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Member Highlights

How Creativity Helps Kristina Walsh Thrive in Finance

 

Kristina Walsh is Co-Head of Consumer and Retail Investment Banking at Young America Capital, a New York-based FINRA/SEC-registered broker-dealer/Investment Bank. She has a long and illustrious career in senior management roles in the hedge fund and financial services industries, having spent nearly two decades on Wall Street.

Kristina is not your typical Investment Banker. Kristina’s career has been built on her background in psychology, a degree she obtained from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She says her psychology background has provided invaluable insights to her career as an Investment Banker and Executive. In particular, Kristina says, the “creative” side of psychology has helped her think “outside the box” when it comes to finding clients and solutions for them.

In terms of strategic relationships, she said her background in psychology has allowed her to identify potential partners who may not have initially been on her radar.

“I think, in structuring deals and finding potential investors, for my clients, it’s not always the ones that check the box or that would be obvious.,” she said.

Creativity also played a role ten years ago, when Kristina and one of her colleagues started a women’s family office lunch series, which she has kept ever since. The lunches are a way to bring together successful women from various backgrounds and industries to share their experiences and advice. They try to meet every month or two to talk about everything from work-life balance to the challenges and opportunities of being a woman in business.

“It’s all about sharing ideas, friendly suggestions and introductions. I think the lunches have really created a foundation of trust and sincerity in actively wanting to help each other thrive,” she said.

 

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
January 2022

A Conversation with Steven Nigro, Managing Partner of TAG Financial Institutions Group

 

Steven Nigro is a Managing Partner of TAG Financial Institutions Group, LLC, a New York-based specialized investment and merchant bank focusing on the insurance industry.

The 61-year-old has more than three decades of experience in the investment banking for the insurance industry. He co-founded TAG in 2012, and it has since closed more than 250 deals. In a Zoom interview, he recently discussed what’s driving his firm’s success and what he plans to do next.

Nigro attributes TAG’s success in part to being a “specialist” instead of a “generalist.”

He said this approach has allowed them to be more selective and focus on deals that make sense.

“Specializing is important because we see things over and over again, we’ve recognized common issues and problems as they arise, we know how to solve them and we’re experts in the subject matter,” he said.

“Everybody in the firm here is an has significant in insurance. We have overlapping disciplines but also complementary disciplines as well. So, we’re able to approach each deal and solve problems and add certainty to close…Believe it or not, outside of the investment banking realm, we’ve helped them with their businesses by as an ancillary service by providing business and capacity for brokers or distribution for carriers. I don’t know how a generalist can approach some of our deals, especially the complex ones,” he added.

A firm’s success also depends on individual commitment at the highest level. Nigro often works on weekends and puts in long hours because he believes in his firm’s mission.

“I work all the time,” he said, “You know why? Because I love what I do. I’m in on weekends, not because it’s a chore but because it fuels me.”

He says he’s not going to retire “anytime soon” but has planned for a successful exit. He has created a perpetuation plan with his partner and others to take over his role and plans to stay on as a mentor.

“Thankfully, I have a partner and team that can take over. Maybe this happened serendipitously but I’ll take it.

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

 

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
December 2021

What Does it Mean to be a Black Woman in the Male-dominated World of Business Development?

An interview with Traci Rhone, Vice President at Young America Capital

 

Business development is not just about closing deals and making money. It is also a profession requiring the ability to build relationships with people, something Traci Rhone has been doing for years as an African American woman who has been an independent filmmaker and psychotherapist for nearly 20 years.

She now serves as the vice president of business development at Young America Capital in New York. She works out of Florida and has been doing so since 2019.

“One of the major surprises for me was that there is really an art to the deal,” said Rhone, who holds two master’s degrees: one in gender and economic development from the University of West Indies and another in mental health counseling from Nova Southeastern University.

“Deals have life cycles, and you can’t just close one like that. It takes time. You have to massage the client, you have to romance the client, you have to make sure that the product is good, you have to make sure that you get the correct investor there,” she added.

Wearing big eyeglasses with a thick, black frame, Rhone spoke to me via Zoom about her journey in business development and how being an African American woman has been a distinct advantage rather than a liability in a world where business is usually conducted by men.

