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Moving into the Boardroom

From Employee to President

When considering the purchase of an existing business, very few realize that lack of experience in an industry can actually lead to success.  One simply needs a sound financial plan and a good team to fill in the gaps.  Removing the added stress of fieldwork and focusing solely on the management of finances and operation allows for greater opportunities.  It makes for the dynamic advantage of some outside impartiality when seeking areas of improvement and growth. 

One man who has made this transition from having marginal knowledge in an industry to leading a successful plumbing and HVAC operation is Mark Evans, President of Burton Plumbing. Before taking over Burton, Evans had a successful plumbing distributorship serving four states, but it was his desire to own and travel less that put him into the hands of Burton Friesz.  Friesz, the founder of Burton Plumbing, had been a customer and friend of Evans’ when the two discussed a possible expansion into residential service.  Evans put his business experience to work for Burton in July 1995, and his education in the minutiae of plumbing and HVAC began.

While he hasn’t worked in the field as a licensed plumbing contractor, Evans has dipped his feet in several areas within the running of Burton and often at the same time.  Before hiring the essential personnel that have enabled him to narrow his role, Evans served as Manager, Marketer, Customer Service Representative and Dispatcher.  Such a list of duties for one man is a daunting task, but “I worked my way to being able to work on the business rather than in the business, [a strategy] taught to me by my business coach,” says Evans.  Eventually Evans was able to step back and bring on a general manager and a warehouse operator that has allowed him to “focus on growth opportunities, marketing and cash flow.”

 

"Removing the added stress of fieldwork and focusing solely on the management of finances and operation allows for greater opportunities."

 

Evans’ experience is not unique.  Brokerages consistently deal with buyers seeking to own companies within a certain field, but “only 2 people out of the nearly 100 closings [we’ve had] have come in for the same business that they ended up purchasing,” says Julie O’Brien, Client Services and Paralegal with The Firm.  What it comes down to is as simple as the bottom line.  Buyers are looking to leverage their talents and experience in a marriage between a management philosophy and business model.  Those in the market for an acquisition are “buying based on profit, number of staff, ability to get financing, and mostly their strengths and passions,” says O’Brien.  Experience in a particular industry is certainly valuable, but is no prediction for success when the right financial mind comes along.

Even so, to make up for a lack of practical knowledge requires the proper equipment, most notably in the form of managers and employees.  The right talent in the field can be a growth experience and provide an opportunity to learn the ropes before taking full swing of things.  A total deficit in knowledge hardly makes for good leadership, and for this reason many “new business owners like to take a bird’s eye view of the operation rather than diving in and getting their hands dirty right away…giving them the opportunity to watch [how] things have been done…before implementing changes,” says O’Brien. 

Approaching ownership in this way also allows for further financial acquisitions, an avenue which Evans has taken.  In addition to owning Burton Plumbing, Evans operates an additional four companies.  One might assume this much responsibility to be a stretch, but Evans sees his role as “keeping a pulse on things. I like to lead people in growth, personally and on the business side.” 

Getting started can be a daunting task, which is why O’Brien works closely with potential buyers to find the right fit.  “We assist all the way,” she says.  “We work with the buyer on projections, business plans, [and] we introduce them to trusted advisors,” from attorneys and CPAs to financial advisors and insurance agents.  It’s this helpful backing of experts that eases the difficult task of ownership, and only proves that one can certainly switch from a blue collar to a white one. 

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