Ring My Bell

An M&A boutique firm looks to speed dating as a model for the feeling-out process of mergers and acquisitions.
Economist StaffOctober 8, 2004

It can, apparently, take just three minutes to fall in love with another person. Cavendish Corporate Finance, a British merger-and-acquisitions boutique, hopes that something similar is true in the business world. On October 15th it is holding an “event” (“conference” would conjure up unsexy images of droning speakers) at the annual meeting in Amsterdam of M&A International, a network of M&A firms, closely modelled on speed dating.

The event will enable potential buyers and sellers of companies to get together. Rather than indicating hair colour, educational background or height, suitors tick boxes indicating geographical or industrial desires. Meetings will last only 20 minutes: as with speed dating, the object is merely to see whether there is any chemistry. A bell will be rung when the time is up. “What people enjoy at conferences are the coffee breaks; this is a lot of coffee breaks,” says Howard Leigh, Cavendish’s managing director.

The rationale is certainly appealing. It can take industrialists or private-equity investors weeks criss-crossing Europe to find and assess potential investments. For would-be sellers, discovering the right suitor can be as hard as daters find it to weed out commitment-phobes or those with an unusual taste in leather. This way, the whole search can be completed in a day.

Cavendish, which was set up in 1988 and specialises in selling middle-sized companies, held a similar event in Dublin last year at which 600 meetings were held. It has already arranged 730 for this year’s event, and expects many more to be arranged closer to the day. The firm benefits from any wedding bells, since this could mean more business. Clearly, last year’s event did Cavendish no harm: so far this year it has arranged 20 deals, compared with 12 last year. “If they’re not distracted by the red-light district, it should be fun,” says Mr Leigh.

4 Powerful Communication Strategies for Your Next Board Meeting