Monty Bruell is an Atlanta-based partner at Oaklyn Consulting, a consulting firm that specializes in mergers, acquisitions, capital raising and other significant financial transactions for small- and mid-sized businesses with up to $100 million in sales.
Bruell focuses on serving the needs of small- to mid-sized minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBEs). He is an entrepreneur, business consultant and investment advisor with more than 25 years’ experience. In 2021, he ran for mayor of Chattanooga, highlighting a message of addressing economic disparities in Chattanooga and around the country.
Before coming to Oaklyn, Bruell was a principal for MRB Consulting, working directly with clients on a project basis to develop and execute strategies to launch and scale early-stage start-ups in preparation for funding and growth. He has also been a board member and shareholder for Georgia point-of-sale software company Rapid RMS since 2013.
He graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s in economics.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- What makes succession planning particularly important for minority and female business owners
- How working with Oaklyn or another professional advisory firm makes the succession process easier
- How the concerns of a 70-year-old business owner are different from a younger one still at the midpoint of their career
- How the traditional M&A consultant structure underserves some communities
- Factors that go into selecting the right buyer for one’s business
- Highlights of a “to-do” list for passing a business down to the next generation
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for High Velocity Radio.
Stone Payton: Welcome to the High Velocity Radio show, where we celebrate top performers producing better results in less time. Stone Payton here with you today. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast with Oakland Consulting, Mr. Monty Bruell. How are you, man?
Monty Bruell: I am great, Stone. How are you today?
Stone Payton: I am doing well. I have really been looking forward to this conversation. I have a ton of questions. I know we won’t get to them all, but I think a really good place to start would be if you could articulate for me and our listeners mission purpose, what you and your team are really out there trying to do for folks.
Monty Bruell: Sure. Oakland Consulting is a regional mergers and acquisitions firm. We we help people buy companies. We help people sell companies that they’ve built. We’re we’re in the succession and transition business. A lot of times founders CEOs will spend decades building a business, but they have not really thought about how they’re going to maximize the value that they’re going to receive. For that, How will they exit that business? You know, will one generation of a family transfer it to the next generation? So Oakland Consulting works with business owners. And we say in the lower middle market, you know, we do deals from, say, $5 Million all the way up to $100 Million. But we help people figure out what they’re going to do with their company and and we drive them toward that transaction.
Stone Payton: So it strikes me that succession planning would be important for virtually any business owner. But are there particular industries, types of businesses, segments of that business owner population for whom it is even more critical or fewer of them are doing it than really should be?
Monty Bruell: Well, as you said, Stone Payton succession planning is important for every business owner. But what we find is that with closely held family run companies, succession planning is super important because you sometimes will have members of the family who think they’re going to be running the business in the future. And they may not be. That may not be what the what the owner wants to have happen. And then you have employees who may have worked for a company for 20 years who want to know where they fit into the into the future of that company. With my practice in Atlanta is I focus primarily on minority and women owned companies. And with those companies you have issues around certification. Will the company continue to be at least 51% owned by a minority or a woman? That’s very important to the future success of the business. And then you have issues of legacy, because as hard as it is for any business to be successful over the long run, it’s doubly hard for a minority owned company or a woman owned company. And so you want to leave a legacy. You don’t want to just sell your company willy nilly without any regard for what’s going to happen to it in the future. You want to make sure that the legacy that you have built is recognized and that it continues on into the future.
Stone Payton: So I got to know, man, what is the back story? How did you find yourself in this line of work? What was the path, man?
Monty Bruell: Well, it’s an unusual way to find one’s career path. But last year I ran for mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the reason that I wanted to run primarily was to address economic disparity. When you look at households and poverty, for example, throughout the South, two thirds of all households in poverty are headed by single women. So our poverty is concentrated with single moms, their kids and families. Imagine if you could create businesses that are woman owned that that can can help other women, that you can expand the middle class, you can create good paying jobs. And so when I didn’t win the mayoral race, I began talking with people. And my now partner, Frank Williamson, and I sat down and and Frank said, you know, it sounds like you could really be a good investment banker, that you could help some people figure out how to grow their businesses and and create jobs. And that’s really how. How I got into this line of work. It was it was my passion for helping people and wanting to create good paying jobs in areas and in communities and for people where that was lacking.
Stone Payton: So now that you’ve been at it a while, what’s the most rewarding? What’s the most fun about it for you?
Monty Bruell: Well, I would say there are two things that I really enjoy. In Atlanta, we have these companies that I call Hartsfield Jackson babies. They were created in the 1970s when that airport was being built. And and now those founders are 70 years old and they’re trying to figure out how do I start my retirement, how do I sell my company, how do I transition it to the next generation, whatever that exit strategy is? And so it’s really rewarding to help people who are coming toward the end, if you will, of their business career to find a way to do that with with dignity and with economic success. And then on the other side of that. I love working with 4550 year old entrepreneurs who have built a successful business, but now they want to take it to the next level. I have one client who has a company that’s doing about $20 Million a year in annual revenue. They’ve got 100 or more employees. And and my client just looked at me and he said, How do I drive this to $100 million and 300 employees within the next four years? And so I love that challenge of helping that kind of client develop a strategy and access the capital that they that they will need to to make that a reality.
