How an investment firm started in the Great Recession grew into a success
By Jeff Bell // November 8,2018
The timing could not have been much worse when Andy Hays and Scott Chapman founded their investment banking firm 10 years ago.
The two young financial pros launched Copper Run Capital in early 2008, just months before the bottom dropped out of the stock market and the Great Recession began.
But they made the best of those tough times by helping distressed businesses find buyers and closing some deals involving oil and natural gas companies active in the early stages of Eastern Ohio’s Utica shale boom.
“It was a little slow at first,” Chapman said, “but we made money every year and continued to build our reputation.”
By 2011, he and Hays had built the foundation for an investment banking firm that is thriving today by advising and assisting clients on mergers and acquisitions in the middle market.
That includes sell-side deals for Central Ohio companies with annual revenue in the $5 million to $100 million range and buy-side transactions in which they help large companies and private equity firms, both locally and nationally, find suitable M&A matches in the middle market.
It’s a business that has grown to 15 employees and revenue approaching $5 million this year. And the future looks bright as Copper Run moves forward with some ambitious growth plans.
Hays and Chapman recently sat down with Columbus Business First for this interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How did the two of you first become acquainted?
Hays: We met at Ohio State in 2002. I was in my second year and Scott was in his first year in the Fisher MBA program. Then I left shortly after that and went to New York and then to Cleveland.
Chapman: We started talking about (forming Copper Run) in 2007. We both were in that part of our lives where we were starting to have families. I’m from here and Andy is from Northeast Ohio, so we wanted to be back here in Central Ohio.
What was it like starting an investment banking firm just before the stock market crash in 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession?
Hays: Well, we didn’t know that was going to happen! The good news is we were pretty lean and mean when we started so we adapted quickly. We did some distressed, turnaround-type of transactional work out of the gate. It probably delayed our growth by a few years. We were three or four people for the first four years we were in business. Then, probably starting in 2012 or 2013, we started growing a little more.
What have been the keys to growing your business?
Hays: We’ve always had good people. We’re still a pretty young and aggressive firm. I’m 42 – Scott is 41 – and I’m the second oldest person here. Most of our folks are in their 20s and 30s. They’re not afraid to work hard.
Chapman: We’ve also surrounded ourselves with great people who have really supported us. From the get-go we had an advisory board of a lot of folks from this area who had a pay-it-forward mentality. A lot of them were in their 50s, 60s and 70s who had done very well for themselves and were influential in the community. They helped us get in to meet with companies and to use them as references.
Why did you decide you wanted to focus on mergers and acquisitions in the middle market?
Hays: When I moved back to Columbus, I wanted to buy a business but didn’t see anybody who was doing a good job in middle-market M&A advising. I started a firm on my own and did a couple deals. Then I worked with GBQ Partners for about a year and a half and started an investment banking group there. But I decided I didn’t want to work for someone else. I wanted to have my own business and decided to join up with Scott to start Copper Run.
Chapman: I remember some early meetings we had with Dave Meuse and Pete Davies (principals at Stonehenge Partners) and some attorneys at different law firms. They all said to us that there is a void of pure M&A advisory firms that just do middle market deals in Columbus. That gave us a lot of confidence from private equity guys that there was a need.
How do you define middle market?
Hays: Companies with $5 million to $100 million in revenue. Most of the transactions we do are for companies that size, but some of our clients are much larger. For example, we helped Worthington Industries sell a division that was in that range of revenue.
Chapman: We have the sell side where we represent maybe a founder of a business who’s at an age where he wants to retire, doesn’t have children in the business and wants to sell. But we’re best known nationally for our buy-side practice. That’s been great because we’ve been able to work with much larger companies that want to buy companies in that $5 million to $100 million revenue range.
Hays: That’s what is driving a lot of our growth now. We’re also an outsource corporate development team. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense (for a company) to have a whole team on staff to find acquisitions. We work with them to do that. It’s the same thing with private equity funds.
How do the two of you get along as business partners?
Hays: We run our own deals now. That’s changed over the years as we’ve grown. I’m also spending more of my time trying to grow the business. Scott has done a great job working on business development, bringing in clients and closing deals.
Chapman: We’ve also added to our team. We have a third partner, Mike Shaw, who joined us about five years ago and has really helped Andy and me. When Mike came on board, Andy and I could spend more of our time talking with clients because Mike was so helpful in the execution of deals. We have a lot of confidence in him.
What are your growth plans for the next five years?
Hays: We have a five-year plan that would get us to $15 million in annual revenue and probably 30 people. That’s just us using our own capital and growing organically.
We’re also thinking about bringing on an outside partner that would be a financing source. If we do that, we can grow a lot faster. I think there is an opportunity to grow this business to $100 million in revenue in multiple markets and multiple business lines.
Chapman: We love Columbus and think it’s really headed in a nice direction. We’re hoping to be a part of that growth and help that growth. We want to be known as Columbus’ premier investment bank.
Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.