SUCCESS IN SEARCH: SÉBASTIEN PERROUD COMPLETES NCA’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP THROUGH ACQUISITION PROGRAM IN A RECORD 7 MONTHS
We sat down with him to examine how his career path led him to where he is today and dove into some of the details of his search process. For more details on Sébastien Perroud’s acquisition, please read the full press release here.
Sébastien Perroud already boasted an impressive list of accomplishments when he joined NCA as a Searcher earlier this year, but as of October 2021, his list just got much, much bigger. His success is marked by some notable firsts: Sébastien is the first Searcher to officially complete NCA’s Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition program; he’s the first to complete the search process in a blazing record pace of only 7 months, and he’s the first to end with the acquisition of not just one company, but three. Read below to learn more about Sébastien’s journey, as he takes us back through the career highlights that led up to this current moment and explains some of the details of his search process in partnership with NCA.
CAREER PHASE ONE: THE EARLY DAYS
Sébastien Perroud’s career has taken him through a wide range of roles and high-tech SMEs in Switzerland, but it all really started when he was working as an engineer at the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM). He had developed small robots for his thesis in collaboration with CSEM while pursuing his diploma, and that technology ended up winning the 2007 Swiss Technology Award.
“Around that time I had started to question whether being an engineer was really the best choice for me,” explained Sébastien. “I already had the heart of a manager, in terms of the communication and leadership skills. I could understand what the customer wanted, translate that to the engineer who developed it, and then translate it back from the engineer to the customer again.”
Sébastien’s award-winning technology was acquired by a company in Switzerland, which incorporated Asyril SA to industrialize and market it, and they offered him a role on the team that same year. He seized the opportunity to shift positions and quickly transitioned into leading marketing and sales. In parallel, he undertook an Executive MBA in Innovation Management at the Bern University of Applied Sciences to broaden his management and financial skillset.
By 2012, he was ready for a change and joined NUM AG as Director of the Swiss branch office, which led to him managing various markets over the next three years across Europe, India, China, and the USA.
CAREER PHASE TWO: NEW INDUSTRIES, NEW INSIGHTS
In 2015, Sébastien began to branch out into new industries. He spent one year working in the watchmaking industry and then moved into the paper industry in 2016 as Division Director.
The time he spent in that role left a lasting impression, as he joined the company just as a management buyout was coming to a close, but when Sébastien’s old boss from NUM AG approached him about coming back in 2018, he realized he was ready to return to his roots.
“I learned a lot while working in the paper industry,” Sébastien explained, “but there were two main takeaways that really stayed with me: One was having first-hand experience when implementing a business plan after a management buyout, and especially learning what kinds of mistakes to avoid during that process.” He continued: “The other was realizing that I actually wanted to be back in my old industry. I was still passionate about machinery and automation, and while working in the paper industry had been a really good experience for me, it just didn’t take full advantage of my engineering background.”
CAREER PHASE THREE: RETURN TO MEM ROOTS
In 2018 Sébastien was offered a Managing Director role at NUM AG where he spearheaded sales, led ten worldwide subsidiaries, and opened new subsidiaries in India. “That was a great experience,” reflected Sébastien, “both on the business side and the human side. Culturally, India is very different from Europe, so it was interesting and a little crazy to open something over there and go through the whole incorporation process, the acquisition, hiring a managing director and staff, and everything that goes along with that.”
In 2019, Sébastien decided to pursue international management training through Zürich Kalaidos University to complement his growing professional responsibilities. He found himself in Silicon Valley as part of a course on entrepreneurship. The course covered the classic startup route to becoming an entrepreneur – something that had never appealed to Sébastien – but there was another part of the course about Search Funds. Suddenly, Sébastien knew exactly what he needed to do.
CAREER PHASE FOUR: ENTER THE SEARCH FUND
Learning about Search Funds was a revelation for Sébastien. “My whole career up until that point had been about positioning myself for the possibility of a management buyout, but that path is very time-consuming. In Switzerland, you need to be about 40 years old but not quite 50, because then you’re too old. So you have roughly a five-year window to make your move, and if you are not in the right place at the right time during that window, you’re basically out. It’s really dependent on luck. And once I learned about Search Funds, I decided to not bet on luck, but to take responsibility.”
A quick search of Swiss Search Funds led Sébastien straight to Novastone Capital Advisors, where the next stage of his career journey rapidly took shape. “I had my first interview within two weeks after contacting NCA, just before lockdown began,” explained Sébastien. “The one positive side of the lockdown was that because the economy was practically on hold, I suddenly had extra time, so I made the most of that time by working on my Business Case.”
Sébastien finished his Business Case in July, started fundraising with Co-Investors in September, and closed fundraising just before Christmas 2020. Then he resigned and readied himself to start his search, which officially kicked off in March 2021. By mid-October – a record pace in the Search Fund world – his search was done, and he had three companies lined up for acquisition: One in Switzerland, one in Portugal, and one in the USA. Why three companies? “Well, I didn’t actually plan to buy three companies when I started the search,” Sébastien said smiling. “What I was really hoping for was to find a company with revenues in the range of 20+ million and an international footprint.”
Sébastien had contacted roughly a hundred companies in Switzerland and Germany by sending out an introductory email that explained his project, who he was, and what he was trying to do. His transparent approach paid off: Sébastien had an impressive 90% response rate. He explained his search process: “Quite often, the response was something like, ‘I’m not willing to sell the company but you’re in the industry, so let’s have a coffee together.’ So we would have a meeting but just for networking and talking. That was great. And when business owners were interested, they would actually call me, not email me. And it was like an interview for the CEO role of the company.” If the interview stage went well, an in-person meeting at the company followed.
