Jeffrey Gold is President of Goldmark Advisers, Inc., the boutique investment banking firm he founded in 1985. In early 2017, Goldmark became an affiliated company of Young America Capital LLC, where Jeffrey is continuing to practice his successful consultative approach to mergers and acquisitions, as well as assisting mid-sized companies and promising new ventures in capital formation.
Jeffrey’s M&A and funding expertise – reflected in his track record of nearly 100 transactions – focuses primarily on publishing, media, food, beverage and health care businesses. Simultaneous with his leadership of Goldmark Advisers, Jeffrey served for 20 years, through 2012, as Chairman of the U.S. subsidiary of The Quarto Group, Inc., a publicly held international illustrated book-publishing company, helping the London-based company to grow through several significant acquisitions.
Before establishing the Goldmark firm, Jeffrey was Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer of Esquire, Inc., a NYSE-listed publishing, technology and communications company. In that role, he also served as the company’s principal negotiator when it was sold to Paramount Communications. After the acquisition, he was named Executive Vice President in charge of corporate development & strategic planning for its Simon & Schuster Division. While at Paramount, Jeffrey initiated the contact that led to the acquisition of Prentice-Hall, the well-regarded textbook and professional publishing company. Earlier in his career,
Jeffrey was Vice President and Corporate Controller of National Patent Development Corporation (now known as Wright Investors’ Service Holdings), which, among other activities, pioneered the development of the soft contact lenses. He began his career at Main Hurdman, which is now part of KPMG, the Big Four accounting and professional services firm. A graduate of Pace University with a degree in business administration, Jeffrey has guest-lectured on corporate and financial subjects at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and served on the Board of Directors of Lighthouse International.
He holds Series 79 and Series 63 licenses.
Listen to this episode as Seth and Jeff discuss:
Identifying the ideal client.
Some of the biggest mistakes middle market firms are making when it comes to thinking about their acquisition and exit strategies.
How the landscape of the industry change since the COVID pandemic.
Joel S. Isaacson, Founder and Chairman Joel Isaacson & Co
Founder and Chairman, Joel Isaacson, is considered by many to be a leader in the industry, helping clients and their families achieve their goals and sharing his knowledge with colleagues and the next generation of industry leaders. As a teacher as well as a practitioner,
Joel is active in many industry organizations, having served on numerous boards and speaking on topics to share his insights, including: the New York Chapter of the International Association for Financial Planning, now FPA; Chairman of the Personal Financial Planning Committee of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants; the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Estate Planning Council. He has taught financial and tax planning at New York University, The New School in New York City, and Iona College.
He holds a BS in accounting from Lehigh University and a MBA in financial planning from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, where he was recently honored as their ‘man of the year’.
Frequently named one of America’s Top Financial Advisors by Worth magazine, Joel is often quoted in financial publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week and Fortune, as well as on radio and television.
Listen to this episode as Seth and Joel discuss:
The key factors that lead to the unprecedented growth of Joel’s firm.
Getting recognitions and accolades in press.
Post Covid challenges in the financial advisor industry.
Team Building and getting the most out of your staff.
The most common challenges that the industry faces now.
Seth Greene: 1:14 Let’s go back in time, how did you get started in the business?
Joel Isaacson 1:32 Wow, it was a different kind of a business back then. But I was I was working in San Francisco for an accounting firm. And one day I looked in the paper and there was a MBA in financial planning at a school in San Francisco Golden Gate University. At the time, it was the only one in the country offering financial planning as a degree. Back then I think the CFP, you could take, I don’t even think you had to take an exam. I don’t I think it was sort of like, you know, pretty straightforward. So I wanted to get the education. And I left my job with a big eight accounting firm, went through the grad school, and then came back to New York and, you know, took a job as an entry level position there.
Seth Greene 2:14 And then I’m sure the longer version is in some of those articles or the books, but then how did you get from there to where you are now.
Joel Isaacson 2:22 So when I came back to New York, I worked for so and I took a 50% salary cut, you know, because again, it was an entry level position. And you know, and I probably learned more in that year of what not to do, it was someone who was one of these people that charges a lot for the plan, and then didn’t have the ongoing revenues to you know, keep it going. And these were the days, it’s a little embarrassed to say we used to do plans by modem used to cost us 1500 hours each plan to do by modem to get them done. And so I started with this person. And while I was there, I got recruited. My background was accounting firms, I got recruited by one of the top accounting firms in New York to start their practice. And I believe we were the first one to register as an investment advisor was in 1985. And, and that was great, it was really good chance to, you know, kind of use the NBA use the opportunity to start a practice and I was only 26 at the time.
Seth Greene 3:24 And then how did you get from there to the you know, I mean, you’re a leader in the industry, how did that transition? How did that growth curve happen?
Joel Isaacson 3:35 Again, yeah, so you know, when, again, it was a, it was a great chance, because you know, as well as things where I started bringing in clients, but you know, when you’re an accounting firm, one of the things you you know, you always get promised by all your partners is they’re gonna keep bringing you clients and bringing your clients. One thing I really learned and I also started teaching back then I started teaching the CFP. But one thing I learned was don’t depend on your partners for business. So I started, you know, being able to bring in business. And then at the accounting firm, where they made me a partner after 10 years, I also saw how much the managing partners were making. And I said, there’s something wrong here. So I went out on a we went on my own with two of the people from the firm, you know, as partners, we started, and it started with three people and it just built up, you know, slowly by surely by always, you know, putting the client first. You know, we would never on the sales side, you know, always the planning side. And, you know, again, just a lot of hard work client by client building up, you know, to the point where now we have I think over $6 billion in assets under management.
Seth Greene 4:38 That is absolutely incredible. How have What do you think, have been some of the biggest factors responsible for such amazing growth?
Joel Isaacson 4:47 Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, again, also is like sort of was, to a certain extent, some of it being early, you know, back then I think it and I’m not sure I would say we’re a full profession yet. You know, I think that we still have to do more at the college. levels to get education into the schools for financial planning. But I think it was being early, I think it was also having a CPA and, you know, experience back then. And I also got involved with, you know, with teaching at schools, I got involved with the FPA back then it was called the ISP, I was present in the New York chapter. So it’s constantly hustling and networking, we didn’t do any marketing. But it was just really an opportunity to, you know, develop clients in New York, you know, and again, it was really one at a time, a couple things where we got into when I was teaching, I got introduced to some people that worked in the Benefits Office at IBM. So we got an opportunity to, you know, go off to some corporate programs, and some of my students did there. And through contact, we also got involved with equitable life insurance, which at one point, we probably had 20 executives from there, and they used to have a financial planning program. So you know, those type of relationships, and that’s really what it was, it was all relationships or referrals from, you know, people we met in the business, and they looked at us as a firm that was, again, fee only, you know, high quality. And, and I think also having the tax practice gave us a, you know, an edge also in being able to kind of be more of the one stop shop for individuals.
Seth Greene 6:18 That makes a lot of sense, how you’ve garnered a lot of press accolades over the years, how have you been able to get that recognition?
Joel Isaacson 6:28 Yeah, you know, again, nowadays is a lot tougher. But in the beginning, you know, part of one of the people got involved with was involved with the New York Times. And so back in the 80s, you know, and, and the journal, you know, we knew some of the people there also, but it was really just, you know, a lot of networking opportunities. So one that the times took a, you know, liking to me, and he used to write a column every Saturday on your money. And back, then it meant a lot to be in the press. Now, there’s so much press, and so much out there, PR wise was there. But if you got involved with the times, and you got that kind of prospect, then it became a good catalyst to other press and different things. And then I think, you know, again, a lot of the organizations were involved with with the right ones, you know, we were early, involved with nappo, with the FPA. And, you know, and again, it’s, you know, is always one of those things like we weren’t in this for the short run, we weren’t looking to make a big hit, we were in this for the long run. And we always felt if we took care of clients, that the rest would come there. And that’s also I think, part of the way is every time we got involved, like, we also didn’t find fire, the brokers we didn’t, you know, bring in new lawyers, we got to know the lawyers, we got to know the brokers. And some of those people that we met through clients actually became great referral sources to us over time.
