Jun 3, 2015 - Things to Do

72 hours to buy a Charlotte small business



This isn’t Barbarians at The Gate (a fabulous 80’s book and James Garner movie memorializing the RJR Nabisco LBO), but instead lays out the emotional roller-coaster of a simple man jumping off the corporate gravy train and into the passion project of a small business.

Since middle school, “Plan A” has been to own my own company. Landscaping was my passion. This passion led to a spot studying ornamental horticulture at a fancy Ivy League school. After a few related internships and a chorus of well-meaning supporters yelling that I could always be a “plant guy” and I should do something different, I pivoted, landing an amazing job with a global agribusiness company. Way too much responsibility and a fresh out of school attitude led to the ultimate character-building trial by fire. California, Iowa, Louisiana – the country was happily traveled, knowledge gained and a job well done.

A girl and a desire to embrace agriculture knowledge led to a Wall Street job in NYC. The food industry, agribusiness and stock picking were my new passions.

Then Charlotte called. Successive career moves pulled me further and further away from my passion. Great bosses, smart people, but Plan A always hung out in the background.

After a year of interviewing business sellers, here I am. Over this time, we evaluated plastics, roofing, waste hauling, waste sorting and countless other miscellaneous opportunities. Plan A would eventually happen, but it was taking time.

Suddenly, an out of town owner had a business for sale. It wasn’t too big, wasn’t too small and was screaming for someone to run it…a landscaping business in need of passion. A match was made. Letter of intent signed.  Banks, accountants and attorneys all engaged. If I closed this deal, I would own my business on April 1st, and after 20 years of waiting, finally this was not a joke.

What follows is a stomach turning recap of the final days of the deal.

Friday, 8am – Work at bank-ville feels like a snow day. Boss is out. Boss’ boss is out. Someone brings in breakfast. My purchase is scheduled to close Tuesday morning of the next week and everything appears to be speeding nicely along the tracks. Friday morning is the punctuation to a great week.  Negotiations around the purchase agreement, non-compete agreement, outside investors, the bank and the final throws of due diligence all went smoothly (all of this is WAY more complex than my experience buying real estate).

Friday, 9am – I get a call. The bank says our North Carolina LLC is no good. The NC Secretary of State (aptly abbreviated SOS) hasn’t approved our application. No loan can be made until the LLC is organized. And unless we pull out a business miracle, who knows when the deal will close. HUGE problem. I have funds to transfer, an out of town seller, employees to meet, vendors to pay and most urgently, a job of 11 years to resign. The train just jumped the proverbial tracks.

Friday, 11am – We scramble to file an expedited, amended LLC application with the SOS. We hit the state’s noon deadline. We wait.

Friday, 5pm – Application rejected! Our LLC is still not approved. What now? My banker doesn’t answer, lawyer is out of pocket. A sickening feeling starts to develop – its gonna be a loooong weekend. Best laid plans are completely unraveled.

Friday, 6pm – I send a work email to my personal email address with some last minute financial details for the new company. Email rejected. I try again. Email rejected again. Uh oh. Time to head home.

Sunday afternoon – Sitting at a five year old’s birthday party and my pent up anxiety bubbles over. I email the banker and attorney for an 8am Monday meeting to get this deal back on track.

Monday, 8am – Call with bank and legal team goes well. The plan of action is for me to call the NC SOS and beg for approval of our LLC application. This time our attorney filled out the form, no mistakes.

Monday, 9am – Arrive late to work. Things are very bad. Emergency meetings have popped up. HR is not happy with my emails from Friday night. I am instructed to turn off my phone and not to leave my seat. It’s gonna be a long morning.

Monday, 11am – I need coffee. I leave my seat. On the way to Dunkin Donuts I call the NC SOS to beg. I explain my passion, Plan A and all the rest to a sweet lady in Raleigh. She talks to a guy, who talks to a guy and after a couple emails – my application is APPROVED! Deal is back on track!

Monday, Noon – Caffeinated and back at my desk. Things still bad at work, but great with the purchase. My small business banker brings donuts to his loan processing team out in Gastonia to hustle things along.

Monday, 8pm – Meet the seller and take inventory of all the equipment, facts and figures related to the deal.  Nervous excitement is a shared emotion.

Monday, 11pm – Arrive back at home, call in sick to work for Tuesday

Tuesday, 8am – Wake up to breakfast with the family. No firm timing for close. More waiting. The lead up to the birth of my twins was less gut wrenching. Chat with friends to ease the anxiety.

Tuesday, 11am – I scan my work emails. Pointed email from HR regarding my email snafu. Stomach turns. On the flip side, lunch with seller is very pleasant.

Tuesday, 1pm – Wife, partners, seller, banker, lawyer all come to closing. Pens are passed. Money disbursed.  The deal is done. Seller and I start the process of information sharing. But my mind quickly drifts back to personal email issues and bank job stress. I need to resign ASAP.

Tuesday, 6pm – Seller takes the crew out to dinner and shares news of the sale. Everyone is skeptically optimistic. I set up a meeting with my current boss for 9:30 Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, 6:30am – I meet the seller at our new shop. The guys start rolling in to work. I share my thoughts about the future of the business. I am shaking with anxiety – not about my new life – but about my upcoming resignation.

Wednesday, 9:30am – I head into work with much angst. It turns out the resignation is a non-event. It’s all handshakes and backslaps. Either a testament to a stand up group of colleagues OR everyone is really excited for me to get out of the way. Probably both.

Wednesday, noon – South Carolina DMV to register my new fleet of vehicles (this will be the 1st of four DMV trips…oye. The joys of small business).

Wednesday, PM – Home with family and very proud of whirlwind two days. In two weeks, I’ll be in a completely different place.

When he’s not driving in circles around Fort Mill, Nate can be reached via email at [email protected].


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