“It helps a lot,” she said. “Because I walk in with my glasses. I’m a female, and I’m black. Right? So, people are immediately like, Okay, forget the glasses. Just being female. Why is she here?”

She added that her experience has largely been positive, encouraging other women to break barriers and not be afraid to enter fields that have not been traditionally diverse.

“I haven’t come across any racism. I haven’t come across any sexism at all. At all, I’ve only come across people that are respectful to me and kind,” she said.

As a filmmaker, Rhone has worked with major companies such as Time Warner as well as with award-winning producers, directors and actors. Her passion for filmmaking goes back to her late father, Trevor D. Rhone, a prominent Jamaican playwright and filmmaker.

To succeed in any industry, including business development, Rhone believes one must live in the moment and not stress over things that cannot be controlled.

“I made sure to always remind myself on a daily basis, to remain present. Because if I start to worry about the future, at any given time, I’m going to paralyze myself. And I’m not going to be able to function,” she said.

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

 

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
December 2021

From Martial Arts to Mergers and Acquisitions: How Josh Goldberg Uses his Martial Arts Background for Closing Deals

An interview with Josh Goldberg, Vice President of USI Insurance Services

 

Josh Goldberg has his eye on the prize. The insurance broker with USI Insurance Services is working toward closing deals in the areas of mergers and acquisitions (M&A), real estate, and construction in California’s competitive market by bringing something to the table that many of his peers don’t have: a 20+ years’ experience in martial arts training.

Josh Goldberg is the vice president of USI Insurance Services, a Los Angeles founded and New York based national insurance brokerage with thousands of employees. It’s an impressive resume for the 31-year-old who joined the company seven years ago. Goldberg credits his achievements in business to the lessons he has learned in the world of martial arts since he was seven years old when his father encouraged him to start training.

Martial arts is an ancient practice that has been around for thousands of years. It’s the study and practice of mental and physical techniques to promote health with an emphasis on self-defense.

“In martial arts,” said Goldberg, “no matter how many times you’re challenged; how many times you get knocked down; it’s important to continuously progress. The goal is not achieving a belt. It’s continuous improvement.”

That philosophy, he said, is pivotal to success in business development, which is based on keeping a continuous stream of potential deals and business opportunities flowing.

“From the time I wake up, most of what I hear from people is ‘no’,” Goldberg told me in a recent Zoom interview.

“A no is not a ‘no’. A no is a ‘not yet’, and you have to figure out [that] perhaps it’s just not the right solution and you have to figure out another path, or continuing pushing on the same path, depending on the situation,” he said.

Goldberg’s views are consistent with studies that have found strong correlations between the practice of martial arts and improved mental health, which can impact one’s success in business. Emotional control, self-esteem, and stress reduction are just a few of the martial arts’ well-researched advantages.

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

 

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
November 2021

Changing Careers from Commercial Lending to Private Equity

An interview with Brian Hoblit, Vice President of CVF Capital Partners

 

Changing careers is no easy feat, particularly for those who have spent years in one field. When it comes to commercial lending, it is a career that people spend years in and build relationships with clients, making transitioning to another industry challenging.

After serving for nearly a decade in commercial lending, Brian Hoblit decided to transition his career into private equity at CVF Capital Partners, a private equity firm headquartered in Northern California, where he has been vice president for more than two years.

Shortly after joining CVF, Hoblit was taken aback by how differently private equity and commercial lending operate. Though they both entail providing capital to help businesses achieve their objectives, there is significantly different risk tolerance in private equity.

“It was more challenging than I anticipated,” he recently told me in a Zoom interview. “I kind of naively thought that private equity and commercial lending were first cousins, and they’re probably more like second or third cousins.”

He went on to explain that in comparison with commercial lending, private equity poses a greater degree of risk tolerance.

“While in senior lending, the return on assets is about 1%, it’s significantly higher than that in private equity. So you do take more risks. And you really only have one way to get paid back, and that’s through cash flow and then ultimately through an exit,” he said.

Hoblit holds an MBA in finance from UC Davis and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Rice University. Before joining CVF Capital Partners two years ago, Hoblit was the chief financial officer (CFO) of Valley Farm Transport.

He added that there are structural differences in the way private equity and commercial lending operate that one must learn on the job.