Stone Payton: So when you first sit down and start visiting with a client or even a prospective client, what kind of questions do they have? What are they concerned about, scared of? Excited about? What is that like?
Monty Bruell: Well, the primary issue is developing a relationship where, number one, your expectations are aligned that that that we as consultants aren’t misleading the client and that the client has realistic expectations about what can happen. And the the other thing is there’s an issue of trust, because when when an owner is talking about either growing their company or selling their company, they’re talking about their baby. I mean, this has been the primary focus of their lives for for a number of years. And so you really have to get to a point where where, where you trust one another. And so these relationships just aren’t about the money. It’s not just about the economics. You’re you’re really developing a real personal connection with one another.
Stone Payton: So how does the whole sales and marketing thing work? Our client’s finding you or you finding clients. Do you find that you have a a structured approach to a to attracting new clients? How does that work for a firm like yours?
Monty Bruell: I’d say there there are really two things. I try to develop relationships with business influencers. So attorneys, CPAs, people who are trusted advisors, because that really helps me and it helps our firm if it’s not Monte Brule cold calling a business owner saying, Knock, knock, knock. Here I am. Let me let me help you. It’s really much better and much smoother if someone that they already know, like their lawyer or their accountant says, you know, I’ve got the guy for you, or I know a firm that can help you. So. So that’s number one. And then the other thing I will say is you never know when the client is going to need you. So I just try to meet as many people as I possibly can, build personal relationships with them. And it may be two years down the road before that person comes back and says, You know, I’ve been thinking about selling my company. Would you be willing to talk to me or, you know, I want to grow my business. Can you talk to me about how to do that? So it’s not really a case where I make a sales call and I close the deal because that’s not really how mergers and acquisitions work. Rare, is it, that that you will meet someone at the precise point in time when they’re ready for your services?
Stone Payton: I’m sure there are some consistent patterns, some consistent elements in your work with virtually any client. But I got also believe every situation’s got to have its idiosyncrasies right. If you’re if you’re working with a 75 year old matriarch getting ready to exit and ride off into the sunset, that’s got to be different than working with, I don’t know, maybe some folks in some underserved communities. Can you talk a little bit about the value of of having a firm like yours with your your expertise and your experience and being able to navigate those those different kinds of situations that would present themselves?
Monty Bruell: Well, really, what what people are looking for when they hire an M&A advisor like Oakland Consulting is they’re looking to access our relationships. They’re looking to access our reputation, if you will. So I spend a lot of time talking to people involved in the capital markets, people who are either investing equity or who who are banks who are doing work on the debt side. And and so it’s it’s really interesting that that it’s all about making connection. I would say that’s that’s the number one thing. So sometimes we meet with clients and they’re not ready or it’s just not the right fit. And we try to help them get ready or help them find an advisor who will work for them. But you’re right. Stone Every situation is different. You know, we we have a standard model, if you will. We we know we’ve got to come in and do a valuation. We know that we’ve got to provide, you know, a list of of of prospective investors or or prospective acquisition targets. All of that is fairly standard. But it’s it’s it’s kind of like being a quarterback on a football team. The play is called, you know, what the play is going to be. But when the ball is snapped it doesn’t always in fact, it rarely happens just as it’s drawn up. Right. So so you’ve got to have a little athletic ability in this case, a little mandar ability to to be able to to to to pivot and to be resilient and take the client where they want to go. Even though the the play broke down somewhere and you and you’ve got to make it work anyway.
Stone Payton: So do you find that at least in the initial conversations, because, you know, while these folks may be really at the top of their game with respect to their craft or have done a marvelous job in meeting the market with the business that they’ve created, you know, they’re not succession planning experts are not M&A experts. They they may not have bought or sold businesses before. Do you do you find that there are some myths, misconceptions, assumptions, preconceived notions that sometimes you have to sort of set the record straight and educate, inform and help them understand what this arena is really like?
Monty Bruell: Well, I think the number one misconception is that as the M&A advisor, we just care about the transaction that we’re just trying to get a deal done so that we can get paid. And that’s not really even how our compensation works at Oakland. We build our clients essentially like lawyers and accountants. We we don’t collect a big success fee at the end because we want our objectives to be perfectly aligned with our client’s objectives. And so I never want a client to feel like like he or she is being pushed toward a deal just because it’s in Oakland Consulting’s best interest. We want every deal to be in the best interest of our clients, and that is really the most important thing that that I think is that we have to address. And then the second thing I will say is listening is so important. When I first meet a client, I don’t really even talk much about their business. I want to I want to know really, why are we having this conversation? What prompted the client to want to sit down with me and what, if you will, the hopes, dreams and aspirations of that client? If you’re. If you’re 70, I want to know what you want to be doing when you’re 75. And if you’re 40, I want to know what you’re what you want to be doing when you’re 50, because that’s really where we’re trying to go. It’s really not about what’s going on today. It’s about what’s going on tomorrow. And we want the client to be in control of that and we want to be the facilitator that helps the client get where he or she wants to go.
