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May 23, 2022

M&A is a fascinating career path, and traditionally there are only few entry points. Banking roles are the most common entry point to M&A, but recently, we have seen an increase in practitioners coming from different backgrounds. Kayla Davis, Vice President, Head of M&A at ABM Industries, went from accounting to M&A, and in this article, she shares her journey and key lessons learned along the way. 

“With anything new, it’s going to be uncomfortable. You need to get comfortable with the fact that there is a lot that you don’t know and you need to ask for help.” - Kayla Davis

Career path 

Kyla started out her career as a CPA purely focused on accounting. She led SEC reporting and technical accounting for ABM industries until she had an opportunity to take a role in FP&A. It was the first time in Kayla’s career that she was looking for things beyond numbers, and she enjoyed it. So when the company was standing up their M&A function, she volunteered to run corporate development.

The transition was not easy, but because she helped all the functions with their budgets in her previous role, she understood how the functions operated. She was also able to create meaningful relationships that play an important part in being the Head of M&A. 

Deal Sourcing 

When Kayla got the role, one of the first things that she set out to do was to create a framework that allowed ABM Industries to evaluate targets and source deals internally. The way they look at every acquisition is through three different lenses:

  1. Strategic fit - Is this the type of company that we want to pursue?
  2. Operating model - How different are the operating models of the two companies? 
  3. Financial profile - What is our ability to grow the target company and what will it do to the overall value?

Her team scores potential targets across fifteen different line items and gives them a score from one to five. The results give them an idea of which company makes more sense to prioritize.

Advice for a successful M&A Career

Kyla attributes her success to five key principles: curiosity, courage, clarity, communication and collaboration.

  1. Courage is what got Kayla into M&A in the first place. It was a huge leap from her previous role, but she was brave enough to take that chance. 
  2. Curiosity is what allowed Kayla to keep learning once she was inside her new role. She knew she had a lot to learn but her willingness to do the research and ask for help allowed her to succeed.
  3. Clarity is crucial as Head of M&A. It’s the Head of M&A’s responsibility to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the deal’s vision and goals.
  4. Communicate as frequently as possible. In this role, you have to deal with executive members, boards, and functional leads, and each of them has their own needs and are changing all the time. If you fail to communicate, it will lead to bigger problems down the road.

Collaboration is a key to success. M&A is a team sport. The more people you engage with, the more opinions and expertise you bring to the table.

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