“It was very important to me to quickly have a first contact with the company,” Sébastien added. “You have to be comfortable from the beginning. The thought of spending years working for a company where I was not comfortable – whether that was with the people, the project, the location, the building, or whatever – was an absolute no-go for me. So even during the pandemic, I insisted on having an in-person meeting.”
CAREER STAGE FIVE: CLOSING THE DEAL
It is well known that Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition is not for the faint of heart, which is where NCA steps in, offering a wide range of services to support Searchers on their journey. For Sébastien, NCA’s sophisticated Co-Investor network of HNWIs and family offices was key. “NCA has a huge network of very interesting Co-Investors who are real entrepreneurs. I’m really happy about my Co-Investors,” he added, “because I know all of them understand the challenges of being the CEO of a company. They themselves have gone through the process of successfully running companies, so I know we see eye to eye.”
The second key strength NCA was able to offer Sébastien during his search was support from the M&A team. “The M&A team helped me gather and model preliminary information and financial information on the businesses within a short time frame,” Sébastien explained. “After just a few days they would come back to me and say, ‘the company is looking good,’ or ‘the company is not looking good,’ or they’d offer input or advice, for example, that I need to ask for more information about this, or be careful about that, and so on.”
While NCA also has a robust data team and offers marketing support, Sébastien was already deeply entrenched in his industry and relied primarily on his personal approach and network to connect with potential companies. “I always presented myself as an entrepreneur willing to buy a company with the support of NCA and my Co-Investors. But for searchers who are just starting out in a new industry, the data team and marketing support are certainly very, very helpful,” he added.
Sébastien knew his industry well, so right from the start he had strong resonance from his network when he announced he was looking to buy a company. Sébastien’s first lead in Switzerland was a good fit, with a great product, but there wasn’t a very large international footprint. “I’m in an industry where an international footprint is a must,” said Sébastien, “it’s a need because it’s an export business.” So Sébastien kept reviewing other potential companies as he continued his search, while another idea began to form in his mind.
Most of the companies Sébastien was considering only had one location, but he could see a lot of technical, commercial, and operational synergies. As he explored deeper, Sébastien proposed the idea of joining forces as a group. “I ended up with three companies that had a lot of synergies, so it made sense to explore the potential of joining forces.” He continued: “On top of that since they would not just be absorbed, each of the three managing directors and their teams would have the chance to shape the future of the group.”
Of course, no deal comes easy, and one of the biggest challenges of doing a three-for-one deal was ensuring everyone was on board with the timing. “Before even beginning due diligence I made sure all the business owners were aligned on the time frame,” explained Sébastien. “I told them I wanted to create the group and proposed that in the early stages of discussion with every business owner. I made sure everyone was aligned on the deadlines from the beginning.” That meant being upfront not only with the business owners, but also with their teams, the various advisors, lawyers, and Sébastien’s Co-Investors, who also needed to commit and be ready to close on the agreed-upon date.
“Usually with Search Funds, you only do one round of fundraising from your Co-Investors, so you propose one deal,” explained Sébastien. “I knew this limitation, but after discussing with NCA, I realized that it could be one deal with three companies if we bought all three companies at once. So that really pushed me to close all three companies within a 10-day time frame. It was all about alignment and clear communication about the objectives.”
ETA SUCCESS & FINAL WORDS
At the end of the day, Sébastien’s approach, which could be considered a “buy and build strategy,” paid off. “I don’t know if something like this has already been done in Search Funds,” he said, “but I’m really happy to be able to do this in a way where we were all together from the beginning. What’s great with this kind of buy and build strategy is that – if it’s well-executed, with carefully chosen companies – you can really take full advantage of senior teams to build a strong group. And when I say take full advantage, I mean we have plenty of synergies that can be used from day one, like possibilities to export the Swiss product in the US, export the US skills in Portugal, and so on.”
Transparency with everyone involved was also a key factor in Sébastien’s success. “I always bet on transparency,” he explained. “Transparency and being honest- that’s always the best way to do things. It helps avoid problems down the line and usually when people notice that you do what you say and say what you do, that gives you credibility and allows for people to trust you. That’s really how you earn people’s respect.”
When asked if he had any final words, Sébastien said it feels great to have successfully completed his search. With his deal featuring three times the usual number of moving parts, he certainly had his hands full as the deadline approached. “I went through a very, very demanding and exciting closing phase, which took much more energy than I had thought,” said Sébastien. “We were still negotiating the Sales and Purchase Agreements, but I also already had a foot in the door for my future role. And then I was also working with the Co-Investors at the same time because you have to explain the deal.”
A word of advice from Sébastien for future Searchers: “When you start the capital call, it’s the most exciting phase and you need to be convinced and willing to close it. It’s lots of 16-hour days,” Sébastien laughed, “and is full of ups and downs every day until the final signatures are done. But that’s what it means to become an Entrepreneur Through Acquisition, and it is more than worth it to go through that process.” He concluded: “I’m very, very happy, and I’m so proud to be where I am today and to have Co-Investors trusting me as we go along this path of shaping this incredible group. Now I’m looking forward to creating value as I start my job as the group CEO. It was and is just an amazing time.”