Seller Insights w/ Mike Wolf, Founder of IER Electrical
Mike Wolf had a vision for a better way to run an electrical surplus distribution business — and 20 years later, that idea opened the door for early retirement and financial freedom. He opened IER Electrical Equipment and Controls in 2000 and grew the business from a surplus distributor to a full line of highly technical electrical switchgear, controls, panel boxes and other components.
Hoping to spend more time with family and pursue other passions, Mike decided to sell the company and retire from IER. He got an offer on his own, but he turned to the experts at FourBridges to find other potential buyers and maximize the value of his business — resulting in a final sale over double the price of the original offer.
After selling IER to Chicago Switchboard, Mike turned his attention to a new passion: luxury cars. You can find him driving a Lamborghini through Colorado or meeting up with fellow Ferrari enthusiasts. He’s enjoying financial freedom by making memories and exploring exciting new business opportunities.
Why did you originally found IER?
I actually worked for another surplus electrical distributor at the time, and I found a lot of large inadequacies with how that owner was running his business and how he treated his customers. I decided that I could do this work better than he was doing it, so I opened up the company and got into the industry.
What was it like running your own business for over 20 years?
Everybody thinks it’s all roses, but you spend a lot of time sucking your thumb, laying in the fetal position on the floor, and wanting to cry or hide from the world because of the amount of danger and scary things that keep coming at you. It’s an adventure, but it’s a scary adventure. Especially in the electrical world, you’re worried about getting sued if someone gets hurt or if you do something wrong. Your liabilities are quite great, and you have to carry insurance for all of that. It’s not for the weak of heart — it’s Indiana Jones in the business world.
What are some of your greatest accomplishments as a business owner?
We took the company from buying used electrical equipment and reconditioning for resale to a full-on, brand-new manufacturing company. I went from a used product reseller to actually working with several major companies like Cutler Hammer, Square D, and Siemens to develop and manufacture full-blown switchboard panel boards, all the way up to 38,000-volt equipment. So it changed dramatically from one animal to a full engineering company, where we were engineering, designing, and manufacturing large commercial industrial electrical equipment.
How did you know it was time to sell?
I’m 51, and I’d only like to work for another 10 or 15 years. Quite frankly, the amount of money I was offered was greater than any sum of money I was going to pay myself over the next 30 years. So the idea of staying and working and pushing didn’t really make sense. Instead, I’d get to spend time with my kids or develop other companies. The only thing you have in this world is time, and I tell everybody that everything you own is actually borrowed because you can’t take it with you. All you’ve really got are your memories, and I want the next 30 years to be better than the first 50.
Did you ever consider selling your business on your own? Why did you decide to look for help?
Yeah, I absolutely did. My first offer on the company was so high and at the time seemed like an incredible offer. I thought I should sell right away and be done with it. Then I slowed down, took a breath, and got it together. We interviewed multiple companies and landed on FourBridges to manage the sale and Maynard Cooper (now Maynard Nexsen) to handle the legal aspects. I was actually able to sell my company for over double my initial offer. It’s that funny thing — you never know what you don’t know. If you assume you know everything, you’re bound to make a mistake. When you bring in the professionals, you get a much better result. These guys do this every single day and got me much much more than I could have on my own.
Why did you choose to work with FourBridges over other investment banks?
We did some interviews with them to talk about their process, who they are, and what they’ve done. The end-all be-all was that FourBridges Capital came through as a more realistic, holistic, salt of the earth, “We do what we say, and we say what we do” company. They were straightforward, honest. There are no games. It was just, good, clean business, and they had my best interest through the entire process which translated into an excellent net effect.
Did you have any goals for the sale of your business?
Of course, I wanted to have a pretty fair amount of money after the sale. I was looking to make sure that not only am I set for the rest of my life, but to have legacy money to hand down to the kids. I wanted them to have the funds to build their own financial independence and futures. Full financial independence is unbelievably freeing, and I want my kids to experience that too.
Is there anything you wish you knew before selling your business?
Oh yeah — everything. You are like a child because the industry is totally different than what I was normally used to. We already had a very clean company with our books straight, but I’d recommend making sure your books are in order. I also would have waited until we had 12 months of solid profit before beginning the process. Buyers want to see that, so I could have maybe gotten more if I would have waited six more months to sell. At the end of the day, the timing was right, so I’m ok with it.
What was the most challenging part of the whole sales process?
As owner, I was making sure that the process was set in place for the company to operate without me standing on top of it. But by far the biggest hurdle was levied against our financial team. They were having to come up with a bevy of documents to prove all the income and everything we do. For the team, the financial documentation took four straight months of constant reports and constant evidence.
How did the FourBridges team guide you through those challenges?
They gave us examples of things that we didn’t fully understand, told us what the buyer is looking for, and explained what they would need from us. They held our hands and were patient with us while also pushing us through to stick to the timeline. Anything that buyers asked for that didn’t make sense, they would take it off our plate. They were logical, forward-thinking, and made everything easy for us.
What advice would you give to other business owners who are considering selling their business?
Don’t even consider going into it without representation. You might be worried about the fees, but you’ll see how great the return is, much larger than you could have done by yourself. You need that representation and that value they bring by marketing your company all across the US to people who you’ve never even heard of. It’s like an auction, and if you only have one bidder, you’re in trouble. FourBridges brings multiple bidders, and it changes the entire game, sending your value way up.
We highly recommend the guys at both FourBridges and Maynard Cooper. Anyone that’s truly interested in selling needs to at least interview them and hear why they bring value. They’re great guys, and now they’re like family.
What’s next now that you’ve sold IER?
We went to the Giro, which is a tour of Colorado with Lamborghini, and we’ve done several events with the Lamborghini manufacturer. I’ve met an entirely new group of friends and people through the Ferrari Club of America and the Lamborghini Club of America, and now new businesses are coming out of that. We’re opening a food truck park with Lamborghinis and Ferraris inside the building for people to see, which should bring out those car groups and clubs. It’s one of those things, where when you grow in life, you open a new door. We got through this financial door and were able to see new opportunities and we’re just having an absolute blast. We’re growing both socially and economically, and it’s a lot of fun.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.