You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Mick Jagger 1968

By: John Hotson,
Business Transition Alliance Co-Founder

One of the simple pleasures of having some discretionary time over the last few weeks has been listening to the classic songs that came out of the 60s and 70s from my vinyl record collection.

The title and lyrics for this Rolling Stones timeless anthem were rumoured, 52 years ago, to refer to the government at the time. But they could just as well apply to the unsettled world we find ourselves in today.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

How Will Business Owners Get What They Want?

Owners who have been wanting to sell or step back from their business, have been particularly hard hit during this global turmoil and, as the song goes, must now deal with not being able to get what they want.

So what does the future hold for both sellers and purchasers of businesses who are trying to understand how the changing times have impacted business value?

I spoke with Colin Walker, Managing Director of Crosbie & Company, a well-respected M&A firm in Toronto, to get his perspective on how all of this uncertainty is impacting owners’ ability to sell their business. He said:

“M&A hates uncertainty. There has definitely been a shift from a seller’s to a buyer’s market. Valuations are down and will likely stay down for a while, and financing is more difficult from both the banks and private lenders.

This is causing a shift away from potentially interested financial buyers to strategic buyers, which is putting more importance on the art and science of negotiating an optimal value for owners through the M&A process.”

In other words the rules have changed. And owners are going to have to get a clear understanding on how they can reposition their business, not only for their own success, but in order to be more appealing to the next generation of owner.

This is Not What We Signed up For

As you read this, volumes are being written about how, as difficult as it may seem at the moment, the tough medicine that is currently being forced on us may be exactly the tonic that is necessary to fix a generation that has been driven by a relentless need to get more, go higher and move faster.

Our growth dependent culture has made us believe that we need to embed a level of ‘productive paranoia’ into our management team thinking in order to continuously improve on the previous year’s performance. Business value has historically been based on cash flow driven by predictable, if not exponential growth. The most extreme growth expectation being the 10x thinking espoused by tech sector entrepreneurs who are looking for opportunities that they can improve by a factor of 10 times.

What happens to our ability to project continued growth in a world that has been
turned upside down?

Don’t the Old Rules Apply Any More?

In revisiting the Stones classic it was like hearing the words for the first time. The really important part of Jagger’s prophecy is found in the second half of the lyrics – “if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need!

I was curious about how Mick’s 50 year-old message would relate to what business owners might need if, in fact this current environment isn’t giving them what they want. So I reached out to my friend and business colleague Melanie Russell, owner of Kalex Valuations, to find out what professional business valuators think will drive value in the future and how these unprecedented times may be impacting owners’ expectations regarding value.

Here’s what she said:

“The fundamentals will really be no different. Businesses will still be judged on:

  • How well you understand your business –I.E. how you make money
  • How clearly you can communicate your value
  • Sound, believable projections

But there will be the added requirement for owners to be able to provide various scenarios for how they will get out of and survive the impact of COVID-19.”

She went on to say that “the due diligence will go deeper and prospective purchasers will be asking tougher questions. What this all means for sellers is the earn-outs will be bigger, as a percentage of the sale price, and longer, due to the risk of the unknowns.

The bottom line for owners planning to exit – have a better plan, understand how your business may be impacted by recent events and be prepared to stick around longer after the sale.

You Can Get What You Need

The COVID-19 pandemic has unquestionably impacted every business. For some it has required a ramping up of activities to meet the unprecedented demand. For others it has meant that they have had to pause and adjust their operating approach to adapt to a new normal. And for many it has required a complete overhaul of their business in order to survive.

Wherever your business is on this transition spectrum, you now need to give serious consideration to how you prepare for – and compete in – whatever lies ahead.

At Business Transition Alliance we work with business owners who are committed to finding the right transition for themselves, whether that is to grow, exit or step back from the day-to-day operations and enjoy the rewards of owning their own business.

We’d be glad to talk to you about how we can help you. We provide a complimentary 17 Point diagnostic review of your business operations that will help get you started with what you need.

Contact us at

Special thanks to Carla Haddad, our researcher extraordinaire and social media guru, who has put together some interesting thoughts and perspectives of what that future value may look like. We hope you find the articles in this newsletter of interest.

About John Hotson:

John Hotson is a speaker, entrepreneur, writer and senior business advisor. John is a founding partner of the Business Transition Alliance and works hands-on with business owners to help them develop and implement effective strategies that increase the value and profitability of their business as they prepare to exit.


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