Seth Greene 7:45 How has the COVID pandemic affected your clients in your business?
Joel Isaacson 7:52 So I think, you know, it’s, well, I think it’s changed our business fundamentally, as to how we deliver it, I think, you know, for a lot of our clients, you know, the zoom feature is something that I think they like, so, you know, that’s there, we also have a lot of young staff that are having babies. So we had been trying to, before the pandemic, figure out how to do remote work, and for people to be accountable for it and different things. And obviously, we get thrown into the fire with that. So it’s worked out? Well. Our business has been okay, you know, is, I mean, as the, you know, I would say the third big, black swan event in the last 20 years, it’s, I think it was more taxing this time, you know, from some of the other ones. And, you know, especially around New York last March and April, the kind of that dread and the you know, that it felt like the black cloud over the city in the whole country and different things, was a tough one. So I think we’ve, you know, we’re more valuable to our clients in tough markets than we are in a good market. 2019. You know, the market did amazing clients were happy, you know, no big deal. I think getting through clients through the tough times, these black swan events are, are the key for what we do, and to have had a build lasting relationship. And probably, I would say, this pandemic, for some reason, because I think, you know, it just hit people so close to home net, probably more people panicked a little bit this time than in the past. and stuff, but, you know, businesses, again, is we grow our top line, probably seven to 10% a year. So last year was a little bit different in, you know, the new business part, you know, we still, we still grew nicely, but I would say, you know, not necessarily referrals, but new business slowed down a little bit only from a standpoint of, you know, all the lunches that you have, and seeing people that I think, are a good catalyst from that stuff, but we’re starting to see it pick up again, and I think, you know, for our clients, a lot of it became is figuring out life, you know, do they stay in the city, do they, you know, they move the Hamptons, I’ve always spent a lot of time we deal with tax issues in New York and everybody thinks it’s easy to get out of New York. taxes because they’re living in Connecticut for a year or, you know, upstate New York or things like that. So, you know, sometimes we have to be the bearer of bad news on certain situations, but our clients been amazing, you know, they, they are our greatest resource. And, you know, I would say, you know, again, we got them all through good, I don’t think at the, you know, the middle of the pandemic, you know, back last March, April, I don’t think anyone would have felt that it would finish the year up like they did, it was a, you know, crazy year overall,
Seth Greene 10:31 absolutely, who’s an ideal client for your firm?
Joel Isaacson 10:36 You know, we, you know, it’s a, you know, for us somewhere, just someone that really could use kind of that one stop shop of, you know, having, you know, things all in one place, so, from corporate executives, to doctors, to lawyers, to anyone in the five to 25 million ranges, that kind of our bread and butter, and then probably 20% of our clients are in the 25 and up category. So, again, it’s, you know, for us, we also try and do sets a little different is, you know, fair fees for clients. So in that in a you m shop, generally, you know, so we try and do fair fee. So wherever we can add value for the money, that’s the most important thing, because, you know, what we find is with that kind of relationship where it’s more retainer based, that, you know, clients look at your as their advocate, and and, and that is an adversary, which I think sometimes with the IOM, you know, you’re always trying to take assets away from someone else with us, we don’t care what the assets are, as long as it’s the right thing for clients and the people that are handling money and doing the right thing. And again, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s nice sometimes to have co pilots on things,
Seth Greene 11:44 you’ve achieved so much success over the decades, what’s your biggest challenge now?
Joel Isaacson 11:50 Um, you know, I think part of this, Seth is, you know, and for some of those on the back nine, I think, you know, it’s, you know, like, right now, we are transitioning, like, I turned over a CEO role last year to one of my younger partners, because I think it was necessary on some of the technology and different things. And for me, to kind of get back into the, you know, into the area of just, you know, dealing with clients and mentoring staff and things like that, I think the biggest challenge going forward for the industry is finding good professionals, you know, people that, you know, want to make this into a profession want to have a career with this thing, and go forward. And then I think, you know, what we saw also is like, I don’t know, probably in the last few months, just the whole Bitcoin, you know, Reddit rally, you know, just dealing with clients who all sudden their kids are geniuses, you know, that a buying GameStop and different things. And everybody all sudden became a risk taker, you know, with the, you know, the Tesla’s of the world and all the, you know, all the crypto currency and everything like that. So, you know, it’s really, I think the challenging point now is just to really for clients to understand fundamentals, and that valuations matter, and investment fundamentals will be a sense, to me, part of it is, you know, whether, you know, on the investment side, you know, things change radically and every time you think that they do they kind of tend to you know, revert back to the old ways of doing things.
Seth Greene 13:14 Your Passion is obvious, what do you like best about what you do?
Joel Isaacson 13:19 You know, it’s, it’s, it’s an interesting one, because you kind of think about stuff in life and say, like, did you do you make a difference on things? You know, I’ve been doing this for 40 years. And, you know, you, you know, you see all these people that are doing things in the military or in science, you know, Dr. Fauci and everyone fighting this virus, and you say, you know, are we just making rich people richer? But, you know, I think part of that I would say, Seth, is our relationship with our clients is that type is like, you know, like, I’m in the middle one of my clients died three weeks ago, where I’m the trustee, I’m the executor and now dealing with her, you know, her nieces and sister in law in different things. And it’s that kind of trust that people have in us in the relationships we have that are there. I mean, sometimes it’s, you know, it’s above and beyond certain things, like, you know, just dealing with having to watch someone, you know, slowly die is not an easy thing. But, you know, the intimacy of our relationship is is hard to, it’s hard to be, you know, it’s just that and I think that part of being, like being the client advocate and being on that side, I think, is the part that really is the driving force. And I you know, I think the pandemic for me set it up so that I look at this and say like, my dad retired, never really retired. He, he liked working, I mean, his clients started retiring, and dying off and different things, but I really like working with people and helping them and and i think that part of, you know, just seeing, you know, the family relationship and kind of working with people to get them like, again, another one my favorite clients was from publicity. In the 80s we were in the Daily News and someone that probably never made $60,000 or more than 60,000 our life she was a secretary of the firm and I don’t know I helped her with a, you know, project last week, she got very emotional about and stuff. But you know, someone that was just, you know, save scraps and you know, little bit in the 401k. And she’s, you know, she’s probably worth three or $4 million. Now, I’m not sure we would have taken her on as a client, like we did in the 80s. Now you know, where we started with it, but to see where she is, and be able to tell us go buy a car, don’t worry about it, you know, you don’t have to worry about money and different things and to see, you know, how smoothly we made her life has been very rewarding overall,
Seth Greene 15:30 that’s beautiful. You’ve also built an incredible team, how do you get everyone doing what they’re supposed to do at the right time? in the right way? How do you how do you develop yourself as a leader, because I know, you are always improving, you’re kind of committed to learning and committed to growing talk a little bit about that aspect of the business. You know, I
Joel Isaacson 15:54 and thank you for all the nice things you’re saying. So that’s, I think the part of, you know, for, you know, IT staff is, I think, for staff, a lot of it is that, you know, the on the job training, you know, that there’s not a lot of the people that came to us that necessarily thought of financial planning as career but through friends or, you know, relationships, they still work for us. And then I think the way they saw us treat clients and their relationships for clients was, I think that, you know, that’s our, that’s our greater resources, those relationships with clients. So it was always you know, was it you know, like, you see in some of the boiler room stuff, you know, where they treat him, like, you know, this is just way to get money and take money from people. In ours, it’s really the respect, that’s client in that part. And now, you know, I see the next generation is the relationship, our staff is having babies, and the clients are sending them gifts, and, you know, it’s like, it’s just a nice family relationship there. So I always treated you know, I think staff to learn, brought them into client relationships, I’ve had some people like, you know, within the first six months to sitting in meetings, and it’s just a, I think, a chance, and then, you know, they see these very high level executives and doctors and, you know, hospital, people that are running companies, and they, they see their reliance on us, and it’s a it’s a very heady thing, and it’s, it’s intoxicating, to, you know, to work with people and for them to listen. And, and again, we also learn from clients, I’ve, I had my anniversary, I actually thank my clients, because, you know, over time, I just seen their ethics and, and the treatment and the way they handle things in business, and they’ve inspired me.
