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You’ve lived the American dream, starting your own business from the ground up, building it into a thriving successful enterprise that has supported your family, provided a needed product or service and created jobs.

Now that it’s time to retire, what do you do with the business?

You have a number of options. Many business owners sell to current key employees. Others sell to a competing or complementary company.

Regardless of the type of sale, many owners of “middle market” companies hire the services of an investment bank to facilitate a sale for the best price and on the best terms. There is no precise definition of a middle market company but it’s generally considered to be a business generating between $5 million and $1 billion in revenue per year.

One of the most important things an investment bank will do is establish a value for the business. Setting the right price means selling it quickly without leaving money on the table.

When entering into an agreement with one of the investment banks serving this sector, it is important to understand how it goes about its job and how it will analyze and help you establish a fair value for your business.

Industry experts say personalities will be very important. A seller needs to be comfortable with the bank’s representatives and confident they will be able to deliver.

There are many investment banks but we’re going to review 5 that may be ideally suited to help Baby Boomer business owners transition to retirement. They are Houlihan Lokey, Harris Williams, Baird, William Blair and Lazard Middle Market.

Houlihan Lokey

Houlihan Lokey, Inc., based in Los Angeles and founded in 1972, is one of the largest privately owned investment banks in the world. Its wide-ranging business includes advising large public, as well as closely held companies. It also provides services to institutions and government entities.

PhotoIt specializes in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), capital markets, restructuring, fairness opinions and valuations.

Houlihan Lokey is known for assembling smart, talented teams. Its rigorous hiring practice tries to identify and employ quantitative thinkers who can devise creative solutions to clients’ problems.

Global in its reach, Houlihan Lokey has more offices than you might expect for a middle market bank – throughout the U.S. as well as Europe and Asia. Its U.S. presence is evenly spread across the country.

Most banks have specialties and Houlihan Lokey is highly experienced dealing with aerospace and defense, financial services, business services, energy, consumer food and retail, health care, media and telecommunications, real estate, hospitality, technology and transportation.

Our experts say Houlihan Lokey is a good choice for owners of privately held or publicly traded companies, owners of family businesses, executives at any middle market business and representatives at private equity firms.

Harris Williams

Harris Williams was founded in 1991 by 2 Harvard Business School graduates and since 2005, has operated as a subsidiary of PNC Financial Services. Based in Richmond, Va., the firm has offices in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis, London and Frankfurt.

From the beginning the company built its reputation on its expertise in leveraged buyout (LBO) services. Because of this it has extensive connections to private equity sponsors.

PhotoHarris Williams takes a team approach, setting up industry groups that focus on aerospace, defense and government, building products and materials, business services, consumer, energy and power, health care and life sciences, industrials, specialty distribution, technology, media and telecom and transportation and logistics.

In one of its recent transactions, Harris Williams advised Health & Safety Institute, Inc. (HIS) on its sale to The Riverside Company. The firm deployed 2 of its teams to guide the transaction – Todd Morris, Andy Dion and Andrew Hewlett of the Healthcare & Life Sciences Group and Mike Wilkins of Harris Williams’ Technology, Media & Telecom Group.

"We are thrilled to have represented HSI’s shareholders in this transaction,” Morris said. HSI’s history of innovation and outstanding product quality, customer service and dedication to helping save lives has positioned it for strong continued growth and success in partnership with Riverside."

“HSI is well positioned to capitalize on training industry trends driving demand for its online and mobile products and services,” Wilkins said. "We expect to see additional growth and consolidation in the broader education and training markets.”

Our experts suggest Harris Williams is a good fit for owners of both privately held and public companies, owners of family businesses, executives at any type of middle market business, representatives at private equity firms and family offices, and representatives of local governments and sovereigns.


Baird is a major global middle market investment bank with a wide array of talent and a broad focus. It provides advisory, financing and restructuring services to publicly traded corporations, privately held and entrepreneur-owned companies, and private equity firms through an interconnected and highly specialized international team.

PhotoFounded in 1919 as the securities department of First Wisconsin National Bank, the Milwaukee-based financial services firm today has offices on 3 continents, providing investment banking, capital markets, private equity, wealth management and asset management services to individuals, businesses, institutional investors and governments.

