David Atadan at Delaware State Chamber Leadership Breakfast on February 20, 2013.
David Atadan wants to buy your company.
The CEO and founding partner of Wilmington-based Trellist Marketing and Technology wants to grow his firm, now at 110 full timers to more than 1,000 in the next 10 years, and in experiencing the same talent acquisition slog that other regional firms are facing, he wants to try the mergers and acquisitions route.
He does have some specifics: firms with one to 10 employees or so that have clients and technology, with profit but not necessarily, particularly in marketing, design or mobile work. Oh, you also have to share his philosophy on the world and business, one that includes profit sharing for all employees and a determination to not settle for being a big regional company, but one a national or global scale.
“If you retain your culture, that’s how you scale,” Atadan, 50, said. “I won’t sacrifice quality.”
To balance these two opposing goals — speedy business growth with a self-styled selective hiring practice — he’s taking a lot of meetings, trying to find the founders of these small companies and seeing if they want to buy in. Trellist is also seeking smaller firms that can be partners and venture candidates, says spokesman George Rotsch, but Atadan is excited about the bigger route.
He’s meeting entrepreneurs and technologists in Delaware, sure, but increasingly he also wants to meet them in Philadelphia, where he expects to open offices in Center City this fall and the western suburbs soon after. There are any number of startup business types that interest him: anything from a creative agency focused on motorsports to a mobile app or web dev firm with a specialty, a system tech integration business or an enterprise development practice.
Like other big IT companies in the region, Trellist has traditional roots in pharma, healthcare and sciences, but talent and culture are words Atadan says more than any particular vertical.
With a full head of black hair, a thin face and narrow frame glasses, Atadan settles in over coffee, leaning back in his chair, wearing a dark suit and a white dress shirt, with the collar unbuttoned. He wants to make sure you understand what he’s offering when he says he wants to buy your company.
Trellist gets more talent, greater capacity and, in some cases, some additional client relationships. You get more resources, access to more and bigger clients, backend services that often overwhelm entrepreneurs and the chance to be part of something big. Call it a teaching hospital, he said.
The January purchase of Forthright, a consulting practice that was founded by Todd Metzger and had a dozen employees, was a perfect example of this work, said Trellist spokesman Rotsch, because the entire team was retained and Metzger has become a partner.
Worried about that loss of owning something? Well, Atadan said, Trellist is an employee shared company. That means you get equity, year-end profit sharing and, since 2007, a chance to up or down vote executive promotions. And, yes, people do get voted down in their effort to climb the corporate ladder there, he said.
He’ll have a conversation with you, ask some questions and his team will vet you if you look serious enough. Trellist has even established a point system for acquisition, though the details are proprietary. If you fit their structure, Atadan will make an offer. It’s the only way that Trellist can get as big as they want.
Atadan pauses and prepares when asked why, after founding the business in the 1995, is there so much hunger now to go big: “We want a legacy.”-30-
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