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Truly understanding founder-CEOs leads to successful partnerships and exponential growth.

A former corporate client with considerable private equity experience set out on his own to execute a roll-up in the HVAC service sector.

Confronting the Challenge: What We Knew

Our client had previously built a successful business under the umbrella of a multi-billion-dollar corporation and was confident he could improve upon that model. Familiar with Ampersand’s value with portfolio companies, he knew his young firm would benefit from human capital diligence as the portfolio focused on acquiring founder-led, and sometimes family-owned, businesses. Specifically, he wanted help understanding the founder of each target company, their capabilities, and their team’s dynamics.

Ampersand’s Approach

Going into every deal, he intended to keep the founder in place (as long as it made sense) so as not to disrupt valuable relationships in each local marketplace. Thus, thorough diligence on how to partner effectively with the founder(s) became even more important. Organizational Survey paired with Executive Diligence for the founder became the standard practice for six acquisitions over three years.

Discovery: What We Found

Our analyses of the data uncovered actionable opportunities across the portfolio. Talent-wise, this included the identification of leaders who would evangelize a broader mission and enable integration of essential “back office” functions, and top performers that were underutilized – as well as underperformers who were sliding by on loyalty and tenure.

Operational opportunities existed as well. Select functional areas needed to integrate within the greater portfolios, while redefining roles and decreasing redundancy. And while there were areas of each company’s culture that should be supported and honored, there were ways to decisively – yet thoughtfully – address behaviors that were impeding growth. Insights gleaned created a roadmap to successfully instill operational and cultural improvement (without losing buy-in from the entrepreneurial founders).

Ampersand also uncovered surprises (both pleasant and not-as-pleasant) with the founders themselves, including:

  • A strong, strategic leader who, with a little mentoring and capital investment, had the capabilities to expand further geographically than what was originally thought possible, driving that business to achieve aggressive revenue growth.
  • A founder with a limited runway who required immediate shoring up to mitigate risk areas if he was to stay on long-term. He was eventually transitioned out successfully.
  • A diamond in the rough, underutilized in his current position and ready for a larger role. He went on to mentor and eventually manage another portfolio company’s founder, providing support as their business scaled and as that founder’s functional responsibilities were increased.
  • Two closely-related founders who personified cavalier arrogance, but for very different reasons. Wooing them over to new ways of embracing process and discipline took a deft touch by our client, and seeing their differences despite outward similarities was critical to gaining their buy-in.

Outcomes: What We Contributed

  • Provided guidance on how each company fit into the puzzle, where there were efficiencies of scale, and how to take the best of sales, process, and workflow to create a model for new businesses to follow.
  • Nuanced communication and a deliberate pace trumped brutal honesty and swift action with founders.
  • Success was largely enabled through retention of local market customer relationships in combination with the realization of synergies among the portfolio companies.
  • With our feedback in hand, the client firm went into each integration with hypotheses to test and a road map for the first 100 days. And to give credit where credit is due, our client and his team took our recommendations and ran with them – using the data to maximize performance and leverage strengths to increase revenue.
  • The firm enjoyed steady growth from $25M in revenue to almost $500M at the time of sale (in just three short years). A highly successful outcome for all involved, Ampersand remains a strategic partner as the firm begins its next chapter with a new sponsor group.


Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information. The information contained in this case study is not intended to serve as advice.