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ROGER’S CORNER: Powerhouse Profile in M&A, Brent Baxter, CEO of ACG and ACG’s DealMAX

Find and listen to Brent Baxter’s podcast episode at the following media links:

Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/episode/6MY7SvNmdx243JJJRCOpAJ?si=ZPTXLrXHTqm4sy21oExQBA&context=spotify%3Ashow%3A77ieA1Ju5AKNJAVBNb5ulJ

Apple Podcast:

https://podcasts.apple.com/ph/podcast/m-a-advisor-podcast/id1735703781?i=1000652288509

April 2024 is another milestone month for the M&A industry as the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) will be holding its annual DealMAX event from April 29 to May 1, 2024, at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas. DealMAX (previously known as InterGrowth) is ACG’s premier conference for middle-market M&A.

Let me segue a bit. The M&A Advisor has recently launched its M&A Advisor Podcast, which aims to shine a light on the many outstanding thought leaders, dealmakers, and restructuring experts in the industry. The podcast empowers young entrepreneurs and M&A professionals to stay informed about industry trends, including mergers and acquisitions, private equity, investment banking, and finance strategies. It provides valuable insights and actionable ideas to inspire them.

For this reason, we have invited ACG’s CEO, Brent Baxter to our show to get to know him better and showcase ACG’s 2024 DealMAX happening April 29 to May 1 in Las Vegas.

Let’s meet Brent, shall we?

Brent Baxter assumed office as CEO of ACG in July last year. The Association for Corporate Growth is an organization providing a global “community” for mergers and acquisitions and corporate growth professionals with a mission of driving middle-market growth.

Brent has more than 25 years of sell-side and buy-side advisory experience in middle-market M&A, closing more than 200 transactions with a combined value of more than $1 billion.

He also has a long and dedicated history supporting ACG in a volunteer capacity, serving in multiple positions on the ACG Board of Directors. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2023 DealMAX event.

Before ACG, Brent worked with Nolan & Associates, a leading boutique investment banking firm, that focuses on the middle market, where he has been managing director since 2019. Brent also spent 18 years as managing director of a different independent investment bank in St Louis. He has extensive experience growing private companies through acquisitions. He also served as CEO of a food manufacturing company that more than quadrupled its sales in eight years. He is currently on the boards of several privately held companies.

He earned his bachelor’s degree at Allegheny College and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business.

Let me share with you some highlights from my conversation with Brent.

