An Interview with M&A Source Member, Robert Latham
Robert Latham is the founder and President of Altapraem M&A Advisors. Prior to forming Altapraem, he was the Vice President and a top producing broker of the Houston office of Transworld Business Advisors. Bob has worked in a wide spectrum of industries including heavy manufacturing, petrochemical equipment, aerospace and defense, construction, gas transmission, plastics and commercial real estate brokerage and investment. Bob has a BS in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Columbia University Graduate School of Business. Demonstrating his commitment to excellence in his chosen profession, he is an active member of the International Business Brokers Association and the M&A Source and has also achieved the industry designations of Certified Business Intermediary and the more demanding M&A Master Intermediary.
Tell us about your pre-M&A career and how it led you to doing this work?
I suppose it started by getting a good educational foundation by combining an engineering degree with an MBA, from Texas A&M and Columbia, respectively. The first two decades of my career were spent in manufacturing, eventually running a couple of companies and doing some acquisition work as a principal. Toward the end of that period I spent several years looking for companies to buy and that was my first exposure to business brokers. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed by the people I met and came away with a low opinion of the industry. The next decade I spent in construction, having started my own high-end home building company. Through the real estate aspect of that business, my career morphed into brokerage of commercial real estate and then I joined the Houston office of Transworld, selling businesses and being the designated broker for real estate deals there for 8 years. Choosing to move from Houston to the Texas Hill Country presented the opportunity to start my own firm this January, Altapraem M&A Advisors, based in San Antonio.
What personal characteristics and strengths have supported your success in this industry?
The thing I like about this business is that you need to have and to use so many different skill sets to be effective, which I think is why so few people that try it stay in it. Certainly persistence, creative problem solving, patience, diplomacy, and leadership are the top ones that come to mind.
What is your greatest M&A accomplishment?
So far, getting this award, as 2021 was the best year of my entire career, not just in this industry. Consistently working my way into bigger, more complex deals and being smarter about which deals to take on helped make it happen.
With regard to the majority of your engagements, do you work as a team or do you handle things on your own?
I’ve been handling things on my own up to now. To get where I want to go financially, I’m moving to a team approach and have slowly begun adding staff that is focused on a small range of tasks so I, and any additional deal makers I bring on, can focus on getting clients and making deals.
Do you just do M&A or do you provide other services – valuations, consulting, etc.?
I’ve focused on deal making and will continue to do so. It’s a riskier approach than taking on steady income projects, but I love it way more than consulting.
What is the biggest mistake you have made when working on a deal?
Tough one, not for lack of mistakes though. Probably saying “yes” to the wrong clients. It’s tough, especially early on, to not take on a client. You need the money, and you probably lack the experience to spot a business that isn’t going to sell.
What are the three most important qualities that you think a good M&A advisor needs to have?
Not necessarily in this order:
- Analytical approach– quantitative and financial skills are a must, but also the ability to analyze a situation and see the cause and the solution.
- Persistence– Whether it’s pursuing engagements, trying to find buyers or trying to get a deal financed, you’re getting told “no” in so many different ways by so many different people. You just can’t give up.
- Optimism– It’s tough to be persistent if you’re not optimistic. You have to believe that in spite of the many roadblocks, you’ll find a way if you just stay at it and keep learning along the way.
What is your most interesting deal that you are working on today?
I’m really close to landing a client for a deal I’m confident I can get done. It will be my biggest yet and has lots of firsts for me and should really open some doors for me having that one as a tombstone.
How long have you been an M&A Source member and what do you get out of your membership?
I joined shortly after I started in the business and just renewed for my seventh year. I’ve always believed in being part of one’s industry associations. If you participate in them, you’ll be smarter, better and more professional at whatever you’re doing. The camaraderie at the meetings is good but the coursework has probably been the most beneficial for me so far. The knowledge gained gives me the confidence to know that what I’m doing and communicating is not only the norm but considered “best practice”.
As a seasoned M&A advisor, what changes and trends do you see on the horizon that will impact on M&A?
Technology was going to put real estate agents out of work, and while it’s forced some changes, agents are still a big part of the process. I think technology will continue to impact our business as well but similarly mainly through access to data of all kinds – comps, industries, players. However, what we do I think still has a bit of magic that’s hard to replace. Owners of these businesses still want a human being involved in this process. Also, as the expected swell of baby boomer owned businesses fully hits the market, it seems it would have to swing to more of a buyer’s market. But what do I know, my crystal ball broke decades ago!
What advice would you give to new people entering the profession?
Well of course, join M&A Source! Lay some groundwork for about a year before you completely jump in the pool’s deep end. Talk to as many successful advisors as possible, see if you really think you have the personality and combination of skills it takes to be successful. Join a firm before hanging out your own shingle.
Please tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with your M&A career?
I think my biggest accomplishment to date is my two sons. I couldn’t be prouder of how they’ve turned out both personally and professionally. The oldest is an investment banker with Lazard in their industrials group and the youngest is a commercial real estate broker with NAI in the industrial investments group and just crushing it. My dad was in manufacturing, running his own company for over 25 yrs so clearly there’s an industrial gene in our family. Its fun being able to talk shop with each of them. I know many parents do, but if everyone made it their business to make sure their kids turned out better than themselves, the world would be a better place. Bob’s other interests include automobile restoration, cooking, and flying, including being a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight and he once sailed across the Atlantic.