June 19, 2024

Acquisition Insights and Advice

Headshots of Dylan Crawford and Aaron Tippie Headshots of Dylan Crawford and Aaron Tippie

By Aaron Tippie, PE, Chief Acquisition Officer and Dylan Crawford, PLS, Sr. Director, Land

On March 1, 2024, Westwood announced the acquisition of northern California-based O’Dell Engineering. O’Dell’s President, Dylan Crawford, PLS, accounts his experiences from the initial exploration through the process and, finally, outcomes and advice for other teams looking to pursue acquisitions in an interview with Aaron Tippie, PE, Chief Acquisition Officer.

Aaron Tippie (AT): What were the key factors that led to your decision to sell the company, and what were your top priorities when evaluating potential partnership opportunities?

Dylan Crawford (DC): When we began, the acquisition process was exploratory. Our group of owners had different levels of interest. We were, however, united in our desire to implement a long-range transition plan that rewarded current owners and created opportunity for key staff. We also shared concerns about finding a firm with a good cultural fit that would properly value us. However, as we started to meet potential buyers, all these concerns were mitigated. Ultimately, we came to a consensus to move forward with the process when it became clear that partnering with a firm could lead to numerous new opportunities for our team and a genuine appreciation for the firm we’d worked so hard to build.

Throughout the process, our priorities included proper valuation of our organization, support for the continued growth of our service groups, and a thoughtful plan for our team to be fully integrated. We needed to find a company that would invest in us as much as we would invest in them.

When we met with Westwood, we valued their effort in the process and cultural fit, especially meeting in-person right away. We were excited about the opportunities the partnership could bring to our team and knew that it would expand our capabilities for our clients. Although we had natural concerns about employee buy-in and their potential reactions, ultimately, all had high confidence in our decision. They trusted we had the firm’s best interests in mind.

AT: Now that the integration process is underway, what synergies are you most enthusiastic about, and what are your hopes, aspirations, and expectations for the future partnership?

DC: We are excited about the additional resources to support our services and supporting Westwood’s geographic growth overall. Although we are early in the process and have details to finalize, there are many conversations between new team members across services, markets, and offices, and excitement about what is yet to come. Throughout these conversations, we appreciate the respect we have received from Westwood regarding what our team has built and how we contributed to the whole company. We feel like true partners.

In the future, I’d like to see us expand further in California, bolster growth in our current offices, and see many of our team members take on new challenges and new leadership roles throughout the company. We are happy to have joined a team with acquisition and geographic growth experience. We didn’t want to be anyone’s first experiment with mergers and acquisitions. Westwood proved their capabilities throughout the process and has a history of further growing successful businesses after the transaction.

AT: What advice do you have for other potential sellers and the acquisition process?

DC: First, do your research. Attend M&A conferences, ask questions, talk to buyers, sellers, and advisors. Network and have open dialogue with others who are active in the process. Learning from others helps to inform your decision-making.

During the due diligence phase, don’t be afraid to get and use help. Most business owners aren’t experts in law, tax, human resources, or IT. Bringing on advisors with M&A experience is key, as is including those members on your team who can help carry the load.

When thinking about your team and how they will integrate with the buyer’s team, don’t forget about administrative and marketing roles. Those people are key to how the business functions and need to be accounted for going forward. Make sure they feel just as appreciated as your project managers or technical experts.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of cultural alignment. This process is complicated and can feel invasive at times. The Westwood team shared our values, which helped us trust them during the entire process, mitigate the inevitable challenges, and emerge as great partners.

Originally published in the Zweig Letter.

Learn more about our Mergers & Acquisitions team.

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