The One Exit Tactic You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

By: Patrick Ungashick

Man Walking Towards Exit Goals

Selling your company to a strategic buyer…Private equity…ESOPs…IPOs…There seems to be a dizzying list of different ways to exit from your company. You have likely heard of most of them, and perhaps you are considering one versus another. Yet there might be one undervalued exit tactic that you have not heard of and need to know about. It is called a “non-control recap” in short vernacular (recap is an abbreviation of recapitalization). Here’s how it works and why it may help achieve your exit goals.

What is a Non-Control Recap?

Simply put, a non-control recap is selling a minority interest (non-controlling) portion of your company to an investor (recapitalization). Historically for mature companies, non-control investors were largely private equity groups (PEGs), but family offices are an emerging player in this market. Non-control recaps are an alternative to a full sale of the company, although a full sale can still be pursued at a later date.

Why Consider a Non-Control Recap?

This exit tactic offers business owners a number of important advantages, particularly in comparison to selling the entire company. If you are your company’s sole owner, you can gain significant liquidity by taking home cash from the partial sale while continuing as a partial owner and leader of the company. You can reduce personal risk, as you diversify your net worth by gaining cash and potentially reducing or eliminating personal guarantees with an additional equity partner involved. Non-control investors prefer a passive role in the company, leaving you in control of day to day operations and decisions. With the right investor, you gain a valuable strategic ally in growing the company. Non-control investors may bring strategic opportunities to the company that were previously not available, such as opening new markets, introductions to prospective clients, or perhaps identifying and assisting with acquisitions for growth. Non-control investors typically require minority representation on your board, bringing experienced leaders to assist the company to its next level of growth. Finally, you can remain the majority owner of the company until a later date, at which point you may choose to sell the entire company at your full and final exit, gaining another round of personal liquidity.  

What If You Have Partners?

If you are not the company’s sole owner but have partners, the advantages of a non-control recap include all of the above, plus flexibility to customize the investment to the needs of individual co-owners. The level of liquidity can be tailored such that each co-owner can decide to sell some to all of his or her interest. The ongoing roles can be customized for each owner as well, permitting some to leave at closing and others to continue working in the company. A non-control recap can also be the vehicle for key management to own a portion of the company going forward, as a retention and incentivization strategy and/or as a stepping stone toward a future full sale of the company to the next generation of employee-owners.

Is There a Catch?

Non-control recaps are not for every owner or every company. Investors look for companies that are profitable, offer strong growth potential, and have capable leadership. While a minority investor remains hands-off mainly in the day to day operations, non-control investors will require supermajority rights on issues like selling the entire company or raising additional capital or debt. Another point to consider: the non-control sale may receive a lower valuation multiple than what might be achieved with a full sale, reflecting the investor’s minority position. However, this potential disadvantage is offset with the opportunity to pocket some liquidity now and retain ownership for the full sale at a later date–hopefully at a higher total valuation after having grown the company to the next level.

Non-control recaps may not be the right tool for every business owner, but they offer compelling advantages that should be considered prior to deciding to sell the entire company. To learn more, review our webinar on this topic called “Cashing Out Without Walking Out” or contact us to discuss your individual situation.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2018 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

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