Mark Miller tells us 3 key lessons to learn when selling your business.
Your business has attracted a potential investor who wants to acquire your company. It’s an exciting proposition, but how do you know if you’re making the right decision?
According to Mark Miller, life-long entrepreneur and veteran television pro who said ‘yes’ and sold to a suitor — it’s about more than money. Miller has produced some incredibly successful hit TV shows that we’ve all watched and loved. So why would he sell the company he’s worked so hard at building up from scratch?
“When you sell the company you created, you’re selling a piece of yourself,” says Miller. “So don’t get blinded by money – stay true to what’s important to you.
“The key is to look beyond the bottom line, and think about three things: trust, respect and shared cultural values.”
If you’re in the same boat and faced with a difficult decision whether to sell or hold onto your company, these words of wisdom can guide you on a smoother journey.
The birth of a hit television production company
Miller has been making television for decades, but we all start somewhere.
He first made a name for himself as a reporter, then segued into making documentaries for Discovery Channel — and from there, Miller hasn’t looked back.
After working on his own for a number of years, Miller realized that to grow his business he needed a partner. And with that in mind, he founded Great Pacific Television in 2010 with Blair Reekie.
“Blair and I realized we were a great fit,” explains Miller. “I knew a lot about factual television and ‘men’s TV’ and Blair had a lot of successful lifestyle shows under his belt. We complimented each other really well in terms of our skills and experience. Blair had been running a production company called The Eyes, and I’d worked with him a lot and gotten to know him well. So there was a real sense of mutual respect and trust there.”
Working from an office above an auto repair shop in Burnaby, BC, the two quickly built an impressive slate of shows like Highway Thru Hell and Airshow on Discovery, The Mistress on Slice and Game of Homes on W Network. They had acquired some of The Eyes’ assets to help get them started, and then worked hard to find new business.
“We were doing great, and always had a couple of series on the go – me bringing in the factual shows and Blair bringing in the lifestyle shows,” says Miller.
Three years in, with dozens of people working for them, the company was a growing competitor with a promising future. It was at that point Miller and Reekie found themselves in a situation familiar to many small business owners. On the cusp of even greater growth, they needed capital to reach the next level.
Finding financing and selling the company
“We had self-financed all of our shows up to that point,” explains Miller, “but there’s only so many mortgages you can take out. So we had a choice: go to the banks or bring in an investor.”
So in 2014 they sold Great Pacific to Thunderbird, a large Vancouver-based production company. Miller says he and Reekie both thought long and hard about it, and are incredibly happy with the decision they made.
“Thunderbird was the right fit for us for a number of reasons. They were interested in building a factual division, and realized it made more sense for them to buy a growing company than to launch their own. We needed access to greater capital in order to grow.”
As Miller points out, acquisitions built on this kind of mutual need can offer big payoffs.
“Being acquired can give a growing company the tools and capital needed to reach their full potential sooner than they could on their own,” explains Miller. “It increases the company’s credibility in the marketplace, and the buyer can introduce them to new clients operating at a level they didn’t have access to before. And for the buyer – well, the benefits are obvious: they’re getting a growing company that they can help turn into an even greater success.”
But for Miller, the one factor that mattered most wasn’t money. It was shared values.
Under Thunderbird, Miller still remains at the helm of Great Pacific Media, and these shared can make all the difference when it comes to building a solid working relationship.
“When you sell your company, you have to ask yourself, ‘How will your corporate culture change? How will this affect your employees? Will the people who buy you dictate how you do your job?’”
That’s a critical set of questions for founders to ask themselves – and their corporate suitors – before signing any deal. After all, the success of a small company is often rooted in the style and culture set by its owners. So if a big company comes in and wants to make too many changes, that could ruin a good thing.
Fortunately for Miller and Reekie, they had nothing to fear.
“We knew Thunderbird well, and we could trust them. Blair had worked at The Eyes with Tim Gamble, the CEO of Thunderbird, and they had a fantastic relationship. True to their word, they have left us to run our part of the business the way we need to, and we’ve found that our corporate styles really complement each other.”
Words of wisdom: Trust your instincts
For a business owner thinking of selling, Miller’s main advice is to trust your gut.
“If you’re worried about what to watch out for, or how they’re going to screw you over, then you shouldn’t be doing the deal. You can write in all the clauses you want, but at the end of the day you have to trust each other, respect each other and make sure you want the same thing.”
Miller also encourages people to think about why they’re selling, and how it will affect you.
“Don’t do it if it will be a big change for you, and if it won’t let you do what you love to do. Don’t do it just to cash out. If you do it wrong, you might find that it changes your job for the negative — and that could leave you feeling very disappointed and very lonely within your own company.”
Learn from other impressive business owners in the Business Stories section.