“There’s not really a textbook that you can go by,” he said. “What does this structure look like versus that structure? It’s really learning by doing, and I have some great colleagues here at CVF. And everyone is able to teach and help mentor you as you’re working through the learning curve,” he added.

“The other difference is the depths in which you get to work with your prospects and portfolio companies and the ability to provide value is much greater. For instance, I am the company representative to our captive insurance group, an opportunity I would not have had in commercial lending. The ability to impact change is so great and I am thankful for having made the move to private equity and CVF Capital Partners, in particular.”

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

 

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
November 2021

Is Hybrid Work the Future of Business Development?

An interview with Kevin Grossman, Vice President of Decathlon Capital Management

 

Traditionally, business development required a significant amount of in-person contact. But the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many people to reconsider ways of working. Kevin Grossman, vice president of Decathlon Capital Management, a revenue-based finance lender in Denver, Colorado, is one of them.

“The pandemic forced us, especially people like me, who said it would never work to do stuff online, [to reconsider our views],” he recently told me in a Zoom interview, explaining how the future will include a mix of in-person and virtual meetings.

“The customer hybrid work environment is here to stay,” he added.

Grossman’s views are in line with a recent Microsoft report titled “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?” The study found that more than 70% of the global workforce wants to maintain their flexible work options.

Before the pandemic, Grossman, a seasoned investor with more than 20 years of expertise building debt portfolios for early-stage through middle-market firms, said his work had entailed a significant amount of traveling to attend conferences and meet people in person.

The pandemic, however, made him realize this approach was impractical not just because of the extra cost associated with traveling but also because of the time wasted traveling.

“This is absurd,” he thought, “that I’m going through all these different things to go do this for one meeting somewhere else.”

Although many companies have adopted remote work, Grossman claims that business development will always necessitate some degree of face-to-face interaction.

“There’s going to be a mix of virtual and virtual stuff,” he said, explaining that certain things such as trust and business relationships, as the backbone of business development, are harder to develop without face-to-face interactions. He added that it’s easier to attend large events in person than online.

“Things that don’t work as well online, in my opinion, because I’ve tried it a couple of times, is the kind of one too many where you have an event that has 500 people in the audience,” he said.

“And even though you tried to schedule the one-on-ones in the blocks that they set up, I just find it much more challenging to manage. I found that many people were bailing out on meetings and rearranging.”

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

 

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
October 2021

Business Development Strategy: Three Tips from Principal at CVF Capital Partners

An interview with Stefan Okhuysen, Principal at CVF Capital Partners

 

Stefan Okhuysen is Principal at CVF Capital Partners, a lower-middle market private equity firm based in California. CVF Capital Partners has been around for more than 15 years, investing in businesses from various sectors. In a Zoom interview, he recently told me about his business development strategy and the lessons he has learned over the past five years working as a principal at the firm.

Lesson #01: Be Broad in Your Search

It is a numbers game. The more deals you see, the more likely you will close a deal. Being broad in your search increases the likelihood of finding an investment prospect that fits your firm’s criteria, he said.

“We’d like calling it internally kissing a lot of frogs to find a prince,” Okhuysen said. “We’re trying to see as many companies as we can, through as many different referral sources as we can to really find the right fit for strategy.”

Lesson #02: Keep Networking

Networking is time-consuming, but it is good for business. As Okhuysen noted in the interview, it’s those relationships that will continue to give you referrals and introductions as well as help close deals.

“You might talk to somebody today who may have nothing to offer in terms of a new deal,” he said. “But that person may remember you for any particular reason, a couple of months down the road, or maybe a year down the road, and they can refer you a deal that is actually a good fit for you.”

In other words, genuinely be interested in people and remember to follow up.

Lesson #03: Pipelines Need Nurturing 

Okhuysen pointed out how important it is to strike a balance between cultivating and maintaining existing relationships as well as nurturing new ones. At his company, he said they have their own approach of how to keep pipelines filled.

“We all do a little bit of everything,” he said. “I know some firms have people who are solely dedicated to deal flow. At our firm, we all tried to do a little bit of pipeline generation and being out there.”

A significant advantage of this approach is that the firm is not dependent on one person for its referrals.

