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M&A Success – One Step, One Punch, One Round at a Time

Dallas’ Stacey Relton shares three essential tips to get it right.
By D Partner Studio |
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Successfully and seamlessly building a business —then selling or merging—is a fine art. Get it right, and it’s pure magic. Tackle it without preparation and the right team? It can be a disaster.

Stacey Relton, in her most recent position as Head of North America for Sanne Group, a London-based publicly traded global fund services firm, gained her M&A integration experience here in Dallas as Managing Partner for Strait Capital. Along with her tenacious reputation for driving growth, she is a master at building high-performing teams that foster accountability while leading operational and infrastructure upgrades to keep up with the growth. 

“Building a high growth company is like driving a car down the track at 200 mph while upgrading the components to a Formula One race car – while keeping all four wheels on the track – and winning of course.”

In late 2015, Relton joined Strait Capital, the firm her husband John Relton founded.  While he retained the title CEO, she assumed increasing responsibility for the firm’s day-to-day operations taking over as Managing Partner.  Relton grew the company to a leading national player in the fund administration industry.  She quickly expanded  the firm’s footprint, growing revenue significantly, strengthening the firm’s client service offerings, and upgrading both internal infrastructure and client deliverables.  

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Relton is the daughter of two entrepreneurs and knew early on that she wanted to follow in their footsteps, first growing a company and one day becoming an entrepreneur.  Relton earned her undergraduate degree and M.B.A. from Louisiana State University, then moved to Dallas, beginning her career in internal audit. 

“I became fascinated with M&A early in my career. I met hundreds of entrepreneurs running companies at varying stages of growth, all preparing for the next step – a merger, an acquisition, or an exit.  I could see how small changes led to huge results and how underfunding or outpacing infrastructure with growth could seriously impact operations.  I was hooked and had plenty of ideas – I just needed to join the right company.”

That opportunity came when Relton’s husband invited her to join Strait Capital. She was at a crossroads in her career. She could stay in her comfortable position, start her own company (which was her plan), or join her family’s business. It was the perfect place for Relton to take what she learned and position the family business for rapid growth. It was a kindling fire just waiting for the match. And she was that perfect match.

It wasn’t long before Relton realized that to compete with the much larger national and international firms, they needed to make changes. She hired a marketing firm, rebranded the firm’s name from Strait Capital to STRAIT to alleviate any confusion over whether it was a fund administrator or an allocator, changed the firm logo and colors (most competitors were branded using blue as their primary color – and well, LSU alumni really dig the color purple), and increased the firm’s online presence.  STRAIT didn’t have the marketing or BD budgets of the larger firms, but Relton’s team had something they didn’t – grit and the belief that David could beat Goliath.  And they did, over and over again.

My mentor once told me that boxing matches aren’t won quickly, and neither is success.  It’s “one step, one punch, one round at a time”.  Nothing could be truer.

Relton’s success in building a high-performing team and then leading the successful integration of STRAIT into Sanne Group has made her a sought-after resource on how to get M&A right. Here, she offers her top three tips on how to successfully grow, lead a business through M&A, and achieve a successful integration. 

Build to buy, never to sell. 

Our team never built STRAIT for sale.  Of course, every owner wants an exit and ours was no different.  But we built for the long-term.  I built and upgraded infrastructure in line with our client’s needs at every stage of the growth curve. I challenged our team to innovate constantly – automating and improving processes and investing in top-notch systems and workflow management tools that offered real-time dashboards both for our team and our clients.  We developed a strategic plan for every aspect of the firm– operations, marketing, BD, Recruiting, HR, and Finance. The result – our team and our operations ran like a well-oiled machine.  Our clients benefited, as did our team and eventual acquirer.

Hire the best and put them in the owner’s seat early.  

Empowerment is everything, if you have the right team.  We hired the best professionals, gave them the tools and training to succeed, and empowered them to embody the firm’s value of “Own the Business”.  Every team member from intern to Director was challenged to bring ideas of innovation to the table each week. We held quarterly roundtables where we selected the top 5 most innovative projects to be implemented the following quarter.  This culture of innovation and ownership made our culture exciting and almost electric.  “If you don’t like how something is done, bring me a better solution.” We created a culture of high-performance expectations and we all held one another accountable.  We also incentivized our team members accordingly.  People were promoted, compensated, and recognized based on their individual contributions.  

When we announced the sale of STRAIT to Sanne Group, we also announced a generous bonus program for team members post-acquisition.  Both Sanne Group and STRAIT’s owner contributed as we all wanted to reward our team for their tenure, hard work, and success. One team, one dream.  

Teams follow a leader they trust. 

If the team believes in their leader and in one another, they trust that the transaction is in everyone’s best interest and they are excited about the next chapter of success. Trust doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I spent years consciously earning the trust of every team member and every client.  But trusting the leader isn’t enough – trust bonds must exist in every direction. Trust is the glue that holds a team together, especially during a transaction and throughout the integration process.

M&A transactions are never easy, but if you have built a firm with a strong infrastructure and clean operations, if your employees are empowered, and if the trust bonds throughout your team are rock solid, the integration process, whether you are the acquirer or the acquiree will go more smoothly.

STRAIT’s integration into Sanne Group was successful. It likely didn’t hurt that upon the transaction, Relton assumed the title as Head of North America, for Sanne. Not surprisingly, she achieved the same level of success that she had with STRAIT. In addition to growing Sanne’s Dallas location, Relton also assumed responsibility for the company’s other three offices growing them significantly while improving profitability. Following the recent acquisition of Sanne Group by Apex Group, Stacey Relton is now an executive serving as Head of Strategic Development, North America, leading the strategic growth of Apex’s US offices. She has been recognized as a Dallas Business Journal‘s Women in Business honoree, and has received numerous awards, including the Chairman’s Award for Leadership by the National Association of Investment Companies, and LSU Top 100.. She has also been recognized by the NAIC for championing diversity in the alternatives industry. Relton is very active in the Dallas community, volunteering and serving on boards and not-for-profit committees.

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