover 7 powerful questions that have been tried and tested with dozens of clients at the outset of their growth programs:

  1. What business are we in?
  2. What is our core competency?
  3. What are we not?
  4. Where is our pain?
  5. What are our dreams?
  6. What is our risk tolerance?
  7. What is our company DNA?

Explore each question in depth and learn how they have immediate applications and a direct impact on your growth strategy.

After attending you will be able to:

  • Establish a firm foundation for pursuing strategic M&A and external growth
  • Use tools to examine your current business situation
  • Begin to develop an action plan for growth

Date: Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Time: 1:00 PM EST – 2:00 PM EST

CPE credit is available.

Photo credit: Ryan Milani via Flickr cc

Private equity firms are increasingly acquiring minority interests in public companies in order to grow, according to the Wall Street Journal. The landscape for PE is changing. Firms are facing tough competition from strategic acquirers who have cash on their balance sheets and are typically willing to spend more on an acquisition. At the same time, fewer banks are lending to private equity firms because of regulations that restrict the amount of debt allowed in acquisitions, making funding leveraged buyouts difficult.

In this challenging environment, minority interest may prove to be a path to growth. For PE firms, acquiring small stakes in public companies can pave the way to a 100% acquisition.

There are a number of advantages to minority interest for financial and strategic buyers.

1. Save Money

You have the opportunity to pursue external growth with a company that may be too expensive or too big for you to acquire in its entirety. For PE firms that are struggling to find financing, acquiring minority stakes allows them to pursue acquisitions despite limited funding.

2. Spread Risk

If you, like most business leaders, have limited financial resources to invest in acquisition, you can acquire several minority interest to spread your risk, while remaining within your budget.

3. Retain Key Management

It’s unlikely that the entire management team will leave when you acquire a minority stake. These experienced team members may stay on and continue adding value to the company for years to come.

4. Open Doors

Minority interest allows you to pursue opportunities that may not be open to 100% acquisition. It would be much more difficult for a PE firm to outright acquire a publicly traded company than it is slowly acquire minority stakes. For strategic acquirers, there may be not-for-sale owners who are not interested in giving up their entire company, but may be open to selling a piece of it.

5. Execute Your Strategy

Minority investment can be used to eventually acquire a majority stake on even the entire company. It’s common to build in options for the buyer to acquire additional stakes as time passes. For example, Disney acquired a 33% stake in video streaming company BAMTech and has the option to acquire a majority stake in the future.

Photo Credit: Joan Campderrós-i-Canas via Flickr cc

 

Ford announced it would acquire Chariot, a shuttle-van startup based in San Francisco, in order to expand beyond auto manufacturing and become a mobility company. This is the first acquisition by Ford Smart Mobility, which was established in March of 2016 in order to focus on “emerging mobility services.” Ford reportedly paid $65 million for Chariot.

Chariot uses 100 Ford Transit vans to offer rides to commuters along 28 routes in the San Francisco Bay Area. After the acquisition, Chariot will leverage Ford’s expertise in logistics and vehicle operations as well as use data algorithms to schedule trips in real time. Together Chariot and Ford plan to expand to at least five more markets. Ford already has shuttle programs in Kansas City, Missouri, and Dearborn Michigan. Ford intends to focus on other forms of transportation including bikes, dynamic shuttles and more, according to Jim Hackett, the chairman of Ford Smart Mobility.

Ford will also partner with Motivate to expand a bike sharing program in the Bay Area. Through the partnership, the program will grow to from 700 to 7,000 bikes and be renamed Ford GoBike.

Auto Manufacturing in Decline

To put it nicely, the outlook for auto manufacturing is pretty bleak. Competitors like Zipcar, Uber and Lyft and new technologies have disrupted the traditional automotive industry. Consumers today are buying fewer cars and option for public transportation or car sharing instead. The trend is not limited to millennials, in fact, according to a study published by University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, fewer middle-aged adults in their 30s and 40s had driver’s licenses in 2014 than did in 1983. Ford is by no means the only car manufacturer to see that its market is shrinking. Earlier this year GM invested $500 million in Lyft to invest in self-driving car partnership.

How to Grow in a Shrinking Market

What’s your market outlook? While your business may be profitable today, if you’re in a shrinking market, future growth will be challenging. Faced with a declining market, now is the time to consider your options and next steps to ensure long term growth. You made focus on building your own solution organically or you may decide to partner with another company to rapidly gain access to a new market. In the case of Ford, the acquisition will allow the company to rapidly gain a foothold in the growing market of ride-sharing and alternate means of transportation.

