Even after building a channel M&A business that has brought 150 deals worth $5 billion to fruition, Marty Wolf still refers to himself as an "IT industry guy."
It's not a moniker Wolf takes lightly given that it is his and his team's knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the IT services business that has made Martinwolf M&A Advisors one of the pre-eminent deal-makers in the channel.
Wolf, in fact, spent 12 years as a solution provider and distribution executive before he decided to take on the Ivy League world of New York investment bankers with little more than a Compaq laptop and a $350 mini-fridge filled with sodas.
"I never worked for an investment bank," said Wolf, who later Friday along with 12 associates will celebrate the official 20th anniversary of the company he started at the Stadium Pub, a short walk from his office. "Our differentiator is we really understand the business, how these companies operate and make money. We can explain it and articulate it clearly and we know who it makes sense to go to and not go to. We don't need to run a spreadsheet for that. That is our advantage. Much of what happens in M&A is not finance. It is an understanding of how these things come together. We take great pride in the fact that when we work with buyers they get the results they want, and when we work with sellers we hit the bid."
Getting the "results" both buyers and sellers are looking for has led to deals in 20 countries with the biggest and best in the technology business including Microsoft, CSC, Bain Capital and Silver Lake. It has also resulted in Martinwolf selling the technology services divisions of seven Fortune 500 companies including General Electric's training division, Staples' managed services business, Johnson Controls' network infrastructure business and Insight's wholesale division. Among the companies that have done multiple transactions with Martinwolf: Rolta, Insight and Softchoice.
"It's unbelievable, when I started this business I never thought we would have people march into our office from all over the world," said Wolf, who as founder and president of the firm that carries his name is up before dawn working the phones and frequently travels overseas – twice to India in the last month -- to get deals done. "We punch above our weight class. We are closing a deal now with one of the top private equity groups. You can't make this stuff up."
Wolf's inspiration in starting the business came, in part, from an encounter with a New York investment banker who was selling the $1 billion Merisel distribution business that he had headed up. That young investment banker associate's first question to Wolf: "What is a SKU?"
"We were a distributor and he didn't know what a SKU was," said an incredulous Wolf, who prides himself on hiring executives with industry expertise rather than those with investment banking experience. "I thought, this is the wrong guy to sell the business."
Wolf, who has a business degree from his beloved University of Michigan, credits two channel industry legends he worked with for giving him an MBA of sorts in the rough-and-tumble, fast-paced technology business: former Computerland CEO Bill Tauscher and former Computerland President and Compucom CEO Ed Anderson.
"I learned from the best," said Wolf. "I watched and listened and got an MBA and a Ph.D. in this business. I didn't even know what working capital was until Tauscher taught me that. He is a financial guru and sales impresario."
As for Anderson, Wolf says he is nothing short of a technology genius. "Nobody understood the technology better than Ed," said Wolf. In fact, Wolf recalls touring an HP printer factory with Anderson and then-CEO Lewis Platt with Anderson knowing more about "unannounced products" and the future road map than some HP executives themselves.
Wolf says it a passion for working with what he calls the "smartest, hardest-working and thoughtful business leaders" on the planet that has been the spark that has kept him putting in endless hours -- long days and nights -- into deals that can sometimes takes years to complete.