Baird’s primary middle market investment banking offerings and focus are in equity raises, M&A and public finance. One of its most recent M&A transactions was when it advised Bad Daddy’s International LLC on its acquisition by Good Times Restaurants Inc.

In 2007, Bad Daddy’s founders’ created an upscale burger concept with “simple foods prepared to high culinary standards.” Bad Daddy’s became known for its signature burgers, salads, appetizers and sandwiches paired with local craft microbrew beers and signature cocktails and has won many awards and accolades for its culinary creations.

Bad Daddy’s, based in Charlotte, N.C., consists of seven company-owned restaurants and six franchised / licensed restaurants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado.

Good Times Restaurants Inc. operates Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard, an upscale quick-service restaurant chain focused on fresh, high quality, all natural products, making it a good fit with Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar, a full service, “small box” better burger casual dining chain.

Baird also specializes in equity financing. It recently completed a $249 million refinancing of P&L Development’s existing debt. PLD is a company that manufactures, packages and distributes over-the-counter pharmaceutical products and health care goods.

Baird is often referred to a “one-stop  shop” investment bank because of the range of services it provides. Our experts say it is a good fit for many middle market business owners who can profit from Baird’s expertise.

William Blair

Founded in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, William Blair today is an employee-owned firm providing investment banking and other financial services from its Chicago base and offices in London, San Francisco, Tokyo, Liechtenstein and Zurich.

PhotoMuch like Baird, William Blair is thought of as a one-stop shop, whether a company is trying to raise equity or launch an initial public offering (IPO). It benefits from a stellar reputation among its peers, a result of rigorously protecting its brand.

The company has deep ties into the private equity community which can benefit both it and sellers hoping to be acquired by a private equity firm. Its strategic investment in BDA, another international investment bank, gives Blair special access to Asia, a significant source of investment dollars.

The investment bank’s focus is on consumer and retail, energy, financial services, health care, industrials, services and technology. Its advisory services include comprehensive sell- and buy-side advice for publicly traded and privately held companies. Its strength, the company says, is being able to identify the best transaction partners anywhere in the world, structure and negotiate transactions, and deliver the best outcomes for clients.

It can facilitate financing through equity capital markets or by providing access to private equity, leveraged finance and debt capital markets.

In early 2015 William Blair acted as the exclusive financial advisor to PowerPlan, Inc., a portfolio company of JMI Equity and TPG Growth, in connection with its sale to Thoma Bravo. The transaction closed in February.

Blair said it positioned PowerPlan as the only enterprise software vendor capable of helping asset-centric businesses such as utilities and oil and gas pipelines optimize financial performance of fixed assets.

“As the undisputed leader in a market with high barriers to entry and a strong growth profile, PowerPlan commanded strong interest from both private equity investors and strategic acquirers,” the bank said in a statement.

Our experts say William Blair is an ideal fit for privately held corporations, owners of publicly traded companies,, owners of family held businesses, executives at any type of middle market business,, representatives at private equity firms and family offices.

Lazard Middle Market

PhotoLazard Middle Market (Lazard MM) is the middle market arm of the elite boutique investment bank Lazard, founded in 1848. Lazard Middle Market focuses primarily on putting together deals in the U.S. It. has offices in Chicago, Charlotte, Houston, Minneapolis and New York.

Lazard Middle Market is highly active in the area of M&A, making it a good choice for middle market firms that would like to be acquired. Because the bank works closely with private equity groups it is ideally placed to put buyers together with sellers.

Like other banks, Lazard Middle Market has its areas of specialty: business services, education services and technology, financial services, food and consumer, healthcare and industrials. Senior bankers focus on specific industries, allowing them to use their insight into and understanding of the various business sector ds and key players.

The bank tailors its services to meet the unique needs of mid-sized companies. It is able to provide the sophisticated services, global perspective and broad resources of Lazard, its parent.

Our experts believe Lazard Middle Market is a good fit for owners of both privately held and publicly traded companies and executives at any type of middle market business. It could be especially advantageous for companies in the higher end of the middle market.  

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