Picking the winners of the M&A Mid-Market Awards is always a challenge. For 2012 and 2013, the tough part was selecting companies and individuals who prevailed when dealmaking was down. But for 2014, the trick will be to identify those who outperformed in an up year for middle-market M&A. You can help us determine the winners by responding to our call for nominations, due Jan. 31, 2015. Click here for the online nomination form.

The M&A Mid-Market Awards honor the leading dealmakers and deals that set the standard for transactions in the middle market in the previous year. To determine the winners, Mergers & Acquisitions considers a variety of factors. We look for companies and individuals who overcame the challenges the year brought, embodied the trends of the period and took their businesses to the next level. (For a list of past winners, see related graphic.)

Market leadership and performance are important, but league tables aren't everything. Growth counts for a lot, especially when it outpaces peers and the overall industry. Innovation also counts. We value companies that changed the M&A landscape, ventured into new territories and transformed their businesses. Thought leadership in the industry is also relevant.

A great example of what we look for can be found in the $700 million acquisition by Hormel Foods Corp. (NYSE: HRL) of the popular Skippy peanut butter brand from Unilever plc (NYSE: UL), which won our award for 2013 Deal of the Year. The transaction allowed Hormel to continue growing in important new markets, specifically health-conscious consumers and international customers, especially in China. These areas of expansion aren't significant just to Hormel but to the whole middle market.

Another model winner is GTCR LLC, which won our 2013 Private Equity Firm of the Year award. The 30-year old Chicago firm has been refining the Leaders Strategy, which involves teaming up with an experienced management leader to develop through acquisitions an industry-leading company in a sub-sector of the financial services/technology, health care and information services/technology industries. The approach paid off well in 2013, with the firm's successful sales to strategic buyers, the creation of new companies and with the raising of a new fund, the firm's biggest ever.

To be eligible for the awards, deals must: be valued at or below roughly $1 billion; involve a U.S.-based company as either buyer or seller; and have been completed by Dec. 31, 2014.

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