Trust and the art of negotiation in business – BCMS at Aston Martin Bristol

Apeksha Tanna writes: Business leaders, owners and advisors from the South-West and beyond gathered to the stylish Aston Martin dealership in Bristol late last month for an exclusive invitation-only networking event, co-hosted by BCMS, Freeths and Rathbones, and assisted by Business Leader.

The theme for the evening was teamwork, trust and the art of negotiation.

As keynote speaker, we were lucky enough to have in our company Suzanne Williams QPM, a vastly experienced hostage negotiator who has worked on some of the most-high profile and dangerous hostage situations across the world. Formerly the most senior ranking officer at Scotland Yard in charge of both the Kidnap and Hostage Negotiation Units, Suzanne has advised the Cabinet Office, Buckingham Palace, and the FBI, and now lectures at Harvard University and the Said Oxford Business School.

Who better then, to offer advice on how to build your negotiation skills? With trust and rapport featuring heavily as a primary aim during the initial stages of negotiation, Suzanne expertly highlighted how effective negotiation, first and foremost, requires empathy and understanding.

“Negotiation is often seen as a zero-sum game, a win for one side and a loss for another. The sooner we can leave this misconception behind, the better”

Suzanne then joined an expert panel to discuss these themes as they relate to the world of Mergers & Acquisitions. Whilst our panel of M&A experts – and I am sure many business leaders in the room! – were very grateful to never have had to negotiate with pirates or cyber criminals, our panel including BCMS’ very own Jonathan Dunn, Rebecca Tunstall (Rathbones) and Lottie Hugo (Freeths), found it rather worryingly easy to draw similarities between Suzanne’s work and their own high-stakes negotiations in business sale transactions.

Insights and experience from former clients

In our industry, the art of negotiation often depends on an understanding of how perceptions of a business and future performance translate into deal structure and value. With buyers focusing on risk allocation to optimise an offer, there is a strong case to understand where reservations lie, to better counter and improve on an outcome.

Our former client Joseph Jones – who sold his event management company to a US buyer – also joined the panel. Having built an impressive business, Joseph appointed BCMS with a view to exit, and having successfully done so, he highlighted the multitude of skills he learnt during the process, and stressed the importance of transparency and preparation from the offset.

Something that really stuck with me from the evening, and that is particularly true of M&A, is that we often view negotiation as a zero-sum game, a win for one side and a loss for another, but the sooner we can leave this misconception behind, the better. Negotiation is an intricate weave of conversations ultimately leading to harmonic concurrences. And, when it comes to M&A, there is no better example of several parties all working toward a common goal: a successful acquisition. And when this happens, everybody wins.

Throughout the evening, guests enjoyed time to network and share stories. Latest macro-economic uncertainty featured heavily in conversations throughout, but despite challenges, spirits remained high. Neil Needham, who had previously sold his business to the AA during an economic recession with BCMS, joined the panel of speakers. He provided insight into the art of the possible even during testing times, when you have the right team of advisors behind you.

And whilst we cannot predict future economics, by the end of the evening, one thing was certain – the dealers at the Aston Martin showroom were in for a tough ride, now guests were armed with the gold-standard of negotiation tactics.

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