“That also means that when somebody in the team is busy, the other person can step in and continue doing business development. We kind of see the pipeline like this thing that’s alive and needs to be nurtured and taken care of and continuously growing.”

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

 

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
October 2021

The Problem with Lack of Regulation in the Blockchain Space

An interview with JR Lanis, chairing the West Coast Corporate & Securities Practice Area at Polsinelli

 

Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize the way people do business around the world. But without regulation here in the United States and abroad, entrepreneurs, investors, and the general public are left in a grey area without clear rules or standards to follow.

Some people believe that there is no need for regulation of blockchain technology because it will be able to self-regulate by bringing more transparency into business transactions while also protecting consumers and investors from bad actors.

But JR Lanis, a securities and M&A attorney chairing the West Coast Corporate & Securities Practice Area at the national law firm, Polsinelli, doesn’t completely buy that argument, saying that the lack of regulation can be dangerous.

“At least intuitively, you might believe [since] there’s limited law, you can’t get in trouble,” Lanis recently told me in a Zoom interview.

“‘But I think the opposite is true. It’s the fact that there isn’t much law that makes it more precarious,” he added, explaining that the lack of laws makes it easier for a regulator to accuse one of doing something wrong. In the best case, this would lead to an expensive legal battle and, at worst, jail time.

“And it becomes a sort of guilty-until-proven-innocent in a lot of ways,” he said.

Blockchain is a decentralized, digitized public ledger used to record all transactions made on a network without the need for third parties such as banks. The most prominent outgrowth from the blockchain have been cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. Blockchain has been used to create new digital tokens that can be transacted on a blockchain network without the need for government-backed fiat money like the U.S. dollar, euro, or yen.

The U.S. has so far failed to pass any sort of legislation to address the use cases for blockchain technology. This has created a significant challenge, not only for entrepreneurs in the space, but also for attorneys like Lanis trying to navigate a constantly changing regulatory environment. In the absence of laws, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) considers almost every ICO (initial coin offering) or other token sales a security.

“It’s much more art than science at this point,” he said, explaining that attorneys must be constantly learning about new technology and how the old law applies to it. He said he regularly follows the news, listening to what senior SEC officials say about blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies to be able to advise his clients on how they might be regulated.

“Until there’s a clear and direct body of law, this is kind of the best we can do. It’s gotten easier, as the space has developed and matured, and as there’s more information and data out there, we can probably give even better advice today than we could a few years ago,” he added.

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

 

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
September 2021

Five Keys to Succeed as a Service Provider

An interview with Mark Podgainy, Managing Director at Getzler Henrich & Associates

 

Mark Podgainy knows it’s not easy to succeed as a service provider. Unlike a product, he says, a service has no tangible value. You can’t touch it, feel it, or directly experience its benefits. That means you must do a lot more than simply provide great services to succeed in today’s hyper-competitive environment.

Few are better qualified to advise on how service providers can do that than Mark Podgainy. He has more than 20 years of experience working with struggling and underperforming middle-market firms as an advisor and a management team member. He has spent most of that time at Getzler Henrich & Associates, a New York-based management consulting and financing advisory firm.

I recently had the chance to talk to him via Zoom about what he has learned about how service providers can succeed in today’s economy. He provided five key lessons.

1)   Be Prepared to Ask the Right Questions

It might seem obvious, but it’s also a lesson that all too often gets forgotten in the excitement of a new engagement. “I remember early on in my consulting career that I was really eager to show potential clients that I knew my thing even though I hadn’t been at it for very long,” he said.

“One of my mentors said you don’t have to try so hard. When you’re asking the right questions, people will understand how insightful and thoughtful you are, and it will come out in the conversation.”

2)   Listen

Listening is critical for service providers because it helps them get inside their clients’ heads. It also allows them to build trust, which is essential to cultivate in any relationship, he said.

“If you’re listening 90% of the time, then that is a successful interaction,” he said.

“When you really listen, it actually stands apart from other people, and you gain a lot of insight, and it helps you be better able to solve problems, resolve an issue or take something to the next level,” he added.

3)   Seek Relationships, Not Transactions

Podgainy stressed the importance of service providers building long-term relationships with their clients rather than making it all about transactions.

