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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 19, 2019 2 months ago

In business sale, owner finds perfect match

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An entrepreneur who put a premium on being nimble to grow his business took the same strategy with an exit plan. The results? A pleasant surprise. 
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Venice commercial kitchen entrepreneur C.J. Fishman was a rather unmotivated seller when he met engineering executive Bob Daly, who was as motivated to buy the business as Fishman was not to sell it.

Yet the pair — through a shared vision of how to run a company, particularly a find-a-way to yes ethos — soon came to a best of both worlds deal: Fishman sold the company, Fishman & Associates, and agreed to stay on to handle sales and consulting while Daly got to have his own company, a lifelong pursuit.

The courtship and marriage highlights important lessons for any entrepreneur, most notably to always have a clear and unbiased financial value of your company, no matter where you on the exit strategy path. And on the buy side, a key lesson is to be relentless when you see what you want.

One more lesson? Dump egos. Fishman, for example, willingly traded his CEO office for a desk on the floor with other employees. Daly moved into the CEO office soon after the acquisition — financial terms weren’t disclosed — closed in September. “In any negotiation, if you leave egos at the door, you can overcome any challenges,” Fishman says. “It’s when egos get in the way is when you have a problem.”

Likewise, Daly, who most recently oversaw engineering and operations for miniaturized spectrometer manufacturer Ocean Optics, in the firm’s Winter Haven plant, didn’t buy the company, he says, “to get my name in lights.”

‘I always wanted to own my own business. Early in my career I had all the ambition, but no money and no experience.’ Bob Daly, Fishman & Associates

Fishman has run Fishman & Associates, one of the leading commercial kitchen and food service design firms in the region, with clients across the southeast, since 1986. The company offers both design consulting services and design-build, the latter being a one-stop-shop to deliver a commercial-grade kitchen. Other services include bar and dining room layout, equipment specification, cost budgeting, refrigeration and fabrication for new and remodeled food service facilities.

Fishman started the business, after a few years working for another company, with two stacked chairs, a used desk and one employee. Industries the firm has worked with include restaurants, normally with 150 seats and up, health care facilities, hotels, country clubs and churches, among others. Specific clients include Mease Dunedin Hospital, the Lakewood Ranch Country Club and Riverview High School in Sarasota.

Fishman has survived two economic downturns — and pointed out he’s never lost an employee for financial reasons. Declining to disclose specific annual revenues, he attributes the firm’s longevity mostly to its nimble approach to taking on a variety of projects and a service-after-the-sale mantra that fosters significant repeat business. “The word no doesn’t even enter into our thinking,” Fishman says. “Tell us what you want to do, and we’ll figure out a way to do it.”

Picture taken at Cafe Venice in Venice, a FIshman & Associates client.

Going back to the first meeting with Daly, the affable 63-year-old Fishman, behind the success of the business — and no desire to retire — remained skeptical about a deal. The main reason he sat across from Daly in his office one evening in March 2018 is because Daly’s business broker offered Fishman a free business appraisal, Fishman says. Satisfied it was a legit and fair assessment, Fishman took the meeting with Daly mostly as courtesy. “I was intrigued,” Fishman says, quickly adding he was so sure the meeting would amount to nothing he hadn’t even told his wife about the suitor.

Daly, meanwhile, went into the meeting with a one-shot mindset. With more than 30 years running everything from factory floors to high-tech startups, always for someone else, Daly was chasing a new dream. He spent more than a year searching for the right business to buy, considering hundreds and visiting dozens, including one in Naples and one in Largo. “I always wanted to own my own business,” Daly, 60, says. “Early in my career I had all the ambition but no money and no experience.”

Turns out the unlikely seller and the determined buyer were a perfect match. Fishman, a cigar-loving extrovert who loves to close a deal, and Daly, a linear-thinking engineer with a passion for operations, turned a one-hour meeting that night into a three-hour mutual admiration society.

Up next? Grow the business, steadily, with a focus on senior living facilities — a broad and rapidly-growing market for the firm. Daly has hired three people since he acquired the business, which brings the payroll to 10. He expects revenue to grow 10 to 15% over the next year, especially with Fishman on the front lines of luring new clients.

“We are a high-end service company that likes to solve problems before they happen,” Daly says. “And we like to go after clients who value that.”

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