Seth Greene 17:35 What else do you want to share that we didn’t think to ask you?
Joel Isaacson 17:39 Um, I would just say, you know, again, from a standpoint of the field, I do think that, you know, aspects of the field that there’s still more to be done with the schools, I don’t think the professional organizations necessarily do as much with the schools, but I do feel like with accounting, you know, the big thing will be is more and more of the undergraduate programs, and then, you know, kind of the job placement. So I think they try, like, again, there’s programs here, but it’s always kind of like dependent on who’s running the program and who they have relationships with. But I do feel like for the field, that is more and more that at the undergraduate level be helpful. And I think for people in school, you know, if they saw it that way, I think it kind of goes in a cycle to take it to that next level is profession. To me, the CFP is nice, but I don’t I don’t consider passing exam as really the thing that’s there. I think people need to learn more. And I’ve taught, and I remember when I used to teach, and I’d get off the curriculum a little bit, try and give practical knowledge. People didn’t really want to learn that way. They just really wanted to pass the test.
Joel Magerman brings Insight Into Cannabis Investing.
Joel Magerman of Emerald Park capital is a successful investor, principal and investment banker with over 30 years of experience. During the course of his career, he has been involved in closing over 150 deals representing a total transaction value in excess of $6 billion. Listen to this episode as Seth and Joel discuss: Why the cannabis industry has been neglected and underserved by capital providers. Why this may be the new ground floor of cannabis. The vetting process and due diligence in providing finance to the cannabis industry. Identifying bad risk in the cannabis industry. The most common challenges that these cannabis companies are facing other than access to debt … and much more.
Joel Magerman is a successful investor, principal, and investment banker with over 30 years of experience. During the course of his career, he has been involved in closing over 150 deals, representing a total transaction value in excess of $6 billion.
For almost 20 years, Joel has been the CEO of Bryant Park Capital, where he has led clients and deal teams through complex financing and M&A processes, across both traditional and highly regulated industries. From 1995 until 2001 Joel was the President of Associated Venture Management where he oversaw a family office that invested and raised approximately $250 million of transactions for its portfolio companies. Portfolio investments included investments in the specialty finance, software, technology and healthcare services sectors. From 1991 to 1995 Joel was the Senior Vice President for FCA International, LTD (FCA:TSX), where he headed corporate development, M&A, and US sales, marketing and customer service. In that capacity he founded and was President of Structured Financial Capital, the second largest purchaser of structured settlements issued by the state of NJ. He also was a founder & operating partner with Reliant Partners, a firm that purchased over $1.5 billion of non-performing assets from the Resolution Trust Corporation.
Prior to FCA, Joel was one of the founders and board members of Odyssey Golf, the number one putter company in the world that was later sold to Callaway Golf. Earlier in his career, Joel was the Director of Finance and Technology for Citicorp Diners Club. Joel has his MS from the University of Pennsylvania and his BA from UCLA. He serves on the boards of ValueHealth LLC and Maccabi USA Sports for Israel, and has previously served on the boards of other for profit and not for profit organizations.
Seth Greene 0:00 Welcome to the podcast. This is your co host, Seth Green’s had the good fortune to be doing interviewing Joel Megaman of Emerald Park capital. He is a successful investor, principal and investment banker with over 30 years of experience. During the course of his career, he has been involved in closing approximately 150 deals representing a total transaction value in excess of $6 billion. Joel, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for having me, Seth. So let’s go back in time a little bit, howdid you get started?
Joel Magerman 0:33 So long ago, I started working in on the business side of new business opportunities in the early 80s. And sort of saw how interesting it was in new business formation and sort of follow that path. circuitous route that followed it over the next, you know, few decades.
Seth Greene 0:53 I’m sure the longer version of that story could probably fill a book somewhere, if it hasn’t already. Tell us a little Europe, just some really interesting things. Tell us a little bit about Emerald Park.
Joel Magerman 1:04 Yeah, Emerald Park is a provider of capital predominantly debt, but also can provide equity as well in the cannabis sector. And it was very interesting does because it’s a sector that has been growing exponentially compound annual growth rate of 25 to 30%, over a 10 year period, but was significantly underserved in its access to capital. And we thought that created a unique opportunity for us to to raise a fund and actually be one of those capital providers.
Seth Greene 1:37 So why do you think for our folks who may not be aware Why do you think the cannabis industry has been neglected and underserved in this department?
Joel Magerman 1:47 Well, I think I think there are a number of reasons. Number one, there’s there was initially federal legislation that made people uncomfortable providing capital in the space, a number of things have happened over the last five to seven years, including 42, states that now consider it legal. And a number of things that have happened under under federal guidelines that provide greater comfort, but there’s some ambiguity in that. And that ambiguity has caused a number of companies and firms to be uncomfortable providing capital, they’re still, even though a increasing number of folks have continued to get comfortable and more and more capital is coming into the sector.
Seth Greene 2:32 And it’s not just debt. Right. It’s also that historically, there have been issues getting, you know, merchant processing, credit card processing bank accounts. Yeah, literally everything. Why do you think you’ve been quoted? Why do you think this is the new new ground floor of cannabis? Well, I mean, we’re, look, we’re
Joel Magerman 2:51 in the very early stages right there. There’s, if you sort of think of the evolution and think about alcohol that, you know, right after prohibition, by example, right, we’re in the early stages, because right now, there are states that it’s still legal, there are states where it’s legal, but only for medicinal purposes. And their states where it’s legal for medicinal and adult use recreational use. And so we’re still a long ways away from, you know, it being approved at a federal level, where can be used in every, every state across the union, based on each one of the state’s laws and the Fed, approving it. And so we’re, you know, we’re probably, you know, some number of years away from, you know, that happening, and then people need to get comfortable with the usage of it, like, like anything else, you know, when you have something that is, you know, initially, for example, approved for cancer patients, or there’s a number of drugs where cannabis is approved, it’s people still don’t necessarily understand it, and nor do you know, state and federal government. And so once everybody gets comfortable, I think there’ll be a continual growth in that.
Seth Greene 4:04 Absolutely. Now, you chose to predominantly focus on the loan, the debt part of the sector, why did you go in that direction, as opposed to you know, equity?
