If you’re thinking of submitting a nomination for Mergers & Acquisitions’ M&A Mid-Market Awards, the best guide of what we look for can be found in past years. (See related chart.) Here are a few past winners that stand out:

Originating most of the deals closed by lower middle-market firm Huron Capital Partners, partner Gretchen Perkins excelled in an era of increased competition among private equity firms, earning her the award for 2014 Dealmaker of the Year.

As the PE asset class has matured over three decades, deal sourcing has become more important than ever, and Perkins' ubiquitous coverage of the lower middle-market landscape over her seven-year tenure at the firm has made her a rising star throughout the industry.

Another great example of what we look for can be found in HGGC, which won Private Equity Firm of the Year for 2014. By raising a successful new fund, the firm founded in 2007 as Huntsman Gay Global Capital proved it is thriving, despite a change in leadership and a new company name. The investors the firm was named for - Jon Huntsman Sr., chairman of chemical maker Huntsman Corp. (NYSE: HUN), and Robert Gay, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - have no involvement in the new fund. The quartet running HGGC today includes three of the original founders, CEO Rich Lawson, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young and former Bain Capital executive Greg Benson, plus former Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) chief financial officer Gary Crittenden. Proving the team's prowess, the firm has already returned $1.2 billion to investors from its inaugural $1.1 billion fund, which closed in 2009 and still has remaining investments to sell. As the private equity industry matures, smart succession plans will prove crucial for many firms, and HGGC will serve as a model for how to make a smooth transition.

More examples can be found in strategic buyers. Hormel Foods Corp. (NYSE: HRL) won the 2013 Deal of the Year for the $700 million purchase of the popular Skippy peanut butter brand from Unilever plc (NYSE: UL). And Starbucks Corp. (Nasdaq: SBUX) won the 2012 Deal of the Year for its $620 million acquisition of Teavana Holdings Inc. 

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