“It’s a marathon,” he said, “your mind is set on finishing the race. You are going to have some milestones along the way. I think of those milestones as transactions.” He added that if you focus on developing strong relationships with the right people, “there will be transactions along the way. But the relationship doesn’t necessarily end there.”

4)   Enjoy the People You Work With

Podgainy stressed that when you enjoy the people you work with, it makes everything more fun.

“I think ultimately it’s about enjoying the process,” he said. “If you like the process that you’re going through, then you are going to be more thoughtful about all the things that you do around it.”

“When you meet someone for lunch, not every lunch is great, but the point is you’re enjoying the process, and people see that. You enjoy being with them, and I think that is critical to all of the things that we do,” he added.

5)   Narrow Your Focus

Podgainy said that in today’s economy, it is essential for service providers to focus on what they do best and stay away from the rest. He stated that asking the right questions has helped him focus his efforts and figure out what he needs to accomplish.

“The answer to those questions enables you to ask other questions and be able to target your sale. If you have a cannon approach to the sale where you try to hit everything, you are going to hit nothing,” he said.

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
September 2021

Inside Business Development Strategy with LFM Capital

An interview with Jessica Ginsberg, Director of Business Development at LFM Capital

 

When you hear Nashville, you probably think of country music stars, the Grand Ole Opry, or beautiful countryside. In recent years, however, Nashville has become one of the fastest-growing US cities in areas like technology, banking, healthcare, and logistics. It recently topped the list of the US cities with the most economic growth in 2021.

Private equity firm LFM Capital has been at the center of this growth, investing in manufacturing companies for more than six years. Since shortly after the firm’s inception in 2014, Jessica Ginsberg has led its business development efforts, which have resulted in nearly a dozen platform company investments, including most recently Diamabrush, a leading manufacturer of concrete floor polishing and resurfacing products.  Ginsberg’s team has also helped source several add-on acquisition opportunities, including most recently Beranek, maker of precision components used in aerospace and defense, which was acquired by LFM portfolio company, J&E Precision.

What is Ginsberg’s sourcing strategy that has enabled her to find so many great deals in such a short time?  She says the firm subscribes to a dual-channel approach focused on both direct and indirect sourcing.

LFM’s direct sourcing methods include cold calling and emailing, industry trade show attendance, and occasionally LinkedIn messaging.

“Direct sourcing can be a very long process, ” she recently told me in a Zoom interview.

“To give you a sense of scale, we send over 15,000 emails per year and it often takes 6 or 7 tries to get a response from a business owner,” she added.

That might seem like a lot of work for little return, but Jessica says it is “absolutely worth it” because of the quality of leads that come through this channel.

“Most times, it is not a competitive situation so there are not auction dynamics. The diligence process, however, can take a very long time because the business owner is running the process by themselves while trying to run a business,” she said.

As for the indirect sourcing side of the equation, which refers to deals LFM sees from investment bankers, brokers, and other intermediaries, Jessica says she actively maintains and grows her network to seek out opportunities that fit LFM’s investment strategy.

“We typically see between 600 and700 manufacturing deals in a year, and then we will  narrow that down and review around 150 to 200 of those deals with our investment committee, with the goal of closing 2 to 3 new platforms per year.”

LFM has always been committed to Business Development in order to maintain a full pipeline of actionable investment opportunities.  As such, Ginsberg has built a strong team around her to assist in the sourcing process.  Other members of the BD team are focused on industry research, scouting trade shows, and managing data around the sourcing process. Given LFM’s manufacturing background and investment focus, the team is very focused on lean initiatives and continuous improvement, which is always motivates the BD team to identify new sourcing strategies.

“We tend to divide up the universe, and I think it’s really important to let my team members own different parts of the process – be it managing metrics, outreach to highly targeted business owners, or leading an add-on search for a portfolio company,” she said.

“I am really excited about the business development function within private equity. It has grown a lot and has become a very viable career path. I think COVID really accelerated that because of the inability to get out there and do the things we usually do – and it made us realize that there are many, many ways to stay relevant and get in front of people.  I am thrilled to have found such a great firm and team to continue to grow with” she added.

Tell us what you think on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter! @opusconnect.

By Lou Sokolovskiy, Founder & CEO at Opus Connect
September 2021