Joel Magerman 4:16 Again, I think it was of the, there are two reasons really, number one, I think it was more underserved. There was less access to capital on the debt side than the equity side. Um, number two, I think that our bias, our personal bias, and we have a lot of money in the fund is that we sort of liked the risk reward arbitrage on the debt side. You know, if you financed a non cannabis business that looks call it small to middle market between depending on what you’re financing, let’s say you’re financing real estate, you might get a 5% loan, and if you’re doing Junior debt, you may pay 15 percent in the cannabis sector to take that same economic risk, you’re probably getting three to five times your potential returns. And so we thought that was a great risk adjusted return profile for us. And it was an underserved spot in the marketplace. And so we thought it was a good place to be further underserved. And that being said, we’ve also made a couple equity investments as well. So we’re, we’re very supportive of helping companies grow, whether it be on the debt, or the equity side of the balance sheet, but we prefer debt.
Seth Greene 5:31 That makes total sense. Now, with there, it seems like every other day, there’s another company popping up, um, in some way, shape, or form in this space. Talk a little bit about your vetting process and your due diligence, because you’re kind of known for making really smart decisions.
Joel Magerman 5:49 Well, I mean, one of the things that, you know, being old means you have experience and seeing lots of things. So we’ve seen lots of deals and transactions over our lifetime. And we have certain things that we think are important to focus on. And we incorporate that in our vetting process. Today, we’ve seen in excess of 725 deals, we’ve invested made eight investments. So you know, that being said, we’ve probably bid on two to three times that number of transactions and for various reasons, either we learned something we didn’t like, or they maybe got better pricing, whatever the case might be, but we’ve you know, we’ve we have a pretty rigorous process, we want to make sure that we at our investors get our money back. And as a result of that, you know, hope is not a plan, right. And so if people don’t have the things, you need to be comfortable, we don’t want to just hope we get our money back, we really want to have analytics and comfort that says we’re going to get it back when we really, we really try to be thoughtful in our approach and understand the company well, which means you need to do a lot of work. And some of these companies didn’t have and don’t have the infrastructure, the people to support to give us the information and the data, we need to be comfortable.
Seth Greene 7:09 What our menu, if I heard you correctly, you had about a 1% rate in terms of the deals that you actually bid on an accepted. So what are some of the things that are warning signs to you to stay away?
Joel Magerman 7:26 Lack of internal controls is a is a major one. You know, people don’t have financial, financial, the appropriate financial systems, and that’s critical in this sector. That you mentioned banking, relationships, those are those are much less of an issue than people think. But some folks don’t have it. Very few folks have audited financials, which is a big deal for us, we want someone to have a third party review those financials and get comfortable with those. And you know, some of its the sophistication of management it you know, coming up with an idea and and so hot making this up but someone to say I want to build a chain of 50 dispensaries. Well building one and operating one dispensary does take some skill, but building an operating 15 centuries is a different skill set. And so some people are skilled in opening an operating number one, but they don’t have the wherewithal to open 50. And so some of it is just the breadth and depth of management.
Seth Greene 8:27 What are you finding are some of the most common challenges that these cannabis companies are facing other than access to debt?
Joel Magerman 8:40 Well, access to capital overall has has has been a concern, but it’s less of a concern now but still remains a concern. The markets are very geographic focused on a state by state basis. So there are certain states where the ability to grow is there’s there’s not enough licenses, it’s a Limited License state. There are hypothetically going to the state’s going to issue 50 licenses if you’re not one of the 50 you can’t play. So you know that’s a major hurdle. Having people that understand, right i mean if you think about cannabis as a particularly, it’s different types of uses, you know, you think about someone needs to understand how to cultivate and grow this and produce it in a large scale fashion. And, you know, just because someone grew it in their basement in college doesn’t mean that they actually know how to run a cultivation facility. So having people that are skilled and understand how to be a cultivator how to how to maximize you know the the efficiencies of the growing cycle and take advantage of that is another important is another important skill. And then once the business gets to the point where it’s thinking about growth in a meaningful way, how do you attract skilled management and You know, a lot of people think, Hey, I got it up and running on the entrepreneur. I don’t need other people, I know how to do it. But the reality of it is that, I mean, if you if you look at Bill Gates, he knew he needed to bring in Steve Ballmer on the business, he might have invented Microsoft, but he needed someone to run the day to day. A lot of these folks think they don’t need those people or they think just because someone worked at a big company, they have this skill set. And really, it’s it’s attracting the right kind of people the right kind of capital, and the right resources to really create a successful enterprise.
Seth Greene 10:35 That makes a lot of sense, your your passions obvious, what do you like best about what you do.
Unknown Speaker 10:41 Um,
Joel Magerman 10:42 I love working with passionate people that and I’m really trying to help them in their journey to to attain a much greater level of success. I mean, that’s, that’s what’s rewarding, right? It’s, it’s hard, you know, being successful with a new idea. And creating that new idea into a business that can be successful and rewarding is a lot harder than people think. And being part of that journey and helping an entrepreneur be successful. And that is something that we love to do.
Seth Greene 11:13 What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way in the 30 years of investment banking and m&a experience? Wow.
Joel Magerman 11:25 That’s a, that’s a big takeaway. I think the most important thing is don’t underestimate the importance of people. A great manager of a business can make a bad business successful, and a poor manager of a business can make a successful business failure. And so if you’re really investing in people, even though there’s a lot that goes around it, you’re all you’re ultimately investing in good people.
Seth Greene 11:52 What do you think the time horizon is for cannabis before it gets to the point where a lot of these hurdles that you’re benefiting from, you know, kind of get erased and VA becomes more commonplace? Um, we won’t call you.
Joel Magerman 12:07 I know, I think it’s, I think it’s a it’s a multi step process. Um, a lot of people thought when Biden was elected, that all these barriers going to be knocked down, and all of a sudden, a lot more capital came into the market, they thought all of a sudden there was going to be federal legalization. That didn’t happen. What everybody’s sort of learning is that’s going to be a process in and of itself, when they figure out federal legalization. It’s not going to be all of a sudden that things change. And there’s a magic wand, right? All of a sudden, all the federal agencies that now touch this are going to do what they do, right? If you’re a regulator Your job is to regulate. So you think about when hemp was federally approved, all of a sudden the FDA came out and said on March 19, of 2019, we’re going to tell you how what the regulation is to ingest a hemp derived product CBD effectively, we’re still waiting. almost two years later, we’re still waiting. So I don’t think people have realized that there I mean, totally comprehended that even federal legalization is going to require the federal, you know, arms of government, time to figure out what all that means. And until sort of all that gets cleared, I think we’re gonna have to see all that happen. Before you see a cannabis business look exactly like a consumer packaged goods company that’s selling sneakers. And we’re just so we’re some number of years away from that.
Seth Greene 13:38 You’ve achieved an immense amount of success and worked on some incredible deals over your career. What’s your biggest challenge now?
Joel Magerman 13:47 Actually, we have the same challenge that the companies have is access to capital. The biggest ones in cannabis would be deemed the most the tiniest funds in the non cannabis world. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of firms that are multi billion dollar funds in the regular world. There’s not a single one in the cannabis sector, a big fund is a few 100 million dollars. And so access to capital is is is an issue for process providers and capital, as well as for the companies and and all of that’s getting better. You know, but I think that, you know, until all the gates sort of open, it’s easier for someone to open a gate and write a check in many ways, other than maybe the top dozen companies to us because we can show an institutional track record. And they’re one step removed, let let us do our job. But you know, until that sort of goes up and down the whole life cycle, we’re we’ve still got a ways to go.
Seth Greene 14:54 What How are you attracting investment capital for your funds at this point?
Joel Magerman 15:00 We’re telling the story, we’re telling you the same story that, you know, we’re outlining to you it’s and people, people get it, right. It’s a, it’s a, they understand the size of the market, they understand, or hopefully they do after we speak. They understand what the opportunities are and the growth that’s happening. And they’re, they’re willing to take, effectively a little more risk for a greater return. And if they believe that risk reward quotient works the same way we do, then we’re lucky and we have we have investors and we’ve, we’ve been fortunate, we’ve been able to trust attract some great investors. And but we’re always looking for more.
