Published in M&A Award Profiles
Daryl Adams of Spartan Motors Inc. Daryl Adams of Spartan Motors Inc. Courtesy photo

Adams of Spartan Motors takes disciplined approach to dealmaking

BY Sunday, October 15, 2017 10:40pm

MiBiz 2017 M+A Deals & Dealmakers Awards Finalist: Executive

After steering Spartan Motors Inc. through a series of changes that helped the manufacturer return to profitability, Daryl Adams knew the timing worked to take the next step in the company’s growth strategy.

Surrounded by a new executive team, Adams set out to find a deal that would position the Charlotte-based manufacturer of chassis for the emergency response, fleet and recreational vehicle markets for further growth. 

The team found a solid contender when Nebraska-based Smeal Fire Apparatus Co. hit the market in mid 2016. However, while Smeal met a lot of the criteria the company outlined for a possible deal, Adams took a step back to ensure the fundamentals of the deal worked for Spartan Motors. 

“It doesn’t make sense to make an acquisition if it’s not going to be accretive — one plus one has to equal three, if you will,” said Adams, the finalist in the MiBiz Dealmaker of the Year Awards in the executive category. “You have to be disciplined in your approach. You have to be willing to walk away if it’s not the right deal for you. 

Daryl Adams

  • Company: Spartan Motors Inc.

  • Business description: Manufacturer of chassis for emergency response, fleet and recreational vehicles

  • Revenue: $590.8 million in 2016

  • Workforce: 560 full-time employees in West Michigan

  • Best practices for effective dealmaking: 1) Be ready to walk away. 2) Don’t spark a bidding war and over-leverage your operation just to close a deal. 3) Do what you say and say what you do, when communicating with the newly acquired company through the integration process. 

  • Personal information: wife, Carrie; three children (Morgan, Mitchell, Macgregor)

  • Education: Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Lawrence Tech; MBA from Michigan State University 

  • Community involvement: Active member of Michigan Manufacturers Association, Capital Area Manufacturing Council, Autonomous Vehicle Alliance; Executive committee member of Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP); board member of Business Leaders for Michigan and Detroit Public Safety Foundation

  • Advisers: Donnelly Penman & Partners Inc. (Financial), Varnum LLP (legal)

“That’s what I kept challenging the team with: Are we sure this is right, do the financials add up, are the products what we need? You continue to ask those questions. Because it was a new team, we needed to understand everybody and how they operated. It was an interesting process.”

That sentiment captured Adams’ disciplined approach to dealmaking, spanning the full scope of the process from sourcing and due diligence to closure and integration. By the time Spartan closed the $36 million deal for Smeal in January 2017, Adams and his team remained confident they’d done everything possible to find an effective deal. 

In approaching prospective targets, Adams said a company needs to have the willingness and the discipline to walk away from a deal if it doesn’t match up to an organization’s needs. 

“If you’re not straightforward and disciplined, you can rationalize and make a good business case on any deal if you let yourself and maybe talk yourself into it if you’re not disciplined,” he said. “Like Kenny Rogers said, ‘You have to know when to fold them.’”

For Adams, that translated into Spartan Motors setting hard criteria for prospective acquisitions as it related to their size, management, price and lingering financial issues, as well as countless other considerations. 

The discipline that Adams relied on through the dealmaking process carried over into Spartan’s work to integrate Smeal into its operations and dealer network. Adams set a goal of being fully integrated by the beginning of 2018, a target he says the company is positioned to meet. 

To integrate the companies, Adams focused primarily on culture and communication to all members of the team, both from Spartan Motors and the newly acquired Smeal. 

“As soon as the deal was announced, my team was dispatched — including myself — to these locations to talk to these people about what’s going on,” Adams said. “We continue to do that. We hold monthly and quarterly meetings at all of our locations to make sure that people are informed. We put them on our benefits as fast as possible so they feel like they’re part of the team.”


In many ways, the Smeal deal served as a test case for Spartan Motors’ new executive team, Adams said, noting that the track record should lead the company’s board of directors to be open to more deals going forward. 

“I think the progress and the success we’ve had with the Smeal acquisition is not taken lightly from the board of directors,” Adams said. “They were watching our entire team. It wasn’t a large deal, but it wasn’t a small deal either, and the Spartan team executed. The board is excited and we’re talking about a number of future acquisitions with the same team moving forward.” 

Specifically, Adams plans to target acquisitions that will grow Spartan Motors’ other business lines, namely the fleet market, particularly as developments in e-commerce change the way consumers receive their products. 

While the Spartan Motors team has gained confidence through the Smeal deal, Adams said their success proves the need to adhere to a disciplined approach. The company has already backed away from a number of possible deals following the Smeal acquisition, he said. 

“We have a great shareholder base and shareholders are expecting us to take care of their money and continue to grow,” Adams said. “When we look at acquisitions, we look at them on a long-term basis, not a short-term one or two years and then spin it off. This is something that’s going to come into the Spartan family and stay with the Spartan family as we grow.”

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