Pat McDonald, CBI, M&AMI, FMAS, FIBBA, CM&AP, is a principal of Walden Businesses, Inc. – an M&A acquisitions company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Pat has been an Intermediary since 1989 and a member of the M&A Source and International Business Brokers Association since 1990. Pat received the CBI designation in 1992 and was awarded the Fellow of the IBBA (2002) and Fellow of the M&A Source (2014), the highest honors bestowed for members who have made sustained and significant contributions to the Associations. In 2005 she earned the M&AMI certification (Merger & Acquisition Master Intermediary), an elite certification in the M&A Source. In 2015 Pat earned the Certified M&A Professional (CMAP) certification through Kennesaw University, Coles College of Business/Executive Education Program. Pat is recognized locally and throughout the United States as a developer, author and approved instructor for M&A Source courses and IBBA University education courses. She was also responsible for developing and coordinating the Train the Trainer and Presentation Skills for the M&A Professional programs to certify instructors for the M&A Source and IBBA University.

Tell us about your pre-M&A career and how it led you to do this work?

In 1974, I started selling real estate in Florida because I had children at home and wanted a career that allowed me flexibility around their school activities. I loved it and did very well. In 1980, I wanted a bit more challenge and decided to branch into commercial real estate. At that time, it was a “man’s world” and very tough to compete in their arena. I branched out and took some time selling title insurance from 1984 to 1987 (also a man’s world in the 80’s). In 1988 I switched back to commercial real estate. I found it mentally challenging and I worked with a lot of banks finding land sites for commercial banking and savings and loans locations and with developers on office buildings and strip shopping centers. Once a site was purchased by the shopping center developers, I helped them lease out the spaces.

During this time, I would get calls from a lot of business owners. As I did not know the industry, I referred them to a VR Business Broker franchisee in our building. This was in 1989 and Florida required business brokers to be licensed real estate agents. One day when we were both taking the elevator the owner of VR said, “We need to go to lunch and talk as I want to make you an offer you can’t turn down.” He told me that he would pay me if I would come to work with him and teach his office how to sell commercial real estate. He also would teach me how to sell businesses. To me it was a “win-win” so I took him up on it. I fell in love with the industry of selling businesses.

In 1990, two other brokers from VR and I opened our own business brokerage firm. We joined the IBBA and subsequently the M&A Source. We went to as many conferences that we could and took all the courses offered to become even better at what we were doing.

What personal characteristics and strengths have supported your success in this industry?

I would say that four characteristics have helped me succeed – listening skills, persistence, drive, and confidence. Having come from the real estate sales industry, I had taken numerous sales courses that instilled the importance of listening and overcoming objections. Most importantly I learned how to close a deal. I also learned the business from the ground up through persistence. In my first six weeks of business brokerage, I visited over 1,000 businesses and dropped off my card. I started on Main Street deals but my personal drive to challenge myself led me to larger businesses. Lastly, I did what I had to do to exude confidence – from “fake it till you make it” all the way to learning, researching, and education.

What is your greatest M&A accomplishment?

As to my professional success, it is the many clients that were happy working with me and then referring other businesses. As to my work with the M&A Source, it is the excitement of helping our education courses become some of the best being offered in the industry.

Regarding the majority of your engagements, do you work as a team or do you handle things on your own?

I work independently on most of my clients. My son also works at Walden and sometimes we work on clients together as a team. Our whole office helps in bringing success to any engagement we bring onboard.

Do you just do M&A, or do you provide other services – valuations, consulting, etc.?

I also do valuations and consulting.

What is the biggest mistake you have made when working on a deal?

Not listening to my instinct when something doesn’t feel right. If there are too many “red flags” in a deal and it just doesn’t “smell/feel right.” Then shut the deal down if it is going to harm your client or your reputation.

What are the three most important qualities that you think a good M&A advisor needs to have?

  1. Keeping updated through continuing education so you are always on top of the best way to service your client.
  2. To listen to what your client is really telling you what they want to have happen and achieve.
  3. The ability to “think outside the box” in putting deals together.

What is the most interesting deal that you are working on today?

I’m working with a company in the touring industry. Today with the travel bans/restrictions in place it’s been interesting seeing how they are handling customers. We are in due diligence with a buyer who realizes that eventually things will turn around.

What do you get out of your membership at M&A Source?

I have to say that the mentoring I received from other associates in the IBBA and M&A Source are the reasons for my success. There is always great networking and fellowship with other members I get to see about twice a year (in normal circumstances). It’s almost like a “reunion” when we get together and catch up. But the biggest reward is what I have been able to learn to advance my knowledge in this industry and help me be a better professional in representing any client.

When I started selling businesses there were very few women in the business. The few women that were in our association helped me a lot however most of my mentors have been men. All were extremely helpful, sharing knowledge, forms, and answering questions. Of all the industries I’ve been in that were dominated by males, these two associations are the only ones where the men have treated me as an equal. They are the same today as when I started.

As a seasoned M&A advisor, what changes and trends do you see on the horizon that will impact on M&A?

That’s a good question. I think all of us must carefully think about which companies we want to work with, and how we work with them. We all are going to have to adjust to a new environment in buyer/seller meetings, maybe more virtual tours, and conferences. I do think when businesses can start opening again, we will see the economy turn back around.

What advice would you give to new people entering the profession? 

Get a strong educational foundation. If costs are an issue, there are lots of books to read, free webinars, workshops, etc. Go after companies to represent, either by cold calling, mailings, or knocking on doors when you can again. Network, network…build a good base of synergistic businesspeople who will think of you first if they want to sell or hear of someone wanting to sell. Many of my clients I have today are referred to me from my network of business “friends.”

Please tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with your M&A work.

Well, when I’m not handling clients I love to read. I also work in my garden currently getting ready to plant my yearly herbs and flowers. And when able to…I also travel. I was fortunate to go on a cruise last October to France. My family is very important to me and I love time with my children and grandchildren.