Photo Credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr cc

Middle market companies have faced many challenges to growth, but the tide is now turning. Previously, we had observed the dumbbell effect, where at either end of the spectrum massive corporations and small businesses flourished while middle market companies were caught in between. Unlike large multinational corporations, many middle market companies cannot leverage the same economies of scale to deal with price cuts, consolidation, and regulatory challenges. On the other hand, middle market companies do not have the same flexibility as startups to move swiftly in the market.

The Dumbbell Effect

The Dumbbell Effect: Massive corporations and small businesses flourish at either end of the spectrum, while the middle market is squeezed in between.

 

Corporations Sell Non-core Businesses

While this environment was challenging, it also created a unique opportunity for those who could seize opportunity and fill the void. Now the market has shifted and instead of consolidating, many large corporations are shedding non-core businesses in order to focus on fast-growing, profitable business units. P&G is in the process of selling 105 brands to refocus on 10 fast-growing category-based business units. Recently P&G sold Duracell to Berkshire Hathaway, various hair care brands including Pert, Shamtu and Blendax to Germany’s Henkel, and its fragrance, color cosmetics and hair color business to Coty.

Growth Through Strategic Acquisitions

Divestments by large corporations can generate opportunities for middle market companies looking to grow rapidly through M&A. With acquisition, middle market companies have the opportunity to quickly execute their growth strategy, whether it’s by adding a new product or service, acquiring a competitor, or expanding into a new geographic or vertical market. Overall, middle market M&A has remained relatively stable when compared to global values, suggesting that although mega-deals may be slowing down, smaller, strategic acquisitions are still being executed. Now is the time to carefully consider your opportunities and execute your growth strategy.

Photo Credit: Feature Image – Barn Images, Dumbbells – slgckgc via Flickr cc

It can be easy to get stuck in the rut and slip into a routine. Far too often leaders stay the course simply because “it’s how we’ve always done things.” However unintentionally maintaining business as usual can be extremely dangerous for the future of your organization. The reality is that as time passes, your markets, customers and competitors change. And your business should adapt to these changes as well.

If you find yourself stuck in the same routine, it may be time to take a step back and reevaluate your strategy. Here are some ways to reinvigorate your business plan.

1. Take a Break

First, dedicate some time away from the day-to-day operations of the business to review your strategy. You may think you’re too busy to do this exercise, but if you want your business to succeed long-term evaluating your strategy is essential. Whether you gather your leadership team for an off-site session, or it’s just an hour you spend thinking about it. Take the time.

2. Use Tools

We use a variety of tools to generate new ideas about growth opportunities. Using tools helps leaders gain a fresh perspective. Helps them see their company from a different lens and truly evaluate the business from an objective standpoint. Some of the tools we use include Porter’s Five Forces Model, The Opportunity Matrix, and the Five Options for Growth.

3. Foster Open Dialogue

From a facilitation standpoint, we use a mixture of individual and group communication to draw out perspectives. Prior to any session we usually interview individual leaders ahead of time. These interviews allow executives to voice their perspectives in a safe space and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and prevent groupthink. If you don’t have a facilitator, you could ask everyone to answer your questions and write down their thoughts prior to the group meeting. Then, when you move into the group session, you will be able to have a rich and meaningful dialogue because everyone has already has thought about the questions beforehand.

Hopefully these suggestions will inspire you and get you excited about company growth.

Have questions? Let’s Talk! Talk to a senior Capstone advisor at no cost, with no obligation and no sales pressure. We guarantee you will value the conversation. Contact us online or at 703-854-1910.

We all know growth is vital to the success of our organizations, but knowing exactly how to achieve growth can be challenging. Credit unions today face many issues such as regulatory challenges, industry consolidation, economic and political uncertainty, and tough competition. In such an environment how can you continue to provide value to your members?

Fortunately, there are many options for growth for credit unions to consider including investing in CUSOs, using CUSOs to grow through mergers and acquisitions, proactively seeking ways to generate non-interest income, external partnerships and collaborations, and more!

Credit unions that succeed long-term take a proactive approach to seizing these opportunities for growth. Learn how to swiftly implement your growth strategy and position your organization for success in the upcoming webinar “Finding the Best Path for Growth: Strategies for Credit Unions” presented by Capstone Managing Director, John Dearing, and hosted by National Cooperative Bank.

