When Sean Dotson launched his robotics and manufacturing company in 2005, part of the reason was to control his own business. Prior to that he was a senior-level manager with a window manufacturer and a packaging and conveying company.
Mission accomplished. Over 15 years, Dotson helped grow the firm he founded, RND Automation, into one of the largest custom robotics, packaging and assembly machinery manufacturers in Florida. RND has some 45 employees and did $12.38 million in revenue in 2019.
Now, with an exit strategy some two years in the making, Dotson will be giving back some of that control. In a deal announced Jan. 20, investment funds managed by New York-based private equity firm Saw Mill Capital acquired 100% ownership in Lakewood Ranch-based RND. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
A Business Observer 40 under 40 winner in 2013, Dotson tells Coffee Talk several PE firms have approached him over the years about acquiring RND. He rebuffed them, not only because he sought to retain control but also because he didn’t want RND — and its employees — to be bought and flipped, the typical PE model. But Saw Mill, Dotson says he learned, “tended to hold companies a lot longer than other PE firms. That was important to me.”
Conversation between the entities started in 2019. Then, like so many other things, the pandemic put those talks on the sidelines. In the summer and fall, the conversation started anew. Another benefit, in addition to a longer hold, was Saw Mill owns iAutomation, a company RND has partnered with on several projects.
Notably, the idea of having a partner like Saw Mill for many back-office tasks, like accounting and human resources, grew on Dotson. Saw Mill, says Dotson, told him “we’re here to do two things: help you and stay out of your way.”
With that at the forefront Dotson sold the company. He will remain on as president, and continue leading the firm into new markets and, he hopes, an expanded customer base. “I’ll be around as long as they’ll have me,” Dotson says. “Even though I don’t own it anymore, it’s still my baby.”