Life After Business

#185: 5 Buyers, the Ability to Walk Away at Any Moment, and a Final $12.5M all Cash Deal

This week’s guest was a lively, truthful, and colorful entrepreneur, Steve Prefontaine. Steve partnered with his dad 25 years ago and bought Skaff Cryogenics, where they purchased, rehabbed and sold large cryogenic tanks (essentially HUGE yeti’s as Steve put it).

The business was only doing $500,000 at the time they took over in the 90s and recently sold it for $12,500,000 in an all cash deal to a public company.

Steve shares with us how they grew the company and his approach to busienss… keep a “real real tight and simple business and pay down debt”.

Around 10 years before they sold, they asked themselves “what do we want from this business”. Their question helped shape their move to go national, build out a trailer leasing business, pick up an international partner and more.

Along their journey they got random offers, took the company to market (then took it off), doubled down on their growth strategy, paid down an insane about of debt and finally pinned 5 competitors against each other to ultimately sell to Chart.

Steve had the ability to walk away from all the offers and continue making money for another 15 years but because of his leverage he was able to pick the exact buyer that he wanted with an all cash deal… while being himself every step of the way (and even to this day while he works at Chart).  

Listen in to hear how your ability to walk away can be your biggest asset.

What you will learn:

  • Why a “real tight and simple” business sold for $12,500,000 all cash up front
  • How Steve partnered with Dad for 25 years in 3 companies and never fought
  • Why complete devotion to customer service made Skaff appealing and valuable to the competition
  • Why building out the leasing business from the repair business helped with cash flow and viability of the repair business
  • How loyalty to employees paid off right before they sold the company
  • Why Steve decided to take the company off the market to double down on growth
  • How paying down debt played into their business strategy
  • Why 5 competitive buyers came to the table to bid on Skaff
  • Why having the ability to “walk away” was Steve’s biggest asset
  • How Steve negotiated directly with the CEO of a public company to close the deal

The Takeaway:

If you want to do what you want, when you want and how you want, you have to grow a valuable business that others envy, kicks out cash and also gives you the flexibility to do what you want.


Steven Prefontaine, LinkedIn

Skaff Cryogenics, website

Chart, website

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72:34 – “A lot of my stress, and a lot of entrepreneurs are probably going to say the same thing, a lot of my stress came from looking at a business not just for myself but I looked at the business (and I’ve always conducted myself this way) every single decision that I make, affects my employees and their families and their children and everything they do. And that was my stress. I wanted to make sure that I was getting up every morning and making the right decision.” - Steve Prefontaine

19:15 – “You get beat up enough like that. I’m sure we all get our bumps and bruises owning a business, that’s for sure. And getting beat up like that, doing it all over again with a small business. [stumbles] When we sat down and he said, ‘Listen, I’ve been through the problems. I’ve made the same money at 1 million as I did when we were doing 10 million in sales, with 10 times the headache. So what we’re not going to do is, we’re not going to do that again. That’s my only advice to you so grow the business slow and smart.” - Steve Prefontaine

81:40 – “If you want to be yourself and have the freedom and the choices to do what you want, when you want, with who you want, you have to build a valuable business that gives you the option to have those choices. If you have a company that’s highly reliant on you, that doesn’t give you the financial flexibility cause it’s not worth what you need it to be worth to be financially free, then you’re going to be stuck making decisions that you don’t want to make and/or you’re going to have to sacrifice things that you don’t want to sacrifice.” - Ryan Tansom

Brought to you by Ryan Tansom of Life After Business