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Member Interview: Russell Cohen, M&AMI, CBI, BCI, CM&AI, CM&AP

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

My entire career has been in successful sales to business owners.
I started working for Lanier Worldwide selling copiers and fax machines from 1992-1995. I achieved the highest level- earning President’s club in 1995. My second job was with an employee leasing company, Staff Leasing. In 1998, I was the #1 representative in the United States. These jobs gave me a foundation that I still work with today in customer service and client communication.

I was then looking for a sales career that would allow me to grow personally and professionally. Business brokerage seemed like a great industry which would allow me to become more involved in changing people’s lives while learning about different industries. I joined Transworld Business Advisors in 1999 and worked at Transworld until 2013. At that point in my career, it was time to feed my entrepreneurial spirit and become a franchise owner. I purchased a Murphy M & A franchise as a M & A advisor in 2013. Since 1999 I have sold over 675 businesses.

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

My business tag line is Experience – Integrity – Dedication.

  • Experience- I have 23 years and 75,000 hours of dealmaking experience.
  • Integrity- I set the proper expectations with the buyer and seller while being a true professional.
  • Dedication- I am a worker so I am available to my clients all hours in the week. Although I don’t like to work on the weekends, I do watch my phone and email 7 days a week.

What is your greatest M&A accomplishment?

Perhaps not my greatest accomplishment, but my first, so I will always consider it to be special. I sold an online real estate state licensing educational school to a publicly traded company. This was an interesting sale because it was not traditional for an M&A sale. This was a one-man online school who exploded his business in one year. The company that acquired it happened to be doing a roll-up in this online space and purchased this company. The seller stayed on after the sale and the business was sold to another large company. My client, after 15 years later, started another business in the industry and sold that one too.

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

Although half of my transactions are handled solely by me, I have set up an M&A back office in South Florida. I have partnered with Sunil Shenoy an investment banker to make sure that my M&A clients are as fully serviced as they would be with a larger company, even though we are a boutique M & A agency. My partner and I offer CIM writing, buyer research, financial modeling, and valuations. I want any client who trusts me to sell their company to feel like they have a plethora of resources behind them.

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

I had a seller that was treating me very poorly, calling at all hours to yell at me, speaking very condescending, never a nice word to say. I decided not to renew the client after two years of this behavior.

The client hired another broker and the new agent sold the business. I lost a $250,000 commission. I really regretted not setting better boundaries rather than letting the engagement go and wished I had more patience handling this difficult seller.

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

I made Integrity, Knowledge and Dedication my tagline because they are the most important three traits that I want to carry in my life and career.

Integrity– It is very important to me to always be seen as a person with integrity in my personal and professional world. I work hard to guide my clients in a way that I would want to be guided. I am handling the most important asset in their life and want them to see that I feel that’s a privilege.

Knowledge– I think it is very important to have knowledge as an M&A advisor. I will (hopefully) be in a board position at the M&A source, attend the conferences twice yearly and constantly update my knowledge to continue to educate myself regarding upcoming trends in the industry and stay current.

Dedication– I will do what it takes to sell your business. That is what people hire me to do and I have dedicated my career to helping accomplish this goal. Whether it is working late nights or early mornings, I want my sellers to feel they hired the right person to handle their exit from their career.

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

I am working on the largest engagement in my career- a niche manufacturing company that uses unique technology in the beauty industry. They have a four million $ EBITDA and we have expanded the market to look for world-wide acquirers.

The challenge was getting this assignment. Originally one spouse did not want to hire me, but I worked hard to build trust with the other spouse and eventually won them both over.

How long have you been an M&A Source member and what do you get out of your membership?

I joined M&A Source in 2017. The educational courses offered at the conferences has allowed me to transition from business brokerage to M&A. I have built many business connections with M&A Source members and continue to make this a priority. The education and relationships are priceless to me in this stage of my career.

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

I am very concerned that the economy will continue to worsen as we see higher inflation this upcoming year. I believe M & A deals will still continue but we might see the PEGs lower the threshold on EBITDA.

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

I wish when I entered the industry that I spent more time educating myself to enter the M&A deal market faster.

Earning your CBI and MA&MI a priority. The quicker this can be achieved the quicker you will be engaged in larger deals.

Attend the conferences to learn about the business from experts. You WILL learn something at each conference and from each person if you take the time.

This is a challenging business, but you are changing lives, and in return, your life will change too.

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

I have been married to Brooke Cohen since 1995. My son, Jared is 22 and is graduating from Carnegie Mellon this year. My daughter, Jamie, is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh.

I love investing in cryptocurrency space and I am an avid weekend golfer. I am the youngest of 8 children and learned my strong work ethic from my parents.

russell cohen headshotRussell Cohen, M&AMI, CBI, BCI, CM&AI, CM&AP, is a Murphy Business Sales M & A advisor/Franchise Owner with over 22 years of intermediary experience. He has sold more than 675+ businesses worth over $200,000,000 in sales. Russell was a 2022 Executive Club M&A Source award winner. He was the TOP DEAL MAKER for the State of Florida in 2019,2016, 2015, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005 and TOP DEAL MAKER in South Florida in 2021, 2018,2017,2014,2011, 2011 and 2008. Russell currently serves as Chairperson of the Member Resources Committee of the M&A Source and has been nominated to the Board for 2023.

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