Trucking Titans Share M&A Tips
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ORLANDO, Fla. — The market for buying and selling trucking companies was a hot topic at a recent industry trade show, so it’s little wonder that a discussion with three leaders who share recent experience on the issue drew a crowd.
“You need to run your company like someday you’re going to sell, keep plugging away and trying to do more,” said Barry Pottle, the past president and CEO of Pottle’s Transportation, during a panel titled “Business Know-How: Mergers & Acquisitions” held during the Truckload 2023 Orlando convention hosted by the Truckload Carriers Association.
Pottle’s in October was acquired through an affiliate of Canada’s Bison Transport. Based in Maine, Pottle’s was founded in 1962 by Barry’s father, Clifton Pottle, and had more than 200 tractors and over 750 trailers, plus logistics operations, at the time of the deal.
Pottle stressed the importance of a good safety record in making a company strong and attractive to buyers. A poor safety record “could void the deal,” he said, adding, “Drivers are the key.”
It’s also prudent for buyers and sellers to get to know one another, said Mark Seymour, CEO of Kriska Holding Ltd. Founded in 1978 in Ontario, Kriska serves North America through its truckload fleet of 350 company and owner-operator power units, plus 1,100 trailers.
“Speed kills if you go too fast,” he said, adding that companies should spend time learning about each other’s organizational workings and business cultures. Seymour also stressed the importance during a transition of protecting employees and revenue, and do everything possible to avoid unpleasant surprises such as liabilities and litigation. “Get employment agreements in the hands of people who want to stay,” he said. “Offer stay bonuses [because] drivers generate the revenue.”
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Experience is another plus, Seymour said. Transactions can progress smoother if one of the parties in a merger and acquisition has done it before, he noted.
Kriska, through its Kriska Transportation Group, has a history of acquiring asset and non-asset based carriers in Ontario and Quebec and pursues investing in trucking companies that retain drivers. It also seeks to acquire companies with good safety practices and solid financial results.
Being ready when a buyer does come calling can help, noted Heath Treasure, president of Super T Transport. In September, Super T sold its shares to Berger Logistik, an Austrian international transport and logistics company partially owned by Red Bull. The acquisition enabled the European company to gain a U.S. distribution footprint through Super T’s existing customer base across America. At the same time, Treasure moved from his role as a founder to president and help expand Super T’s current network in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Treasure advised companies to establish and maintain their due diligence portfolios, even if it’s “a gruesome process.” He said, “You have to have it ready at all times. You’ll know when the time is right [to sell] and it will be ready.”
Since many buyers prefer that a seller stay on for a while to help ease a transition, Seymour encouraged owners to sell when they are “relevant, healthy, fit and contributing” to enhance smooth passage of the businesses from one owner to the next.
When considering when and how to sell their companies, Pottle urged owners to start by determining how much money they’ll need to live on post-sale.
The financial picture post-sale is important for buyers, Treasure noted, but existing culture also plays a role. “What fleet brings value to you?” he urged buyers to think, but to look beyond dollars and cents.
“You have got to understand their drivers and internal culture, and understand what you are dealing with,” he said.
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