Stone Payton: Words like relationship, connection, listening have surfaced in this conversation. I’ve got to say, far more often than I would have anticipated. Speaking of myths, misconceptions, preconceived notions. I would have envisioned your world as as far more transactional. It sounds like it is deeply, deeply rooted in relationship and service and and listening much more. So, I mean, I realize there’s the transactional component, but I mean, this is a relationship business, isn’t it?
Monty Bruell: Oh, absolutely. The transaction is really the easiest part of it. I mean, imagine Stone if you’re. Looking for a house. Now you’ve gone to the bank. You’ve gotten pre-approved for the mortgage. You know what’s going to happen when you sit down at the closing table, but you have to look at 50 houses before you find the one that’s right for you. And sometimes, sometimes you know it, right? When you drive up, you just look at your real estate agent. You go, No, not this one. And sometimes you have to go back to the house three or four times before you realize that it’s not for you. And hopefully, in the end, you find the one that is the perfect one for you. And a business transaction, an M&A transaction is very similar to that. It’s not one and done. It’s not just about saying, okay, you want to buy a yellow house. We got a yellow house for you. No, it’s really more complicated than that. We it’s got to feel right. And so a lot of people don’t think about, as you said, the relationship or the feeling part of the deal. And that’s really the most important part.
Stone Payton: Well, in following on this relationship, investing in the other person kind of theme, I got to believe you must have had the benefit and continue to have maybe the benefit of one or more mentors that have helped you really learn how to serve in this ecosystem. Yeah.
Monty Bruell: Oh, absolutely. You know, I don’t know if he would consider himself a mentor because we’re partners. But I’ve already mentioned Frank Williamson, who who started Oakland Consulting. He is a person of the highest integrity who who strives to do the right thing. And and I love being a part of an organization where that’s our culture. And I have to applaud Frank for establishing that as as our culture as a general business mentor. Many, many years ago, when I first came out of college, I went to work for Jack Lupton, who at the time was the largest Coca-Cola bottler in the United States. And and Jack always said to me, he said, you know, we want to be number one in every market in which we choose to compete. And what I got from that is you don’t have to compete. You don’t have to go after everything. You don’t have to do things just because somebody wants you to. But when you decide to get up off the bench and get into the game, you give it your all. And that is an important lesson that I’ve just carried with me throughout my entire business career. And so when I think about mentorship, I’m I’m thankful for the lessons that I learned in Coca-Cola Bottling and from Jack Lupton. And I’m grateful today for having a partner like Frank Williamson.
Stone Payton: Okay. Before we wrap, let’s if we could, let’s leave our listeners with a couple of pro tips. You know, I don’t know, maybe a to do list or just a couple of actionable items, things for them to be thinking about doing, reading and maybe topics like things to consider when selecting a buyer, things to consider or be thinking about as you prepare to, to, to hand off your legacy to the to the next generation. But let’s leave them with a couple of actionable items.
Monty Bruell: Well, I think a couple of things that I would say would be, first, if you are running a small business, you typically have your accounting and your finances set up to minimize your tax liability. That means you’re loading the business with expenses and you are not necessarily trying to show just how profitable the business is. Well, when it’s time to sell that business, you want just the reverse to happen. So if you’re thinking about selling your business, say, in five years you want to have financials that look like you are a robust, viable, thriving business or you want to hire, you know, an advisor who can come in and help you restate your financials so that you’re you’re maximizing the value that that’s represented there. And the last thing that I will say, too, is that when you’re thinking about succession, whether you are acquiring a company to go to the next level or you’re looking for somebody to come in and take over your your existing business. Transparency and honesty are very important. Think about how insecure your heirs feel or your employees feel if they know that the time is coming and they just don’t know what the plan is, They don’t know where they fit in. They don’t know if the business is going to be sold out from under them. They don’t know if you’re going to go out and buy another business. And and they thought that they were going to be the next CEO. But all of a sudden, there there are other people who are who are vying for for those positions. So you’ve got to conduct yourself with with transparency and honesty. I think that’s the very best advice that I could give to any business owner, no matter what sector they’re in, no matter what their company is.
Stone Payton: Well, I am so glad that I asked and I’m so glad that we captured that for the benefit of our listeners. And it’s helpful to me to, you know, my business partner and I, we own a pretty successful media company, and at some point we’re going to want to figure out a way to transition that to our studio partners or to our families. So thank you for that. All right. What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you? Tap into your work and start learning about these about these topics.
Monty Bruell: The best way to find out what we at Oakland Consulting can do for you is to go to our website, which is oakland. 0klyn consulting dot com. It’s not Oakland. Like in Oakland, California, it’s oakland. 0kly. N. And then my email is m brule m b r u e. L l at Oakland Consulting.
Stone Payton: Well, Monty, it has been an absolute delight having you on the show today, man. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for sharing your insight, your perspective, and keep up the good work, man.
Monty Bruell: Stone. I have really, really enjoyed it and look forward to hopefully getting together again.
Stone Payton: It is my pleasure. All right. Until next time, this is Stone Payton for our guest today, Monty Brule with Oakland Consulting and everyone here at the Business RadioX family saying we’ll see you in the fast lane.