Seth Greene 15:41 With all that you’ve shared, is there anything you want to share that I didn’t think to ask you yet? Um,
Joel Magerman 15:49 I guess, I mean, there are a couple things that I think are sort of interesting. I mean, you know, number one, I think a lot of folks sort of think about cannabis, and they, you know, they may try to tie it to alcohol. When you think about cannabis, the three major uses from all the surveys are out there or for pain, relief, anxiety, and sleep, they’re really much more medicinal than most people think about, Hey, I’m going to go get drunk, or I’m going to go get high. So number one, I mean, there’s a big medicinal aspect of this that I think is overlooked. And that’s what the vast majority of the products being used for number one. Number two, there’s a whole new world of pharmaceutical experimentation that’s going on using cannabinoids. And there are a number of drugs that are FDA approved from cannabis derived products that are incredibly successful. And there is 10s of millions of dollars being spent in research around the world, that I think we’re going to come out with some really exciting new drugs. And I think people don’t necessarily appreciate the the the medicinal and wellness benefits that the the actual cannabis plant represents. And so I think that’s worth noting.
Seth Greene 17:10 Absolutely. where can our folks who are interested in learning more about what you’re doing go to learn more.
Joel Magerman 17:16 So we have a website, Emerald Park capital, there’s contact information on there, they can also go to LinkedIn and look up Emerald Park capital or look me up, as well, but happy to talk to any interested parties. And we’d love the opportunity to share what we know.
Seth Greene 17:33 All right. Well, we greatly appreciate your time. We know it’s incredibly valuable. This has been Seth Green with Joel omegamon of Emerald Park capital. Joel, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks, Jeff. Have a good day. Thanks, everybody, for watching or listening. We’ll see you next time.
Dr. Patrick Maurenbrecher is the Managing Partner and CIO at Kontora Family Office.
Kontora Family Office is a multi-family office based in Hamburg, Germany. Established in 2006, the firm provides services to families, single-family offices, and non-profit organizations such as foundations, associations, and religious institutions, especially as an organized institution assets in Germany. Following the American Family Office business model and operating fully independently.
In this interview, Dr Maurenbrecher and Cliff discuss:
• What distinguishes Kontora from other advisory services in the space.
• Kontora’s approach to investing.
• What Dr Maurenbrecher means by “thinking and working in modular units”, and the benefit of that approach to his clients?
• How to identify the most objectively, suitable financial and service partners, for your clients.
• The main differences in the private equity markets in Asia, America, and Europe..
• Identifying risk factors that can lead to permanent impairment of capital.
• How to achieve transparent planning, analysis, and implementation without conflicts of interest.
• The key benefits of illiquid assets?
• The factors that determine or effect an asset’s liquidity or illiquidity.
• How Illiquidity Reflected in in Expected Returns.
Cliff Locks 0:00 Welcome to the private equity profits podcast. I’m Cliff Locks. your host, with me today is Dr. Patrick. He’s the managing partner and CIO of Kontora. family offices in couture family offices is a multifamily office based in Hamburg, Germany, established in 2006. The firm provides services to families, single family offices, and nonprofit organizations, such as foundations, associations, religious institutions, especially as organized institution assets in Germany. It follows the American family office business model, operating fully independently. Welcome, Patrick, thank you so much for taking the time let’s start a conversation with a personal note. How did you get started in private equity space?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 0:44 Hi, Cliff. Thanks a lot for having me on. At Kontora. We’ve been investing in private equity for 16 years now, actually, before I did my PhD on productivity aspect, while it was basically turnaround management in small and medium sized companies in Germany, so I’ve been attached to the space for many years, probably most of our families are invested in a with about 20% of their net worth in private equity. So it’s something that’s very close to us.
Cliff Locks 1:17 What distinguishes Kontora from other advisory services in the space,
Patrick Maurenbrecher 1:21 put it this way, I would say we don’t discriminate, distinguish ourselves a lot from the standard American model of the single family office or the multifamily office, it’s very different in Germany, most people get a financial advice in the banking space, they would go to Deutsche Bank, or to Goldman Sachs, or to some of these names, or a local regional bank, and just do some some bond and stock portfolio. And that’s that will be it at Kontora be very much believe in illiquid investments. So an allocation of our clients could be 60%, illiquid. So you will find a lot of real estate project development, you’ll find venture capital, you will find private equity, you will find some funny alternative stuff like, like a container portfolio based in Singapore, or we are invested in cocoa plantation in South America. So you will find a very international diversified portfolio and we we try to drive down the correlation between the assets to get robust portfolios for our clients, I suppose that’s the main difference to the other German players in the field,
Cliff Locks 2:36 you’ve carved out a very unique business model there, I want to salute you for that that’s a breath of fresh air, we take it for granted here in the US. But in Germany, it’s very, very different. It’s a privilege, and learning and listening. Can you summarize your approach to investing?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 2:52 Absolutely. Well, when it comes to investing, it’s basically two areas that we draw ideas from. The one is, when it comes to financial returns, the most important question you have to ask yourself is how do you divide your wealth between the different asset classes. So the so called strategic asset allocation is the the main driving point for robust and stable returns. So that’s the main thing and we look at the US, especially to the endowment model that has been pioneered by David Swensen at Yale, but also others, Notre Dame, MIT, and Seth Alexander’s also a big Professor hero. So we very much look at these guys, what have they done. And then we kind of adapted it a little bit for for Germany. But in the end, it’s the same ideas. That’s the strategic asset allocation. And when it comes to picking individual investments, we very much bottom up guys. Well, I would say it’s the value investing philosophy that is very at the at the heart and core of what we do. But we try not to stay at, you know, what has been Graham said, and what his numbers that he looked at, we try to like most good value guys nowadays, look at what does it mean going forward? For example, most guys look at what is the moat doing in the future. So we look at how will the competitive advantage develop over time? For example, if you look at the business model, like like Google, say, okay, is that moat growing? Or is it shrinking? Or is it staying where it is? And when it’s growing, it might, it might be a value perspective to say, Well, if this is actually a very undervalued company, versus the traditional value guy would say, Oh, that’s a very expensive company for some reason. Yeah. These are the two areas where we draw most of our ideas from Yeah, looking around Seth, Seth Klarman for example, speak here of US based in Boston very much looking at margin of safety for each and individual investment. We try to find investment with big monitor margin of safety. So mostly what we do actually, we always look at what can go wrong, and then try to get good returns from that.
Cliff Locks 5:08 So consistent solid returns. And looking at the risk profile, very good.
