IBA has five corporate principles that serve as foundational pillars for our professional representation of owners of privately held companies and family businesses as a mergers & acquisitions intermediary firm. They are the following:
- Seek to create an environment of full disclosure between parties and facilitate the transaction in sunlight.
- Conduct all negotiations with integrity.
- When a party lacks the relevant knowledge and experience to make an intelligent decision offer to introduce them to a professional who can supply that knowledge and experience.
- Progressively seek to enhance personal knowledge, experience, and skill as a business broker.
- Represent each client like a family member providing the same advice you would give to a favorite aunt or uncle.
One of the benefits of adhering to these principles is that it is common for IBA business brokers to leave successfully completed transactions with something much more valuable than a commission, additional friends, and often parties that become extended family. It is my belief that true wealth is found in a person’s family, friends, and memories of mutually shared experiences. Money and things play transitory roles in our lives. They cannot laugh, love, cry, or experience achievement with us.
As I write this blog article, my personal wealth is significantly diminished from last week, as I recently lost forever a man I considered a second father, Graham Hollingsworth. Graham was added to my life twenty-two years ago as a result of a transaction I facilitated at the beginning of the current century.
The relationship started with a telephone book advertisement for IBA. Graham and his wife, Barbara, having achieved success as entrepreneurs in 2000 decided to let their fingers do the walking and identified several business brokerage firms to interview in pursuit of representation in the sale of their company, Lancs Industries, named after Lancashire County in England where they had been born and met. Progressively moving through the sales trifecta of knowing, liking, and growing to trust each other over time Graham & Barb agreed to engage me to sell their company. An unique manufacturing company specializing in the production of items for use in the nuclear industry, the company had numerous suitors interested in acquiring the business. Agreement was reached with one buyer, but elements of the deal did not feel right to me, so I told my clients, “No deal is better than a bad deal” and encouraged them to exit from the potential transaction. I was in my early thirties at the time. Graham & Barb told me, multiple times later over the years, they were amazed I was willing to sacrifice a significant commission open to starting over with a payday in sight on the calendar after substantial investment of time, energy, and resources in pursuit of doing the right thing. I told them then and still strongly hold the philosophy, my job is to represent clients to the best of my abilities and that my financial compensation will occur after a transaction is completed that offered the best possible outcome for the party I served. This philosophy has its origin with one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “If you are good at what you do, money will take care of itself”. I strongly believe that if society in general put quality and customer service in front of compensation the world would be a better place.
Back on the market, we reengaged with multiple potential buyers ultimately reaching agreement with a Harvard educated business professional who had served in the Navy, Tim Wiest. Graham & Barb had found their apparent chosen successor at the helm of Lancs Industries. The deal progressed positively until legal battleships turned broadside over a few representation, warranty, and indemnification issues involving the company’s lead manufactured products. A “all hands on deck” meeting was called with both parties, their legal counsel, & I present. I told Graham & Barb this was the “Super Bowl”, the deal would either be won or lost today. Discussion and negotiation went back and forth, but ultimately hands were shaken all around the table and the deal closed shortly thereafter.
After the sale, Graham & Barb, hosted a celebratory dinner for their team of professional advisors at Anthony’s in Kirkland, a location they regarded as their second dining room since it opened and visited weekly throughout their lives knowing numerous staff members by name through multiple transitions of crews. I can still remember looking with pride around the table at the team I had built with Michael Scruggs, as legal counsel, and Denise Lawson, as the CPA, knowing each of us had played an important role in getting the deal across the finish line. Twenty-two years later, Denise remains the couple’s trusted CPA, a legacy of success placing the right person in a job for a specific client. That evening I gave Graham a bottle of Bowmore with a handwritten note on the outer cylinder that we had won the “Super Bowl” and now he could retire a champion. He cherished the gift throughout his life, keeping the cylinder shell and replacing the bottle multiple times.
I know the bottle was replaced multiple times because I participated in the draining of its fine scotch over numerous games of cribbage over the years, as our friendship blossomed and grew from its humble professional origin. Over the years, Graham, Barb, my wife, Janette, & I forged a close bond. Graham & Barb, originally from England, were huge soccer fans. They talked proudly of being Seattle Sounders soccer fans and season ticket holders in the 1970’s and early 1980’s with Graham having a personal friendship with Mr. Sounder himself, Jimmy Gabriel ( https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/sounders/jimmy-gabriel-known-as-the-original-mr-sounder-dies-at-age-80/), until his passing. In 2009, the Sounders returned to Seattle and together we returned as season ticket holders. Anyone sitting near us, knew Graham’s trademark cheers of “I’m blind, I’m death, I want to be a ref” and my 90 and eventually 100 year old mother in law would have made more effort going for that ball. Soccer, golf, cribbage, and happy hour beverages combined with frequent telephone banter evolved into time together in Hawaii and England (A lifetime Manchester United fan, we shared the experience of seeing Wayne Rooney’s last game together at Old Trafford) and the sharing of many life events. It gave me great pride that through soccer games and golf, my biological father and adopted father became friends who spent time together without me. One of my favorite stories that they both shared was that one time they were playing golf as a twosome and one of the other players asked them, how they knew each other. Graham with a smile and twinkle in his eye, said “We have the same son”. A puzzled expression later, he explained how I have two fathers who loved me in a world where many do not even have one.
I was truly blessed to have walked on the path of life with Graham Hollingsworth for over two decades. He epitomized many of the characteristics I admire in people. He was a self-made man who found success as an entrepreneur after being let go by Boeing when the last person to leave Seattle was told to turn out the lights after moving to the Emerald City as an aerospace engineer to help build the SST. He was an adoring, supportive husband to his wife, Barb, truly being there for her in good times & bad as mutual best friends. He was a first-generation immigrant who loved America and all it offered him in terms of freedom and opportunity. Together with our wives, we turned out in Bellevue Park in 2021 to celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks, a truly amazing evening where the resilient fiber of our nation was evident. He will walk with me the rest of my life in thought and spirit, but unfortunately never again will we laugh again swapping stories on the 19th hole. Cheers Graham. This scotch is for you.
IBA, the Pacific Northwest’s premier business brokerage firm since 1975, is available as an information resource to the media, business brokerage, and mergers & acquisitions community on subjects relevant to the purchase & sale of privately held companies and family-owned businesses. IBA is recognized as one of the best business brokerage firms in the nation based on its long track record of successfully negotiating “win-win” business sale transactions in environments of full disclosure employing “best practices”.