Mid-market M&A consultancy make! hits one-year mark

04 July 2023 Consultancy.com.au 5 min. read
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Established in August last year, mid-market M&A consultancy make! is now approaching its first anniversary, after a crazy first twelve months. We spoke with founder Martin Linhart about the firm’s growth and growing track record.

With inflation on the rise and business uncertainty growing, August of last year wouldn’t ordinarily be the ideal time to launch a boutique M&A consultancy targeting the mid-market, but that’s precisely what former Deloitte director Martin Linhart did.

Shortly after the bold move, he struck gold, requested to continue his work on one of Australia’s biggest ever deals; BHP’s petroleum divestment and merger with Woodside.

Mid-market M&A consultancy make! hits one-year mark

An engineering graduate of TU Kaiserslautern in southwest Germany, Linhart kicked off his career in a business development role with Porsche, before then spending five years with PwC’s specialised M&A team in Munich and two with Deloitte in Frankfurt.

In 2019, he transferred with the firm to Sydney, focused on areas such as integration & divestment strategy and execution, project management, and post-closure optimisation. His experience at the Big Four, on the opposite sides of the globe, informs much of his approach to establishing Make.

Make – stylised as make! – also focuses on cross-industry integration & divestment support, M&A readiness, brand and culture, and value creation, but offers a tier 1 proposition at half the price, with the idea of opening up the field to mid-market enterprises.

Linhart notes that the big consultancies in Australia have minimum margin thresholds for taking on an assignment, and while there is some space to go down, their fees will never drop to a level “where smaller companies would feel comfortable.”

“I want to support those clients that Deloitte and the other big consultancies are not targeting, or the other way around where those companies can’t afford the huge cost, or have just lost trust in the large consulting firms,” Linhart states, referencing the recent government tax policy breach at PwC. “My goal is really to make M&A affordable. The segment can be quite complex, but easy enough for people who are capable of navigating and steering the work in a structured way.”

Europe versus Australia

Linhart points to the gap in the local market as one difference between the European and Australian M&A landscapes. Whereas the middle market in Germany and Europe is huge, with the Big Four moving into the €20 million to €250 million territory during the financial crisis due to the added stability, his team at Deloitte in Australia targeted the largest clients, those long-running projects where budgetary factors and finances were less of a concern.

Other noted points of difference between the markets include the experience of the team (German firms typically require a masters to get started, while Australian ones hire fresh grads), and the general client types; a greater volume of manufacturing in Europe against more work in financial services, retail, mining, tech and non-profit in Australia.

On the latter point, Linhart, who has worked on projects in “probably every industry possible’, says that clients tend to appreciate the M&A insights from other sectors.

Addressing the hands-on expertise gap, Linhart says he only intends to hire experienced M&A practitioners who know what they’re doing, rather than those in their early 20s marketed as experts and having to pretend. The local market is also more about relationship-building and connections and referrals compared to the politically-complicated procurement process in Europe, so make! strives to really listen to the needs of the client and discard any preconceived cookie-cutter approaches.

Vision

Linhart here speaks to flexibility, describing make! as having the agility of a start-up combined with the application of common sense. “Large consulting firms have their proven methodology, but they tend to use one standard framework and apply it to every client which is not always fit for purpose. At make! we listen first, and only then prepare a tailored approach and methodology for the client. If they have a limited budget, or restricted timeline, we work around that and deviate from the standard approach.”

Now closing in on the one-year mark, make! already has quite the storied history. Linhart decided to leave Deloitte in July, while serving as project director on the massive BHP divestment deal, and just one month later the new consultancy was already up and running. His opposite at BHP however protested, and so the first four months of make! were spent subcontracting to Deloitte on Australia’s largest ever merger.

Since then, Lindhart and make! have had to navigate some tricky economic waters.

The original plan was to have five professionals on board by the end of the first year (make! has so far subcontracted its experts, including many former colleagues), but a slow-down in the M&A market and a strong desire to not overpromise while also offering exciting assignments has meant a more careful approach to date.

As for the future though, Linhart over the next three years hopes to grow make! to a team of 15 to 20, but will continue scaling at a conservative pace to ensure the best quality support for clients.

Those joining however will benefit from a team-first mentality; “Since entering consulting many years ago, I have always questioned why only partners get a slice of the cake and everybody else gets a basic salary package. At make!, every employee will have the opportunity to buy-in for shares, independent of their role or grade, having contributed to the success of the company. In my view,the team is the most important factor; appreciating their opinions and empowering them is what makes a company successful.”