New M&A firm Relay focuses solely on SMBs

Launched by Fort Capital, Relay will offer dedicated expertise to the owners of small- to medium-sized private companies in Canada

The Relay Transition Partners: (left to right) Grant Wallace and Axel Christiansen. Photo via Relay Transition Partners.

As an owner and entrepreneur, you’ve carefully nurtured your small- to medium-sized business. You’ve grown it into the success it is today. And over the years it’s become more than a business. It’s part of the family, a family that extends to your employees, your customers and the communities you operate in. Eventually you may consider a sale. In doing so you will likely have opportunity to realize the full value of what you have built, and a smooth transition to new ownership—if you have best-in-class advisors to help you through the sale process.

That’s a bigger if than you might think. Traditional M&A firms have a wide focus, serving companies of all sizes. The problem is, the needs and interests of small- and medium-sized businesses–or “SMBs”–can get lost when those traditional firms are also serving larger, better-known companies.  

The team behind Fort Capital, a leading Canadian boutique investment banking firm serving mid to large private and public companies, saw the opportunity to create a new firm dedicated specifically to the sale of private SMBs in Canada. Fort Capital has launched Relay Transition Partners to focus solely on serving this important part of the market.

Mike Burtch, a managing partner at Fort Capital, explains, “The advantage of an advisory firm serving only small- and mid-market companies is the dedicated focus, and the dependable, high-quality transaction and execution services tailored specifically for them.

“The owners of these companies have worked hard to build something special. They and their families deserve high-quality advisors to help with the sale process. The fact is, the work to prepare and market their companies for sale can differ greatly from that of larger companies. Ultimately, having skilled professionals solely focused on SMBs brings best-in-class outcomes to these transactions.”

Relay recognizes the unique role of SMBs in the economy. “We regularly see the leadership so many of these companies provide their communities,” says Burtch. “That makes a successful transaction at the appropriate time even more important for the business owners, as they often also focus on their employees and the broader community—all the stakeholders – and want to ensure that their business continues to thrive under new ownership.”

Though large companies command much of the attention at traditional M&A firms, SMBs are a huge part of our economy. They comprise 40% of private-sector GDP and employ two-thirds of the labour force. Canada has more than 1.2 million such companies—and these are the clients Relay partner Grant Wallace enjoys working with the most.

“I like meeting all around our province with owners and entrepreneurs who have built their own successful companies and now need help passing the baton to the next owners. I’ve always felt that these companies are the core of British Columbia,” says Wallace, previously managing director with CIBC Mid-Marketing Investment Banking in Vancouver.

“Each transaction is unique because each of these companies is unique. I enjoy every fresh challenge of working side-by-side with clients through the sale process and I think they do, too.”

Leveraging Fort Capital’s resources

For Axel Christiansen, formerly managing director with the international accounting firm Baker Tilly, joining Relay as a Partner has special resonance. Growing up in an entrepreneurial family in forestry, he had a front-row seat watching the business grow. Christiansen is excited about leveraging Fort Capital’s sophisticated resources and advisory support for entrepreneurs:

“We’re going to grow by continuing to add high-calibre advisory experts dealing with SMBs. What attracted me to Relay was the calibre of peers, both at Relay and at Fort Capital. Also, the stripping away of the politics and administrative burden typical of traditional firms, and all the hours of unproductive time that result. At Relay we’re able to focus on our clients.”

Which, Christiansen says, is vital, given the importance of SMBs in the broader economy. “Being born of Fort Capital, one of Canada’s leading independent investment banking firms, Relay can provide its clients with sophisticated execution and resources not typically accessible to them. We get to leverage all those things for the benefit of our clients.”

And British Columbia is only the start, he adds. “We’re going to build on Relay’s network of experts. Fort Capital has offices we can leverage in Calgary and Toronto; from there we can grow across Canada, including in smaller commercial centres.”

For Christiansen, like Wallace, joining Relay all comes back to the individual business owner. “It’s inspiring to hear the stories of how every entrepreneur built their businesses, and the challenges they’ve faced. It’s an honour to be asked to help manage the sale or transition of the business that has meant so much to them.”

Relay welcomes inquiries from owners thinking about selling their businesses. Learn more at relaytp.ca or contact info@relaytp.ca. You can learn more about Fort Capital at fortcapital.ca.