  1. A Young Restaurateur finds his way to M&A
    • Brent grew up near Pittsburgh, in a formerly steel mill community of McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He finished his bachelor’s degree in Allegheny in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Brent initially thought about getting a PhD and then entering the teaching profession. But he started working as a busboy for a gourmet Italian restaurant. His first real career inflection was when he realized that his salary as a busboy was more than what a non-tenured track professor at a small college makes.
    • In his restaurant experience, he discovered he had a knack for business and enjoyed it so much that he started running the restaurant right after graduation. By age 21, Brent was managing the Italian restaurant in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He says he has learned a lot of life skills in the restaurant business.
    • Later in his early 20s, Brent joined a privately-held Pittsburgh company that operated grocery wholesaling and owned several small businesses. The company wanted to get into the restaurant business, so the CEO hired Brent to launch that channel. Brent recommended entering the restaurant industry by purchasing an existing restaurant chain, which became the intro to his M&A career. Brent was tasked with acquiring a 16-unit restaurant chain in Florida. Meanwhile, the new third-generation leaders of the company were making multiple acquisitions in the grocery area. The plan proved to be too aggressive and within nine months, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, interrupting Brent’s planned restaurant acquisition.
    • This paved the way for Brent’s roundabout way of going into M&A.
  2. Intro to Bankruptcy and Dealmaking
    • During his work with the company, Brent took operating responsibilities for running the non-grocery businesses such as food distribution, college food service, and some beauty and health businesses. These remained profitable while the larger grocery business was in financial trouble. The second largest creditor of the grocery business took managerial control of the company. This was one of Brent’s first encounters with restructuring. Here, he saw the realities of M&A such as downsizing and Brent found himself guiding the company through Chapter 11 reorganization at age 29. Brent had an M&A mentor who helped him through the complexities of the bankruptcy process: taking the business apart and then putting it back together. In the end, the company sold six to eight divisions.
    • But, out of the chaos, Brent came out with flying colors: going through the school of hard knocks and, at the same time, earning his executive MBA at the University of Pittsburgh.
    • In the mid 1980’s, the surviving parts of  Brent’s former company were integrated into Wettertau Foods and Brent was asked to run the company’s frozen bakery operations. The business supplied the core frozen bakery products for the emerging supermarket in-store bakery departments. Brent calls it a bit of accidental good luck since about this time, 25,000 supermarkets opened bakery sections, putting about 25,000 independent bakers out of business. Brent, however, was on the winning side of this equation since he supplied these new bakeries with a broad variety of frozen bakery products, becoming the largest supplier of these products to the North American supermarket industry. Wetterau was ultimately acquired by Minneapolis company Supervalue and after five years, was sold to Pillsbury, prompting Brent to leave the business.
  3. Investment Banking life begins at 40
    • At age 40, Brent accidentally transitioned to investment banking. After the bakery company, Brent had significant experience in profit and loss, high growth, bankruptcy, and M&A under his cap, and wanted to try something entrepreneurial. He was working with a broker and looking for a business to buy, which led to introductions to several investment banking firms. Elsewhere along his career path, he also advised Au Bon Pain, which is now Panera, on selling off a bakery manufacturing division.  The brushes with advisory work led him to start his boutique investment bank, later moving his practice to Nolan & Associates in 2019.
  4. The ACG journey
    • Brent attributes much of the success of his investment banking career to ACG, highlighting the role it played in connecting him with clients. He emphasizes that 75-80% of his clients came through relationships built within ACG and its referral system. This experience reinforces his belief in the value of trade professional associations for expanding networks and securing deals.
    • Brent has come a long way from being a member at ACG. He became treasurer and later chairman of the board. He was part of ACG’s executive committee of the global board for six years.
    • Brent describes ACG’s membership as diverse and nuanced. ACG has a significant constituency in middle-market private equity, with about 60-70% market share among that segment. ACG also counts a large number of independent sponsors, family offices, and corporate acquirers as members. One part of ACG focuses on dealmaking, and another on education, but the whole referral system is the biggest draw.
    • Brent loved his career in M&A and investment banking for the opportunity to build close relationships with founders and sellers. However, these connections ended once the deal closed. This transactional nature contrasted with his experience at ACG, where relationships were neither fleeting nor built solely on business deals. This enduring sense of community is why ACG holds such importance in his life. There he’s actively built a vast network of professional friends and colleagues he respects in the industry.
  5. Life Quotes from Brent Baxter, CEO of ACG
    • Brent talks about the rise of private capital. He says, “Over 25 odd years, the number of public companies, private equity firms, related family offices, and independent sponsors has shrunk by half. In turn, private capital’s involvement in middle-market M&A activity has skyrocketed, leaping from 10% to a third of all deals. While the pace of this dramatic shift may slow down, private capital will undoubtedly remain a robust source of exits and capital for middle-market companies to grow. Mergers and acquisitions will always be a fundamental business strategy, especially when buying proves more efficient than building. Interestingly, in retrospect, our strategic acquirer communities seem surprised by private equity’s recent deal-winning dominance.”
    • He continues, “The middle-market private capital industry is experiencing a boom. Think about it: Trillions of dollars are readily available through private equity, debt funds, banks, and strategic acquirers all focused on acquiring companies. This is undoubtedly advantageous for sellers looking to exit the market or those with growing businesses needing capital. The amount of capital solutions available in the middle market is demonstrably stronger than ever before. This abundance of capital represents a positive long-term trend for our industry.”
    • Brent relays a motto from ACG’s Dallas chapter: “Relationships are the deal.” That’s the gist of it, Brent says, “Relationships don’t just happen by accident. Early in a career, a common pitfall is getting chained to your desk. This can happen to young professionals such as analysts, attorneys, accountants, etc. To prove yourself, you might end up working harder than your colleagues. People often neglect to build a network early in their careers, only to realize later how important those connections are. Early in my career, I was fortunate to have implemented a disciplined approach to time management. I allocated specific time for networking and meeting new people. This investment in building relationships proved very beneficial for me.”
    • Brent reminds young M&A professionals, “Being an active listener is far more important than being a good talker for building connections.”
  6. An Open Invitation to ACG’s 2024 DealMAX
    • Brent Baxter, CEO of ACG’s DealMAX invites all M&A professionals seeking middle-market growth to come over and join the summit. He said, “Engaging with ACG is an invaluable investment. The time you spend will be rewarded, just like the saying goes, “you reap what you sow.”

My conversation with Brent Baxter, CEO of ACG and ACG’s DealMAX, has been a treasure trove! Brent’s career journey from his early days to his current success, has been nothing short of impressive. Not only did I learn a lot, but I also gained a much deeper understanding of ACG and ACG’s DealMAX event. This has been a special episode for The M&A Advisor, and I’m sure our listeners and readers alike will get as much insight out of it as I did.

Join our next event- the 2024 Leadership in Dealmaking Summit, featuring the 15th Annual International M&A Awards and the 15th Annual Emerging Leaders Awards in New York, NY on September 24 and 25, 2024. Gear up for this, folks!

HURRY! Save a seat today!

If you would like to register, please visit our website at www.maadvisor.com.  If you want to know more about registrations and tickets to this event or our other events, please email us at events@maadvisor.com or call +1 (212) 951-1550.

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Find and listen to Brent Baxter’s podcast episode at the following media links:

Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/episode/6MY7SvNmdx243JJJRCOpAJ?si=ZPTXLrXHTqm4sy21oExQBA&context=spotify%3Ashow%3A77ieA1Ju5AKNJAVBNb5ulJ

Apple Podcast:

https://podcasts.apple.com/ph/podcast/m-a-advisor-podcast/id1735703781?i=1000652288509

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