A Dealmaker, Advocate and Trusted Advisor — John Willding
John Willding is a highly-skilled M&A lawyer in Texas, but he is perhaps best known as a power broker and trusted advisor to business executives and political leaders. He is often seen with DC Elite (mostly Republican), Governors and business leaders across all industries. As one of his friends put it: “John is always in the room and he knows how to work it.” He networks, but in a very thoughtful and giving way.
John describes himself as a “deal junkie”. He says “I absolutely love M&A. That’s where I get to shine and deliver great results for our clients.” And on this point, John has delivered incredible results — having closed more than $3 billion of middle-market transactions with an average deal size of $75 million. John says “this size transaction allows me to unleash my talents — to negotiate and deliver life changing liquidity for a seller — and, when representing a buyer, making sure they avoid land mines and get the deal that they bargained for.
Unlike most “Big Law” partners, John plays heavily in the middle-market and thus has to get out and network more than most. As he puts it “my best clients are almost always acquired so I’m constantly building relationships and developing a pipeline”. It’s nice though because my clients often get the “deal bug” after selling their businesses and then hire me to help them on the buy-side. So, John states, “I always chase the relationship and not any particular deal.”
It is fair to say that John is a gifted networker and that stems, in part, from his connecting people for their mutual benefit. “When you genuinely try to help people it always comes back.” And with John’s success always he looks for ways to enhance or upgrade his network for the benefit of the group. It is a trusted advisor role earned by paying it forward, understanding personalities, never wasting anyone’s time.
John is also very much interested in politics — not running for office, but instead deeply understanding the issues and who the players are. So much so that John went to night school at Harvard and earned a Masters of Liberal Arts degree in Government. “I thought if I’m going to offer my opinion on politics or government I should at least be well versed in constitutional law and public policy, which I am.” And just like everything else that John does, he does it with flair — often hobnobbing with Governors, Members of Congress or even a President. As John puts it, “I love building relationships with political leaders because it gets me closer to our Democracy and I can definitely say that my training and experiences have made me a better counselor.
When asked what his political leanings are John will tell you that he is “openly Republican.” Further stating that “I prefer to be upfront, honest, and just let everybody know where I stand because it’s really just an invitation to start a dialogue, learn from each other and hear different points of view — that’s what makes our country great and categorically different from the rest of the world — we can speak up and change our minds without going to prison or worse!” With that said, John says he never (or rarely) votes for someone based on party affiliation alone. He says “I study the candidates, and I’m most attracted to those who protect the Bill of Rights, support a strong U.S. military and see capitalism and the American Dream as a strength, and quite frankly, the foundation of our republic and a distinct move away from the class system that dominated Europe.”
John further states that because he chases relationships, he is just as likely to make friends with the Governor of Oklahoma, South Dakota, or Florida as he is a Member of Congress or public officials in his home state of Texas. He is “all about the policies” and being “united and inclusive” and “promoting equal opportunity and pointing out failures where they exist”. John says his honesty and credibility make it easier to “call out people or policies” in a constructive way and not making it personal. Again, he says “it’s all about making it right not about who is right or gets credit.”
Turning to perhaps John’s strongest talent, his negotiation skills, which are fierce, but balanced and always focused on the desired result. As John freely admits, “I am a zealous advocate for my clients. This is transactional work though…so a win/win is often possible and desired.” John says negotiation is both an art and a skill. “You have to be intimately familiar with your client’s goals, and also have the experience to know where leverage sits at all times.
On the M&A front, John works with both buyers and seller. “It’s about 50/50.” And most of John’s transactions involve a private equity firm on side or both. “I have heavy private equity experience.” The common denominator is company size. John works primarily in the “middle-market”, which John defines as companies with “5–50 million of EBITDA”. In fact, most of John’s deals involve companies with between 10–25 million EBITDA sold at a 6–15X multiple. Most of these transactions involve a private equity recapitalization where an owner cashes out or has liquidity on approximately 75% of her ownership and “rolls” or continues to own around 25% of the company. As John puts it, “this structure is popular with both sides because meaningful (often life-changing) liquidity occurs and the owner stays engaged and continues to drive value to cash out (or get a second ‘bite at the apple’) when the company is sold again — hopefully at an even higher valuation.”
So, as the title above states, John is a “Dealmaker, Advocate and Trusted Advisor” for his clients. He has the insight, experience, professional network, and tenacity to close any deal!