If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Buy ‘Em Out

A gleeful businessman with a suitcase full of money.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

It’s not an uncommon occurrence: two companies duking it out in the marketplace, their battle only ending when one buys out the other. Whether it’s GoDaddy buying up European rivals to expand its reach or Billtrust taking its competition, Invoice Connection, out of the game to do away with constant low ball pricing scares, there are plenty of reasons why a company might choose to buy out a rival.

Of course, ideally, the situation is more of an amicable, strategic merger. San Francisco investment banker Thom Weisel is no stranger to this sort of development: his Montgomery Securities was sold to NationsBank in 1997, and in April of 2010, Stifel Financial purchased Thomas Weisel Group.

Montgomery Securities, a privately held investment bank that focused on lucrative IPOs of high tech companies, ultimately became a subsidiary of NationsBank called NationsBanc Montgomery Securities Inc. Weisel continued to serve as the unit’s chairman. This came after Weisel announced several months earlier that Montgomery was looking for strategic partners. So rather than a foundation of anger and distrust, this deal was made based on a desire for compromise.

“The combination of our two companies is a great fit and will allow us to reach our goal of providing one-stop shopping to our clients,” Weisel said at the time.

As for Stifel’s acquisition of Thomas Weisel Partners, the all-stock transaction, involving more than $300 million, definitely sweetened the deal. And while Stifel did basically buy Thomas Weisel Partners out, Stifel made the purchased investment bank a fairly autonomous subsidiary with Weisel himself a co-chairman of the board.

Unfortunately, not all buyouts are this smooth. Flint Lane’s Billtrust, an electronic and paper billing service aimed at plumbing, electrical, and lumber supply wholesalers, suffered from years of bitter rivalry with Invoice Connection, a rival company who consistently went after Billtrust’s clients by offering much lower prices.

Still, Lane wasn’t going to let the simmering animosity affect his business decisions. He met with Invoice Connection co-founder Earl Beutler, and on June 6, 2011, the two companies signed a letter of intent for Billtrust to buy out Invoice Connection. The deal closed in September of that year.

The world of mergers and acquisitions is, at least in theory, a realm of utmost professionalism. Companies make decisions about expanding, partnering, and buying based on the market and what’s best for each individual business. But there’s always the cutthroat underbelly, where sometimes the best solution to the problem of competition is to…well, buy it out. No matter what unpleasantness may (or may not) occur during the actual handoff, the positive outcomes are usually worth it: the subsequently formed businesses are stronger and can offer their clients more services and opportunities.

So in the end, having a rival might not be such a bad thing after all.

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