Webinar topics include:

  • New ideas for strategic growth
  • How to evaluate and prioritize your options for growth
  • New ways to generate non-interest income
  • How to use collaborations, partnership and strategic acquisitions as a growth strategy
  • Exploring CUSO investment opportunities
  • Developing strategic criteria
  • Tools for exploration and execution of a strategic growth plan for your credit union

Date: Thursday, June 23, 2016

Time: 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM ET

About Your Presenter

John Dearing is a Managing Director at Capstone, an advisory firm focused on helping companies grow through proactive, strategic growth programs. We have helped numerous credit union and CUSO leaders develop, evaluate, and implement initiatives for growth.

About National Cooperative Bank


National Cooperative Bank (NCB)
provides comprehensive banking services to cooperatives and member-owned organizations. NCB was created to address the financial needs of an underserved market niche – people who join together cooperatively to meet personal, social or business needs. Given our shared cooperative roots, credit unions and NCB have had a mutually beneficial relationship since NCB’s inception.

Photo Credit: Barn Images

Strategic mergers and acquisitions can be a powerful tool for growing your CUSO, but much of your success depends on finding the right partner. How can you identify the right partner for growth?

The best way to begin your search is to identify the ideal markets in which to grow your organization. Once you have researched and selected the top markets for growth, you can begin searching for potential partners in that market that will help your CUSO grow!

Capstone is excited to be partnering with the National Association of Credit Union Service Organizations (NACUSO) for an exciting webinar. NACUSO helps credit unions explore the use of CUSOs and the delivery of non-traditional products and services.

In this webinar, led by John Dearing, Managing Director of Capstone, you will learn how to use a demand-driven approach to search for the right partner systematically and efficiently. John has led a successful acquisition program for nearly twenty years, including over ten years of helping CUSOs grow through external growth and M&A.

Date: February 16, 2016

Time: 12:30 – 1:30 PM ET

As a leader, it can be difficult to determine the best way to grow your business. Some leaders find themselves stuck in the same rut and struggle to generate new ideas to spur growth. They realize business as usual or what worked 10 years ago will no longer work in today’s market. On the other hand, other leaders have too many, rather than too few new opportunities. With so many exciting options, they may find it difficult to determine which path is best for the company’s future.

Whatever position you may find yourself in, a useful way to explore your opportunities of growth is the 5 Options for Growth Tool. This tool helps you organize the various pathways for growth that are available to your company:

  1. Organic Growth
  2. Minimizing Costs
  3. Exiting the Market
  4. Doing Nothing
  5. External Growth

Each of the pathways listed are valid ways to grow a business. But which one is the right one for you? First, start by listing all of the opportunities that come to mind in each of the categories, no matter how crazy they may seem. Brainstorming in this fashion will help you organize the ideas you already have and help develop new ones. By considering all of the possibilities listed above you can thoroughly explore your options, organize your thoughts and make an informed decision.

Learn more about growing your business in our upcoming webinar “5 Options for Growth” on January 21. CPE credit is available.

5 Options for Growth Webinar
Date: Thursday, January 21, 2016
Time: 1:00 PM ET

Photo credit: Barn Images via cc

Instead of investing in growth, companies this year have been holding more than $1.4 trillion in cash – close to a record $1.65 trillion in 2014. Oracle’s $56 billion cash stockpile is 1.5 times its sales and Cisco’s $60 billion in cash is 1.2 times its sales. Eleven companies have cash reserves double their annual revenue.

And it’s not just Fortune 500 companies. According to the Middle Market Center, more middle market firms plan to hold onto cash in 2016. Fewer of them are willing to invest extra money or plan to expand in 2016.

Have U.S. Companies Stopped Investing In Growth?

Companies that stockpile cash don’t invest in stock buybacks and dividends, research and development, other organic growth initiatives or mergers and acquisitions.  A strong balance sheet is important, but the levels of cash held by nonfinancial S&P 500 companies is astounding!  They may be worried about the economy or the upcoming elections. But there’s another possibility: all that money on the sidelines portends robust M&A activity in 2016.

Tax Savings

Publicly traded companies also are stashing profits offshore to avoid paying taxes on them. The U.S. corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world and tax inversions in particular are being driven by the pursuit of tax savings rather than for strategic reasons. .

