When Casey Weldon was quarterback for the Florida State University Seminoles in the late 1980s and early ’90s, he learned valuable lessons that stayed with him as he built a successful business in Tampa.
Weldon’s company, Advanced Drying Systems, has become one of the fastest-growing and largest non-franchise providers of water removal and dehumidification services in the state. The company also provides mold remediation and other loss mitigation services, and operates throughout Florida and Louisiana.
Now, Clearwell Group, a family office investment firm in Tampa, is ready to take the company to the next level. Clearwell recently recapitalized Advanced Drying Systems, acquiring an undisclosed percentage of ownership in the firm. Financial terms also were not disclosed.
The deal comes amid what is shaping up as a strong year for mergers and acquisitions. There’s an historic amount of capital in private equity and strategic buyers are active in M&A as well, said Emery Ellinger, CEO and founder at Aberdeen Advisors, the St. Petersburg sell-side advisors that represented Weldon in the deal.
Clearwell had looked at three to five other companies in the water remediation industry, but they lacked the management expertise of Advanced Drying Systems, Ellinger said.
“Casey Weldon built a tremendous business over the last decade that prides itself on quality service, delivered with high integrity,” Ryan Cortner, partner at Clearwell, said in a news release.
Advice from FSU Head Coach Bobby Bowden was key to building Advanced Drying Systems, Weldon said.
“He put great people around him and let them do their jobs. He was going to make the final call, although they had their input,” Weldon said in an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst. “That’s what I did. I surrounded myself with great people, hard-working, trust-worthy, whatever-it-takes type of people and that’s been the largest part of our success.”
After college, Weldon played for the NFL, including for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1993 to 1995. He finished his career in 2001 with the XFL Birmingham Thunderbolts, then went to work for his father’s commercial construction firm, where he learned more important businesses lessons.
“Your word is your worth. You say you’re going to get it done, and you get it done. I definitely learned early on to under-promise and over-deliver,” Weldon said.
Although he was working for his father, Weldon said he wanted to bring his own contributions to the table.
“It was at a time when mold was big in the public eye. An engineering buddy of mine said look into getting certified in this, it’s really becoming an issue for people, and it could be a different service that the company provides,” Weldon said. “After five or six years, I split off and started Advanced Drying Systems.”
He started the company with six employees, and had 77 workers at the time of the recapitalization by Clearwell Group, which financed the deal in partnership with Plexus Capital and Cadence Bank. Weldon is staying on as an owner, and running the company in partnership with Clearwell.
Recapitalizations are one of several finance mechanisms available for business owners, Ellinger said.
“Not only can you as a business owner take some chips off the table, but if you were running your business on your own, you may not go buy a $5 million or $10 million business. But with a big capital partner behind you, if it’s the right deal, they’ll say we’ve got the capital, let’s acquire that and make it a much bigger business,” Ellinger said. “The advantage for the owners are as that as the business gets bigger and more profitable and has more cash flow, the value of that business goes up pretty significantly. The multiple they get on that cash flow would typically be much higher. So not only do they have more revenue and more profit but the multiplier goes up.”
Ellinger credited the strong M&A climate to historically low interest rates, a strong economy fueled by the 11th year of a bull market, and baby boomers who are looking at selling the businesses they started, as well as those a bit younger who are thinking about their long-term prospects.
“It is a perfect storm for doing a lot of deals in a positive way. It’s a very active climate right now,” Ellinger said.