Patrick Maurenbrecher 5:14 Yeah, the funny thing is, when you when primarily look at the risk side, you end up with really good returns, we track it by, you know, precisely. So in the history of controller, we have advised our clients on 169 investments. So we can pretty much say what what are the returns of these four lots of the illiquid stuff that they still run. So I mean, if you do a product refund, and that runs for 10 years, and we’ve done the investment five years ago, we can’t finally say where the where the IRR will be. But for the for the investments that are finished already the IRR is at 14%, after after coffee, it seems to work
Cliff Locks 5:56 very positive. What do you mean by thinking and working in module units in what is the benefits of this approach to your clients?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 6:07 Yeah, that that might be an advantage we have here in Germany, because most competitors, they have a model where they say, well, client, I will do everything for you, please come to me, I do the number crunching for you, you can do investments with me, and you have an all in fee model, we adjust, we do all the administration and the investment, etc, etc. everything for you all model is different. And that we say it’s fine that people also single family office can come to us and say, you know, we have the administration in place already. But we really need deal flow for private equity or real estate in the US, for example. And then we could say yeah, that’s no problem. You just we show you our deal flow, and then you just pay for these services. And others might say, you know, we do all our investments ourselves, and we have 70 p phones funds, for example. And could you just do the administration for us. So we are basically there workbench, providing them with all the all the numbers and and you know, we we get the, the the quarterly results, and we do all the bookkeeping for them. So that would be a different approach, working with Kontora. And then other families come and say, you know, we have four kids, they have no idea about investing, we are all fine, you know, maybe the husband, he has built up his wealth. And he says, well, but my kids will inherit this at one day. And but they have no idea about investing, can you teach them? that’s actually quite a big thing in our whole portfolio of services that we provide an academy program where we vary individual, you know, some some say, Can you just do some education in the different asset classes? And we would say, okay, there’s one module where we explain how does listed equity actually work? And one will explain Well, how do you invest in real estate? And one would say, what about private debt, we would then go about explaining all these things, because we very much believe actually also be a German thing over here. Most asset managers, they come to the clients and say, it’s great that you’re here. It’s wonderful. Now you don’t have to worry about anything, just give me your money, and I will take care of it. And the typical entrepreneur in Germany will panic at this sentences, because, I mean, usually he did the decisions, and he was very good at deciding stuff. And now there’s somebody coming along who wants to take all this away from him, Well, we tried to do is say, look, what you’ve always done. I mean, this, this is for the kids, but also for for the for the guys, for the successful entrepreneurs, you have done your decisions very well in your space. And now suddenly, you want to invest in venture capital, for example, or real estate, which you have never done before. So we will kind of teach you all you need to take the decisions in the future on the same solid ground. Yeah, that’s pretty much our approach.
Cliff Locks 9:02 Prouty, what is your approach to identifying the most objectively suitable financial service partners for your clients?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 9:11 I think it’s a it’s a two way process. On the one hand, of course, when it comes to investments, like private equity, for example, you have your league tables you have you know, everyone, it’s very transparent. What’s the best track record? Who are the guys who want to invest in? I don’t know, for example, venture capital, well, you want to invest with Andreessen Horowitz or Sequoia or benchmark. And then your only problem is, will they give you allocation or not? Well, that’s the easy part. So you work on your network, you try to you know, get the connections to be able to invest with the best guys on the planet. But then, when it comes to stuff like listed equity, we are more contrarian in the contrarian side of of who we like to give money. So for example, most asset managers I think that’s actually globally will say Well, you know, we have a diversified portfolio of 30 to 50 companies, and that’s a very concentrated portfolio. And then that’s when I panic because a concentrated portfolio is something between 10 and 15. Companies, you don’t find that in the in the normal institutions like a bank, or a huge asset management firm, but you do find it with one Captain ships, we look for these guys who, who, you know, have a setup, where they do their investments, but basically, they concentrate on investing in a concentrated portfolio. And they have spectacular returns. This is purely basically getting to know the guys trying to find these guys at conferences value x in going to Omaha, I mean, I didn’t go the last two years. But you know, we go to Omaha, meet guys at the Berkshire AGM and and you you get your network of guys who actually do these style of investments have to do a lot of explaining when when the families come to us at first, because I mean, they have heard the whole day year all their life, that you need 30 to 50 companies in a portfolio for it to be meaning portfolio. And so that takes a lot of education, actually, but most most families end up in the style of investments.
Cliff Locks 11:22 That leads me very nicely into what are the main differences in private equity markets in Asia, America, in Europe?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 11:29 Well, that’s a very broad question. But very good question. I mean, for me, the the best private equity managers are still found in the United States. I mean, this is where it originated, this is where the best guys are, and where the innovation Actually, I mean, the structural innovation, how to invest in the private equity space comes from, I would always tell our families, when you want to invest with the best productivity guys, you need allocation, the United States, then in Europe, you have some very able managers, probably the markets are not priced to perfection, the way it might be in the United States. But then again, I always think most of us, most families have a home bias that’s everywhere on the globe. But we have the same in Germany. So I always tell the families rather do a little concentrate your productivity portfolios, rather, in the in the United States or in Asia, because you have enough assets in Europe anyways. So So I always work against the home bias and try to I mean, that’s a very personal thing. I mean, you have people, they say, Well, the only place to invest money is in the US. And others say, Well, you know, this is this is all cowboy country, and I don’t like to invest in the United States. And well, for me, for me, personally, I would always feel very comfortable having at least 30% of my worth in North America. So I rather have an over allocation in the United States and in Asia. And then I mean, you also asked about Asia, in Asia, it’s definitely still an emerging base there. But that can give you spectacular returns, we had the experience. Also, like 678 years ago, when I talked to clients about investing in Asia, they were like, well, if I invest in Asia, it’s more risky than investing in Europe or in the US. So I want more return. I totally understand this thinking but it was not possible, you could not get a higher return in Asia. And nowadays, the discussion is totally different. It’s more risky not to invest in Asia than to be invested. We go there we we do due diligence in in Hong Kong in Beijing. And we try to get a feeling on the ground for the right teams. And yeah, we found some really good managers, large and small. So we we do quite some allocation over there.
Cliff Locks 13:58 Like I’m sure. What is your approach to identifying risk factors that can lead to permanent impairment of capital?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 14:06 Oh, that’s a very good question. Also very difficult question. Yeah, I’m sure you have. You’re familiar with the Warren Buffett quote, rule number one, never lose money. Rule number two, never forget rule number one. I mean, that’s just the art of compounding. And if you want to do compounding, he should not lose money on the way. So that’s very difficult. And that’s where the margin of safety comes comes into, into play. It’s at the heart of what we do try to identify what can go wrong. And that that doesn’t matter if we’re talking about product which he or listed equity or real estate or whatnot. It’s always the same question, we have to look at eight factors that we always apply no matter which asset class and for example, one first question that we always ask, does the manager that we give money to has skin in the game I mean, this very old, silly in a way aspect, but it’s the one that is so important. And if you get the right answer on that, and then you have alignment of interest, that’s a very, very positive. I mean, in Hamburg, you know, we are shipping city. And I mean, it’s a very good example here, because we have lots of shipping companies here. And they used to be a time when the guys who run the shipping companies, they would run, for example, 20, or 30 ships, and then they would have the equity and three of these 30 ships, and the rest would only be with other people’s money. Now, you guess, which ships never lost money, you know, and it’s, it’s so funny. I mean, even in the biggest crisis, the ships that had the money of the of the of the entrepreneur somehow came through, and the others didn’t. And it’s a simple, simple factor, but we always follow this. So we probably lose quite a lot of interesting deals, because there’s no skin in the game or too little. But we’re fine with that. Because the risk side is so important for us. Well said,
Cliff Locks 16:12 How do you achieve transparent planning, analysis and implementation without conflict of interest?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 16:19 And that’s a easy question for us. Because it’s at the heart of our business model, we are not an asset manager. I mean, that’s the problem. When you For example, it’s about listed equity portfolio, and you go to a bank and say, well, is your is your portfolio the best? Of course, it’s the best when you come to us. We are an independent advisory firm, you know, we don’t take any kickbacks, the only guy who pays us is our clients, they asked us question, we do a very neutral and independent screen of what’s available, who can kind of fulfill the the required criteria, and then we present them to our clients, whether, you know, if they get a 30 page analysis of what what are the risks, what are the chances to give this guy or that gay guy money with a strategy, and then it’s our clients who will decide there’s actually no conflict of interest involved.
