Straight out of university, Howard Johnson found his direct route to investment banking blocked by a recession. So he took the long way instead, sidestepping his way into the industry by first working on mergers and acquisitions, and today he’s the co-owner of both leading midmarket investment bank Veracap M&A International and Campbell Valuation Partners Limited. Here are some stats on the two organizations, Johnson’s career, and how he gives back to the profession through the written word.
“I bounced around for a little bit in the mid-’90s and ended up running an equipment manufacturer in Mississauga that was owned by Ian Campbell,” Johnson says. Campbell also owned Campbell Valuation Partners, the longest established independent business-valuation firm in Canada, and Johnson eventually joined it in 1996, eventually starting an investment-banking arm for the company that would become Veracap.
After joining, Johnson worked on evolving his soft skills—something he knew he needed to work on as a finance-oriented individual. “While I have numerous professional financial designations,” Johnson says, “I often joke that I would trade all those in for a degree in psychology.”
Johnson has discovered that being an effective leader is more about understanding people, culture, and process management. “When you sell a privately held company,” he says, “that’s somebody’s baby that they’ve helped nurture for 20, 30, 40 years. You have to go beyond the numbers and help those individuals to be fully aware of the process because it can be very harrowing when somebody’s entire financial life is on the line.”
Campbell Valuation Partners and Veracap are sister companies, and Johnson owns 50 percent of each. The former concentrates more on formalistic valuation and large litigious matters—major shareholder disputes or tax disputes, for example—and the latter works more on the transaction-advisory side, where Johnson spends as much as three-quarters of his time. (On occasion, he works as an expert witness for Campbell Valuation Partners.)
The two businesses have their differences, but Johnson sees them as simply one integrated organization. “You can marry the two and offer clients the best of both worlds,” Johnson says. “Our valuation expertise helps us in identifying opportunities for enhancing shareholder value—from transaction planning through to closing.”
Veracap is member of M&A International, which is a large, worldwide investment bank with more than 600 professionals located in 40 countries. Its breadth allows the organization to work seamlessly on cross-border transactions—for buyers and sellers or to raise capital. “Not only do we have global reach,” Johnson says, “but we also have access to key decision-makers among major corporations around the world.”
Additionally, M&A International and its tight-knit network provide Johnson and his team with expertise from various industry subsectors. The bank’s global professionals physically meet twice a year and hold ad hoc meetings more frequently. “I hesitate to call it a network because this is much more cohesive,” Johnson says.
On July 1, 2014, Johnson began a two-year term as president of M&A International without leaving his roles at Veracap and Campbell Valuation Partners. The positions are inextricably entwined, much as the organizations themselves are connected. M&A handles its day-to-day affairs through its head office in Barcelona, Spain, so Johnson’s focus is to promote the organization both internally and externally.
Any given day can swing wildly from intense negotiations to high-level strategic planning, so Johnson takes advantage of his 15 direct reports to keep connected to all of M&A’s business.
8 books written
Recently, Johnson released his eighth book, Selling a Private Company, published by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. It’s actually the second edition of a book launched in 2005, and it came to be because Campbell Valuation Partners has always produced the books that are used to train Canada’s valuation experts. “I began writing them, quite frankly, because I spend a lot of time on airplanes,” Johnson says. And because he doesn’t like to watch television, Johnson finds that writing these books gives him a way to pass his time. Perhaps more importantly, though, the writing process allows Johnson to crystallize his thoughts and challenge himself. Johnson’s ninth work is already in progress.