The latest example is Pfizer and Allergan’s proposed merger which would relocate the company to Ireland and away from the U.S. corporate tax rate. Other companies that have done this include Chiquita, Perrigo, Medtronic, Endo, and Actavis despite calls for stronger restrictions on tax inversions by Congress and President Obama. Pfizer already has found ways to save on taxes even without the acquisition. The company has designated $74 billion as “indefinitely’ invested abroad.

Invest in Growth Now

As other companies hold onto cash, you have a unique opportunity now to invest in your future. Do this by developing a long-term strategic plan, investing in new products, services or equipment, or growing organically. Or pursue the faster, more powerful vehicle of strategic mergers and acquisitions. Middle market companies can seek privately held, not-for-sale deals that focus on long-term growth rather than on cost savings or short-term quarterly updates with shareholders. This increases the likelihood of a successful transaction and sustainable growth.

Middle market companies cannot afford to dwell on cost savings and sit idle. Make sure you are thinking about long-term growth and how your company will not only survive, but thrive.

Is your company hoarding too much cash? Or are you investing in future growth?

Photo Credit: Pictures of Money via Flickr cc

Expedia will buy HomeAway, a vacation rental site, for $3.9 billion. With this acquisition — its largest since buying Orbitz in 2014 for $1.3 billion — Expedia will compete more directly with Airbnb.

Airbnb, through which people rent their homes to travelers, has become more popular in recent years, both with consumers looking for a cheap place to stay and with those seeking to make some extra cash. Airbnb is expecting its bookings to double to 80 million nights in 2015. HomeAway offers a comparable service. Although Expedia is online’s largest travel agency by bookings with 150 million bookings in 2014, it expects the growing demand for alternative accommodations to continue and possibly to cannibalize the hotel industry.

Build on Your Success

What can the middle market player learn from this deal? If, like Expedia, your business is successful or even the market leader, don’t get too comfortable. Success can easily slip away with disruptions in the market, changes in consumer demand, and new competitors. My point is that if you’re not growing, you’re dying – even if you don’t realize it.

Now is always the best time to build on your success and strengthen your position. You should proactively explore and evaluate all your growth options rather than wait until you are backed into a corner or feel pressured into hasty decision-making.

In addition, although acquisition is usually much faster than building a solution from the ground up, it still takes time to execute successfully. The entire process of crafting an acquisition strategy, finding the ideal markets and prospects, negotiating the deal, and finally signing on the dotted line typically takes about one year.

The first step to take now is to observe your market environment and customers. What do your customers want today? What will they want in the future? Think about meeting the needs of both current customers and customers you have yet to capture. You may decide to stay on your current path. Or you may find that you want to enter into a new market. Either decision is fine, but it should be made deliberately.

Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr cc

Sometimes, a business must first become smaller in order to grow. What I mean is that in order to focus on your strategic goals and respond to changes in demand and in the market, you may need to less of something. This includes stopping a specific product line, shedding customers, or even divesting of an entire business line. This way, you can adjust your strategy and refocus resources (both time and money) on your core competencies so that your business can grow long-term

Take Nestle, as an example. Over the past two years the company has divested of underperforming brands like Jenny Craig, Power Bar and Juicy Juice in order to concentrate on its core businesses.

Most recently, Nestle announced that it is in talks to form a joint venture with R&R ice cream. Nestle stated that it “would contribute its ice cream businesses in Europe, Egypt, the Philippines, Brazil and Argentina to the new joint venture. It would also transfer its European frozen food businesses, excluding pizza.”

By separating its ice cream business from its core businesses, Nestle can focus more on businesses that are aligned with its goal to be a recognized leader in Nutrition Health & Wellness. In addition, divestiture allows Nestle to rapidly adapt to a changing world and market. The mass ice cream market in particular is shifting as consumers demand healthier, fresh food or premium brands. Nestle also has struggled to compete with market leader Unilever. Forming a joint venture with R&R may allow Nestle to focus on more lucrative brands and increase the profitability of the company as a whole.

If, like Nestle, you can identify an area in your business that is not performing well, you may want to take a moment to pause and consider your options. Has customer demand changed? Are all your product lines profitable? You may want to rapidly respond to these changes. It may be as simple as discontinuing a product or service, dropping unprofitable customers, or even selling an entire piece of your business. While it may seem strange to get smaller in order to grow, these activities will help you align your business with your overall growth strategy and position your company for future growth.

Photo credit Christian Kadluba via Flickr cc