Laura Maver Ward, M&AMI, CM&AP, CBI, CBC is Founder and Managing Partner of Kingsbridge Capital Partners, a lower middle market M&A advisory firm headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. Laura has advised hundreds of business owners on mergers and acquisitions, financial advisory issues and business growth strategies. Laura has earned certifications as: Mergers & Acquisitions Master Intermediary (M&AMI), Mergers & Acquisitions Professional (CMAP), Certified Business Intermediary (CBI) Exit Planner (CExP), Business Coach (CBC), Machinery & Equipment Appraiser, and is a Licensed Real Estate Broker-Officer.
Laura and her husband Jim live in the Kansas City metro area. In her spare time, Laura enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, gardening, boating, animal rescue, photography, home improvement projects. Walking the beach is her favorite past time, however that’s a challenge when you live in the Midwest!
You are a fourth-generation business owner – please tell me more about that.
My father owned several businesses, one of which was a retail store in Harrison, New York. My step-grandmother, (father’s side) who was one of the most significant mentors in my life, owned several businesses. One was wholesaling children’s clothes in New York City and the other was a retail store in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. My step-grandfather, (mother’s side) owned two high end art galleries, one in Palm Beach, Florida and the other on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. I began working in the Nantucket gallery when I was 14. A couple of years later, I was selling artwork. My great grandfather (mother’s side) owned many vaudeville theaters throughout the East coast and Midwest. He and his business partner sold them to the Kennedy family.
Tell us about your pre-M&A career and how it led you to doing this work?
I worked for Hallmark Cards for 16 years, however I always wanted to own my own business. When we started our family (my two children are chosen), I decided to take a few years off and volunteered for a number of organizations. One of them was as Chair of a major fundraiser that netted $367,000. At the end of that intense project, I decided it was time to look for a business to buy. I met with a lower middle market intermediary on a listing of interest…until I asked many questions about the business. My husband was looking to exit his very successful and profitable management consulting business. Long story short, we sat down with the intermediary and told him we wanted to be in his business. His response was “Wards, you would be great in this business and I’m moving out west. Why don’t you take over my 7-state territory and I’ll mentor you?” That was 17 years ago!
Regarding the majority of your engagements, do you work as a team or do you handle things on your own?
We always work as a team. One person cannot know everything there is to know. We have tried to surround ourselves with highly ethical and knowledgeable people. Some of our team members are owners of other firms.
What personal characteristics and strengths have supported your success in this industry?
High integrity and ethics; Persistence…never give up; Perfectionism…always trying to improve the process; Inquisitive…I always ask many questions from the perspective of What’s In It For Them in order to build trust; Knowledge…I’m an education junkie; Knowing my weaknesses and hiring those weaknesses; Calm intensity.
What is your greatest M&A accomplishment?
Helping business owners turn their most illiquid asset into a mountain of cash.
What is the biggest mistake you have made when working on a deal?
No big ones. Lots of little ones. The key is to recognize the mistakes and make appropriate adjustments. For example, we used to take on clients without an upfront fee, because that’s what the competition was doing. We found those sellers didn’t value our experience or knowledge and typically were not serious sellers. We never take on a sell-side client without a retainer.
What are the three most important qualities that you think a good M&A advisor needs to have?
Integrity & ethics; Knowledge & experience; Knowing how and when to listen.
How long have you been an M&A Source member and what do you get out of your membership?
I joined in 2002 and have volunteered throughout the years including currently as Chair of M&A Source. I have gained life-long friendships and now have invaluable resources to help our clients.
As a seasoned M&A advisor, what changes and trends do you see on the horizon that will impact on M&A?
Our industry has experienced a great run. How much longer will it last? I hope another ten years. That’s not realistic though! Our members have indicated that we are already beginning to see changes. Market Pulse Reports
What advice would you give to new people entering the profession?
Be ethical. Always do what is right for your prospects and clients. Know that it’s all about them. Have the ability to ask the right questions at the right time. Be a GREAT listener. Stop talking about yourself.
Get your education. Go to M&A Source conferences and classes and learn the business and be a sponge. Once you know the business, teach others.
Our profession has a low percentage of women. Why do you think that is and what can we do to change that?
Those of us who are have been successful in mergers and acquisitions need to mentor women who want to succeed in the business. M&A Source has a mentoring program designed to do just that and we meet at least once a year at a conference. My mentor was Ann Bliss who I met when I was 16 years old. She was the warm, fuzzy mother I never had, a friend and most importantly my key mentor throughout my life. She was one of the founders of the Physician’s Assistant program at Yale University back in the early 1970’s and continues to run her own practice, at the age of 86!
You are the second female Chair of the M&A Source (Dora Lanza was the first). Have you experienced any gender discrimination in your work?
What woman hasn’t? I never let gender get in my way.
As the board president of the M&A Source, all members benefit from your efforts. What compelled you to serve? Did you serve on committees as well?
Volunteering is in my blood and I have been doing so since I was very young! At M&A Source, I facilitated a number of workshops over the years. I served as the Membership Committee Chair for 3 ½ years. In 2016, I was elected to serve on the Board of M&A Source and in 2018, I was elected to be the Chair-Elect, followed by Chair in 2019 and will be the Past Chair in 2020. In 2020, I’ll be the Chair of the IABI, the parent BOD for M&A Source and IBBA. I have also served as Conference Chair and have served on the education and marketing committees. In 2018, I was awarded the Chairman’s Award for dedication and service.
I see you work with your husband. What are the challenges and benefits of working with a spouse?
Jim and I have been married for 36 years and we are best friends. I married a very smart guy…when asked “How do you work with your spouse?” Jim always replies, “Happy wife, happy life.” We have different strengths and weaknesses. I am a visionary and very bottom line driven and Jim is very analytical. I like challenges and he doesn’t like conflict. We work to our strengths and hire our weaknesses. That said, one challenge is…I am always thinking about work and he prefers to take time off.
Sounds like a good match – especially for him!
Interview conducted by Kathy Thiel, THIELGROUP, LLC.