Although M&A was down in 2013, Chicago investment bank Lincoln International LLC had a great year, completing 130 transactions, an increase from 117 the previous year. The company also expanded internationally in China, Europe and South America. Creating a global presence is important because it makes the firm appealing to clients, especially those that want to work on cross-border deals, according to chairman Jim Lawson (for video, see below or click here.)
"In selling companies, our clients want to hire the firm that can get the best price and terms for them. Often the best offer is from a foreign acquirer that has a strategic interest," Lawson says. "In buying companies, our clients often feel they have enough knowledge to make acquisitions in their own country, but need an advisor on cross border deals."
In January, Lincoln opened an office in Beijing. "We actually had been looking at China for almost a decade," Lawson reports. Lincoln scoped out the area through a relationship with China Everbright that started in 2006.
Moving carefully is one of the firm's trademarks, Lawson explains. "We tend to do a bit of 'ready, aim, aim, aim, fire.'"
In addition to Asia, Lincoln expanded in Europe and South America, acquiring Milan, Italy-based Rondelli Advisers and the financial advisory division of Sao Paolo, Brazil-based private equity firm Stratus Group.
"We had been talking with Rondelli since 2008," Lawson says. The two firms had referred business to each other over the years. "We feel it's a team we work with well, and it is a team that fits with our culture and our strategy," Lawson says.
Lincoln already had a presence in Sao Paolo, but the acquisition of the Stratus unit allowed the firm, which started the Brazilian office with two people, to grow.
"Our strategy of being in the top 10 global economies in 2013 was achieved, so that was a big step for us," Lawson says. Lincoln, which has been around since 1999, has been able to double its size every five years. The firm expects its geographic expansion will allow it to continue to operate in a world with a significant amount of cross-border M&A.
Lincoln worked on a number of notable deals in 2013, including the sale of Utility Services Associates Inc.-which provides electrical services through C.W. Wright Construction Co. Inc., Booth & Associates Inc. and Coastal Power & Electric Inc. to energy-focused private equity firm First Reserve in September. The firm also worked on the sale of Whalen Furniture Manufacturing Inc. to Li & Fund Ltd., which is based in Hong Kong.
The firm also handled Watchfire's sale to the Jordan Co. Initially, amid a large group of other bids, Jordan's offer was the lowest, Lawson says. Lincoln was able to convince the seller to allow Jordan to stay in the bidding process and arrange a management meeting, which led Jordan to "continually increase their value throughout the process" and close the deal within two weeks of the initial offer.
Looking forward, Lincoln's focus will be on growing the firm's market share and making sure the entire company is integrated, according to Lawson. After that, the firm will "probably then fill in some of the geographies that are growing in importance," including Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East - specifically Singapore, South Africa and Dubai, Lawson says.