A look inside the buyout of a 48-year-old IR firm
Just shy of its 50th birthday, three partners at strategic communications company KCSA bought out the last remaining family owner: Jeff Corbin – or the C in KCSA. Here, Todd Fromer, Jeffrey Goldberger and Lewis Goldberg tell IR Magazine about what they learned as they bought out the firm where they have each worked for more than a decade.
The buyout isn’t actually recent, explains Goldberg. In fact, it was completed back in December 2015 but the company’s new owners are only now able to really talk about it. Corbin, they explain, was not only the son of founder Herb Corbin, but he had also served as CEO of what was seen as a family-run firm (despite having non-family partners) for 10 years.
‘You take a 48-year-old family business that has made it through every up and down in the market and is one of the few robust, independently owned firms still around, and less than 18 months later, you have three [non-family] partners,’ says Goldberger.
What was interesting in the buyout process, he adds, was thinking about ‘how you recast a very established firm, how you take a view of yourself from a historical perspective, a view of today and a view of what you want to be going forward.’
So was it tricky explaining the deal to clients? ‘It was a non-traditional transition,’ explains Fromer. Firstly, KCSA had been ‘incubating’ a start-up originally called theIRapp, and now known as APPrise Mobile, which Corbin now leads. ‘It was a very, very easy negotiation,’ says Fromer, ‘and we were chomping at the bit to forge our own futures’.
Another aspect that smoothed the transition is the fact that this was insiders buying out a company they had been with for a very long time, so each of the three new owners already had well-established relationships with KCSA’s clients. Fromer – the longest-serving member of the partners – celebrates his 21st year at the firm in 2017.
The tricky bit, it turns out, came after the deal was sealed. Once the buyout was completed, ‘we sat down and said, Look gentleman, it’s our business now,’ recalls Fromer. ‘And we were like, Now what?’.
They looked at challenges, at what they wanted from new and existing talent, and what they could offer that was unique in the industry. ‘I think we have accomplished that today,’ says Fromer. ‘When you look at KCSA, we are a firm that is knee-deep in investor relations, public relations and social media.’ It’s a three-pronged approach for what he jokingly describes as a firm now run by ‘a three-headed monster’.
This process of sitting down and determining what it was they wanted KCSA to be is where the biggest lessons were learned, says Goldberger – and where IROs can learn most from the trio’s buyout experience. ‘Our advice would be to determine what you do well, to determine what your clients actually need,’ he says. ‘I think the IR industry is changing; we are not using the words investor relations as much anymore, we are calling it shareholder communications because we think it is a broader way of thinking about the business.’
Coming soon: KCSA on the benefits of social media for small-cap IR