Cliff Locks 17:11 So being independent is very, very positive. And that’s different than most firms sitting in Germany at this point.
Patrick Maurenbrecher 17:16 Absolutely. And, and also, also the, the structure of our company is kind of working in our favor. I mean, we are just three guys owning the company, nobody else has shares, we will try to give more people in our company, and we’re 70 people now. So we will try to give more people shares of the company, but nobody from the outside. It’s the entrepreneurial families that are our clients, they they’re very much like that, because it’s kind of from, I don’t know, they feel at arm’s length. They like to talk to other entrepreneurs in a way. And so it’s Yeah, it’s it’s, it’s an at the same level field somehow.
Cliff Locks 17:58 Sometimes, it’s also very interesting to look at deals that have not worked out the way you had hoped at the beginning. Could you tell us about the worst deal and what you’ve learned from that experience?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 18:10 That’s a great question, Cliff. And I love it. Because actually, that’s the way we think. I mean, you always have to try to learn from your mistakes. And well, there’s one example that comes to my mind, because it’s, it’s kind of the, I mean, it’s a real estate project that we did. And it looked really nice, it was building with the hotel, and it had some apartments, and it had a cinema, and it had parking spaces. And it sounded also good. And every one of these aspects had a manager who actually knew the field, the guy who did the cinema is kind of the leading cinema guy in Germany, etc, etc. And it all made a lot of sense. And then it all fell apart at some stage. And the main failure or the or where we didn’t kind of understand enough of the project was a was too complex. And when it came, came to building this. Yeah, this project. It was too complex to handle. So the costs were running out of the budget, and at some stage, they close the they made a forward deal. And so the project, but they hadn’t closed, all the cost side, the cost side was still open, but the sold already. And that was a huge problem. And I mean, we do manage a selection. So it was it was too late. We saw too late, the complexity of the project and the calculation could not work out. I was a big problem. And we’re very, very aware of this now and I’m sure that will not happen again. But that was the was really a big learning experience and we lost money on that. And and it, it felt really bad and it was bad for our clients. And yeah, it’s always nice to talk about, you know, 1420, whatever percent are good investments. But I mean, we have actually I, you know, we have six investments of the 169, that didn’t work out. And this was the worst. And then is one is minus 2%. And one was minus 15%. And it’s, I think, overall, it’s okay, but still, those were mistakes that we made.
Cliff Locks 20:36 Let’s go back to one of the earlier conversations we had Tell me more about the controller Academy, specifically the structure of the content and who is it for because I was excited to hear this, I think it’s really advantageous when I find a leader like you and your team, putting an academy together and what they can bring forth to the client in the community. Tell me more.
Patrick Maurenbrecher 20:59 Yeah, I love I love to talk about it, because it’s basically what makes us go round. I mean, we it’s all about learning, it’s about also teaching, but also we learn a lot from our clients. They’re very driven and intelligent and great guys, investing as a difficult area. And funnily enough, at least in Germany, investing is not taught at any university. Yeah, you have finance courses, etc, etc. But, I mean, something like what Columbia school that does not exist over here. So we have modules, where you learn about what is private equity, we have modules will learn, you know, all the different asset classes. But then most important module, from my point of view is the one that the co founder, Stefan book world health, and that’s about, is there something that over centuries, the successful families all done, you know, are they are there common rules that you can follow? And yes, they are common rules. And if you look at what families who have built huge well done over centuries, you always come to the same conclusions. And that’s so funny you don’t have to you know, advantage for you, you just have to be very disciplined and look at, you know, what others have done in the past and then try to apply it with the same discipline and for example, one thing that that you you’ll find that an old Jewish families, you will find that and, and and, you know, all over the world is the same principles, for example, diversification and trying to drive down on the correlation between risks is something that has been done for centuries. It’s all I mean, they had different names, it wasn’t called alternative investments, maybe it was the land you know, you have to own land or what what now for for us for example, listed equity, private equity or direct investment in companies is basically the same risks that you buy you you buy into future cash flows of companies find that family Fugu is a is an old German family, who he they made deals with the with the pope at one point, I mean, centuries ago. But that’s the same principle. They had some of their money in land some of the money in real estate and some of the money and companies. That’s what they did. And basically, it’s the same idea that we try to tell our clients or try, our clients try to have real estate than corporate cash flows and alternative investment, which is basically the bucket of everything else. It’s working fine. That’s great.
Cliff Locks 23:42 What are the key benefits of illiquid assets?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 23:46 I think it’s a bit counterintuitive, because most people think it’s great to have liquidity. But when it comes to successful investing, the biggest problem is not the market and it’s not intelligence or something. It’s having your own behavior in check. So illiquid investment help you because you’re stuck. For example, how many people have sold stock in in spring 2020 when the Coronavirus said a lot, a lot and then it took them and then they sold and then it took them a lot of long time before they re entered into the stock market. Well, that that there? Yeah, they messed it up. Because I mean, nobody could have foreseen that we get such a quick rebound, we see the illiquidity premium as something really valuable and it’s it’s helping everyone to have their own feelings and check in a way. So that’s what we try to, to to teach in a way most entrepreneurs that they they grasp this immediately. And I mean in their companies they’ve they’ve done it for years, because It’s, it’s what they do they always think long term and suddenly only because it’s possible to trade every day. People think that the stocks, it’s just a financial product, but it’s basically having a share in a business. I mean, you wouldn’t have the idea of because the prices of your apartment went up to sell your apartment The next day, you wouldn’t do it. But we’re starting to do it. It’s It’s funny, but that’s how human nature is. And I mean, Daniel Kahneman and others have shown as all that’s it’s all the problems are always. So yeah.
Cliff Locks 25:36 What are the factors that determine or effect the assets, liquidity or illiquidity? Okay, could you elaborate? When you look at an asset or an asset class, we look at liquidity, and then the illiquidity so you know, you look at it some private equity and venture capital. Some of the capital, it’s at points for the high net worth or ultra high net worth individual has a timeline the way they want to put those assets to work. So liquidity and illiquidity at this point does come into rolls. When do they need those proceeds returned to them? Where do they? So when you Yeah, okay, balance that takes place?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 26:18 Yeah, it’s all it’s always important. I mean, we advise our families to generally have at least 10% of a net worth and cash, no matter where rates are. That’s very important. And then, of course, you have to manage your liquidity. I would say most of our families, they, they they have about 50 to 60% of their investments in illiquid investments and the rest and liquid investments. And that kind of I mean, I’m well, but I must say, I’m talking about families with net worth north of 50 million euro, you know, so I mean, that’s a different kind of
Cliff Locks 27:01 problem. Burberry good. How is illiquidity reflected in the expected returns?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 27:08 Yeah, I’d say the I mean, we talked about it’s a it’s a illiquid premium. And and, I mean, I wouldn’t say it now is 1%, or it’s 2%, or how much it is. But it’s important, very much believe in the illiquidity premium. And that’s what our results for last 16 years have shown. I love investing in the stock market. So I I’m not a purely liquid guy, but you know, but I treat it pretty much like an illiquid investment.
Cliff Locks 27:38 Very good. What are the personal rewards for you in doing what you do? And what do you love about your career choice.
Patrick Maurenbrecher 27:48 It’s basically working with these hot driving entrepreneurs. And and that was makes me get up in the morning. And if I know I ever have a call, I have a strategic meeting with, with, you know, one of my clients, it just, it just makes my day because I always learn a lot from them, they make me think and you ways, I figured out a great investment, and I presented to them, and they they really get get to the heart of the investment and the risk reward profile within minutes. And then kind of getting them to, I don’t know, agree with me or disagree with me as something that that is very fulfilling for me.
