Bob Bicksler fishing

The role of a senior advisor at FOCUS Investing Banking is to provide strategic advice and guidance to clients on various financial transactions. Senior advisors play a key role in client relationship management, strategic advisory, market research, networking, team collaboration and risk management. Senior advisors are seasoned professionals with extensive experience in a specific industry. They bring a wealth of knowledge and insight to the table, contributing to the success of the clients they serve.

A self-professed “serial entrepreneur,” Bob Bicksler lends more than 30 years of experience to FOCUS as a Senior Advisor. Bob’s primary focus is the photonics industry, and his most recent role was that of president and CEO of JML Optical Industries, LLC. He built JML into a custom optical solutions provider over the course of 12 years, and in January 2023 oversaw the company’s purchase by Thorlabs, Inc.

The JML transaction is the latest in a long line of successful deals Bob has negotiated for clients throughout the years. He attributes this track record to his ability to guide clients through the inevitable challenges of selling a business while maintaining a focus on the end goal.

“In this business, clients are looking for someone with a calm approach, a calm voice,” Bob says. “It’s not unusual to encounter speed bumps along the way, and it’s easy to get distracted. My role as a Senior Advisor at FOCUS is in part to prepare my client’s for what’s ahead, including guiding them over and around those bumps.”

Bob, a Florida resident, began his career at PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP and was a managing partner when he left to pursue his entrepreneurial career. Since PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Mr. Bicksler has led and developed many companies as CEO, Executive Vice President, and/or Chief Financial and Administrative Officer including AT&T Canada (sold to AT&T Corp. in $8B transaction), International (merged into NASDAQ company), Global Metro Networks, MetroNet (IPO), Performance Awareness Corp. (sold to IBM/Rational Software), Seer Technologies, Inc. (IPO), and Megapath Communications. Mr. Bicksler’s experience providing strategic merger and acquisition consulting services also comes from his former role as a Principal of Catalina Consulting during which he was responsible for evaluating numerous companies on behalf of private investment firms. Mr. Bicksler is an active member and advisor to several Boards

When advising companies in the Photonics sector, what is your strategic approach? How do the specifics of this field impact the way you advise clients?

The companies I represent are often a life- long endeavor of their owners, so I take as much time as needed to educate them on how to navigate this very unique process. I advise them to be realistic about timetables, financial expectations, even the reality that after the sale, they won’t be directly overseeing their employees anymore. Believe it or not, that can be painful at first.
I draw on my own experience – for example, the “morning after” a sale and how to handle that. It can be very hard for a seller. I think it’s very helpful, emotionally, for sellers to have someone to talk to. I understand this very technical, complex industry and its players, and I’m happy to share my 30+ years of experience with them.

Can you tell us about the impression FOCUS made that drove your decision to come on as a Senior Advisor?

I really appreciated that FOCUS is industry-focused, and is especially receptive to working with M&A in niche industries like photonics. And the people I have met at FOCUS, from our very first interactions, have all been first class. It’s the attention to detail and focusing on what’s unique and personal about every transaction. For example, showing a buyer how a seller fits into their needs. Everyone at FOCUS is committed to helping buyers and sellers explore the intricacies of what makes for a successful deal.

How do you assess the market for companies in the Photonics sector during an M&A process? What factors are you most attentive to when you’re evaluating the competitive landscape?

It’s a very capital-intensive industry, and I try to take into account that customer demands and specs are getting much tighter. That in turn drives consolidation. If you go back to the late 1970s, the 80s, the early 90s, there were a lot of photonics companies forming very quickly. Now 30 to 40 years later, owners are getting ready to retire, transition, or pass on the business. And I think that all makes for a very complex competitive landscape, but one that also holds a wealth of opportunity.

Deal Experience and Success Stories: Could you highlight one you’re especially proud of been involved in?

First, I’d say that each deal is unique – there’s always going to surprises. I’ve been around the block a few times, so I have a pretty educated view of the market. Having said that, the deal I’m most proud of was the sale of a business to AT&T. The negotiations lasted longer than any other deal I have been involved with; it was a multi-step transaction affected by a number of unique market attributes. But in the end it got done, and we realized an exceptional return.

How do you stay current regarding industry developments?

I read a great deal, for starters. It’s also important to attend workshops and trade shows like Photonics West. Networking also has to be top-of-mind: a simple lunch meeting, for example, can be fruitful. Lunches are great for that – food really gets people talking.
In general, photonics has seen a lot of consolidation and M&A over the past several years. Smaller companies really have to fight to compete in this space.

When advising business owners on the sale of their company, how important are personal issues?

It’s important to remember that even though you’re dealing with financial markets and financial transactions, this is a really personal business. You need to be able to understand the people impacted by these transactions – the buyers as well as the sellers. A key to a successful transaction is the ability to balance the emotional aspect with the business end.

How do you advise or mentor others?

I know the importance of having guidance in your career, because I was fortunate to have a lot of great mentors along my journey. So it’s very rewarding for me to pass that on. I’ve taught entrepreneurship at a STEM high school, entrepreneurship in a top notch MBA program with many international students, and I try to always make time for on-the-job coaching if the opportunity is there. I want to see everyone succeed.

For expert guidance in the advanced manufacturing sector, consider partnering with us! Our specialized knowledge and strategic insights can help elevate your business.

If you are interested in learning more about the Senior Advisor role at FOCUS, please contact Kahla Cooper at [email protected].

Kahla Cooper is the Director of Marketing at FOCUS. In this role, Ms. Cooper designs and implements the overall marketing strategy. Ms. Cooper works with each industry team leader to define programs in order to promote and brand FOCUS’ suite of capabilities.