HBR Guide to Buying a Small Business: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR Guide to Buying a Small Business
Richard S. Ruback and Royce Yudkoff
Harvard Business Review Press (2017)

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” Steve Jobs

Most of the volumes in the “HBR Guide to” series consist of anthologies of articles previously published in Harvard Business Review in which various contributors share their insights concerning a major business subject such as Better Business Writing, Getting the Right Work Done, and Project Management.

As is also true of most volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management Tips, HBR Guides offer substantial value in cutting-edge thinking from 25-30 sources in a single volume at a price (each at about $15-20 from Amazon in the bound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost.

What we have in this volume — on sale now by Amazon US for only $19.95 — is material created by Richard S. Ruback and Royce Yudkoff. As they explain, “Our goal in writing this book is to help you decide if entrepreneurship through acquisition is really for you and empower you to do it if it is. The best way to address this question is not b asking yourself, ‘Do I want to be an entrepreneur?,” but by asking ‘Do I want to do what an entrepreneur does?’ Hopefully, our journey through each of the steps involved helps you to visualize the process and decide whether this extraordinary professional opportunity is right for you.”

With regard to Ruback and Yudkoff’s qualifications, it is noteworthy that they continue to teach popular courses in corporate finance, management practice, and entrepreneurial acquisition of small firms at Harvard Business School. With all due respect to credentials, the quality and (key word) relevance of their material is of paramount importance, skillfully organized and presented within five Parts.

Ruback and Yudkoff provide an abundance of valuable information, insights, real-world examples, and counsel that can help prepare their reader to make smart decisions in areas that include these, in the first three Parts:

o The potential opportunities and perils of entrepreneurial acquisition of small firms
o The acquisition process
o Estimating potential costs of research on acquisition candidates
o Raising capital for that process
o Identifying the characteristics of desirable candidates
o Managing the search effectively
o Sourcing prospects using brokers: dos and don’ts
o Sourcing directly
o The key to “enduringly profitable small businesses”: recurring customers
o Using financial data to gauge that profitability
o Avoiding the waste of time and money by sellers who abandon process

In Parts Four and Five, Richard S. Ruback and Royce Yudkoff’s focus on “Making an Offer” (Chapters 13-16) and “Completing the Acquisition” (Chapters 17-21).

As indicated, one of their primary purposes is to help each reader to decide whether or not to consider buying a small business and then becoming its CEO. This book can help each reader to make that decision. If the decision is to proceed, this book can then serve as a guide throughout each step of the process.

I presume to add a concluding thought, provided by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Ultimately, with regard to entrepreneurial acquisitions — indeed, with regard to almost all other human initiatives, success or failure will be determined by attitude.

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