Cliff Locks 28:31 So it’s a friendship, and a business relationship. It’s together.
Patrick Maurenbrecher 28:36 Yeah, I would say so. I mean, some of our clients are definitely in the in the top five. table for me, of people from whom I’ve learned the most definitely
Cliff Locks 28:47 very positive. Tell me about your legacy you’ve built?
Patrick Maurenbrecher 28:52 Well, I’m at the beginning of our conversation, I told you about the financial situation of financial market in Germany and the situation we have here, where I always feel very, very much behind what’s just the normal stuff in the US and and just, we’re just not a leading nation when it comes to investing. And if, if I were controller can help kind of do a bit of education that people over here also invest their money. Yeah, with the ideas that have worked for centuries. That will be great. If we could have, you know, that level of impact and help on that front.
Jennifer Katrulya is CPA, CITP, CGMA partner at Citrin Cooperman.
Jennifer has been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People” by Accounting Today, and one of the “Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Accounting” by CPA Practice Advisor.
She is responsible for developing strategic and channel relationships for the firm, in addition to contributing her expertise as part of Citrin Cooperman’s rapidly growing business process outsourcing division. In addition to her 25 years of experience working with small-to mid-sized clients across the United States and internationally,
Jennifer has worked extensively with private equity and venture capital firms, family offices, financial service firms, commercial and residential real estate companies, and high-growth technology companies, to connect private and institutional investors with private deals and opportunities to collaborate.
These companies retain Jennifer to help them establish best practices across the company and to provide ongoing services as part of their sales and marketing, operations, accounting, and technology leadership teams, both in their companies as well as in the companies they invest in. She is frequently asked to help form and run company advisory boards, facilitate company retreats, and appear as a speaker.
Prior to joining Citrin Cooperman, Jennifer was a practice leader at a top Midwest CPA firm, and she was the co-founder of Block Small Business, a wholly owned subsidiary of H&R Block. Jennifer was also the owner of a highly successful CPA firm that provided accounting and advisory services to clients within the U.S. and internationally.
Citrin Cooperman’s Business Advisory Solutions Approach ensures our professionals primary focus stays where it counts – on building long-term client relationship. Our specialized team provides integrated general business consulting, accounting, and tax services to our clients. Rooted in our core values right from the start in 1979, our mission is to provide a comprehensive business approach to traditional services and proactive business throughout the lifecycle of our clients. When you are free to focus on what counts, business thrives.
Listen to this interview as Jennifer and Seth discuss:
What it means to be a virtual CFO.
The most common problems that Jennifer helps business solve.
Defining and recognizing “efficiency leaks”.
Some of biggest mistakes companies make when thinking about an eventual sale.
How the management of teams and our workforce affect sales and marketing strategy..
Larry Kaplan, Managing Director at CSG Partners, LLC.
Larry has built the nation’s leading leveraged employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) practice. His expertise in capital structure and ESOP optimization has led to hundreds of successful liquidity transactions and numerous accolades from industry organizations. He is also the owner of Synergy Capital I, LLC, a broker-dealer that provides corporate finance, liquidity and M&A solutions for private companies.
Listen to this informative Private Equity Profits episode with Larry Kaplan about identifying risk factors that can lead to permanent impairment of capital.
Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:
Does ESOP give shareholders more after tax value more than private equity?
How to determine whether it’s worth exploring an ESOP transaction.
Analytics and data that drive the ESOPs recommendations.
Employee stock ownership plans and how they are funded.
Operating as industry agnostics. Firm philosophy and culture.
Cliff Locks 0:01 Welcome to the private equity profits podcast. I’m Cliff locks your host and with me today is Lawrence Caplan Founder and Managing Partner at CSG partners LLC. Larry has built the nation’s leading leveraged employee stock ownership plan. It’s an Aesop practice and is actively involved in all aspects of csgs investment banking activities. He helps owners of private middle market companies achieve equity monetization, while addressing personal goals such as business continuity, legacy and estate planning. His expertise in capital structures and Aesop optimization has led to hundreds of successful liquidity transactions in numerous accolades, industry organizations. Tell me how you got started, Larry, and what led you to private equity?
Larry Kaplan 0:47 Sure, I was working at a middle market accounting firm in New York in their Consulting Group, doing some general consulting we also have m&a side of our business. And I was working with one young individual that started a company was 34 years old was constantly reinvesting in his business and wanting to sell the company and we had taken the company to market he’d gotten some bids from private equity, a few from strategic and they were really low three, let’s say four to four and a half times Eva Dodd is about 21 years ago. And at the same time, we were doing some work for the garment center company, Bill Blass here that he had passed away and his estate was selling their interest. And I found out they had an employee stock ownership plan, bill actually actually sold a piece of his companies earlier. And he used that money to fund which now I think the name has changed, but was then bill Blass Reading Room at the New York Public Library. And I became interested in the Aesop I knew nothing about it. And I started talking to people that were involved in that Aesop. I spoke to their attorney, and they were telling me the tax benefits that you receive when he sold to the sap. And I knew nothing about that. And I said, That’s amazing. Actually, I said, these tax benefits are really encrypted, you don’t pay capital gains taxes, the company receives tax deductions equal to the sale value. And so I started going around to the partners at this firm, which was an excellent firm, and I started asking them what they knew about Aesop’s and everything that they knew about Aesop’s was completely wrong, because they just didn’t have any of the facts. And these are very smart audit and tax people. And I said, Look, there’s this major disconnect in the marketplace between what’s reality and what this product actually is. And so we then took this company down the road of selling to an iOS app, he got as much money after tax if he would have sold the company. And it became a huge success. Because Three years later, he sold to the software initially for like, value the company was $40,000,000.03 years later, he ended up selling the company for $140 million. He walked away with a ton more money, the employees walked away, I think there are maybe 50 of them with over $40 million. It was a major success. And that’s what led me to say there is this opportunity in the market because business owners don’t understand Aesop transactions, nor do they’re professional advisors, the one that I came across, and that’s how I got started.
Cliff Locks 3:08 I appreciate that. Tell me about your employee stock ownership plans and how they are funded.
Larry Kaplan 3:14 Sure, we like to tell business owners that any doing an Aesop is doing a leveraged buyout of your own company, right, just like a private equity firm is gonna go in, and they’re gonna put some equity to the transaction and go to the capital markets to raise debt to finance the transaction. We’re doing the same thing, right. And initially, we had to educate the banks as to Aesop’s, we had to educate the funds to ethos, we had to educate all parts of the marketplace as to why they should be lending into an Aesop transaction at terms similar to what the private equity firms are doing. And so now we got the same access to the capital markets as a private equity firm doing up and down the markets. Last year, we closed our first high yield leverage bond offering to financing ease up which was we raised over $500 million for that transaction. So we’ve got in and said to these business owners, you could do it and we’re going to help you do it. And that’s where the money comes from. It’s a debt driven transaction. There’s no equity in the deal. But since the owners aren’t paying capital gains taxes when they receive those funds, that’s the equity piece that we’re able to fill in the gap.
Cliff Locks 4:21 Isn’t Aesop give shareholders more after tax value more than private equity?
Larry Kaplan 4:26 Well, a couple of things we’re going to talk about after tax value number one, just from a strict monetary perspective, right when you sell to an ISA, under Section 1042 of the code. When you receive those proceeds, if you reinvest into qualified replacement property similar to a 1031. In real estate, it’s much more flexible. You could defer paying capital gains taxes. As long as you hold that replacement property. There’s a whole industry that’s popped up helping business owners satisfy that qR p requirement, but number one right off the bat, you’re not paying these taxes. And that’s kind of like the great equalization factor with what you’re going to see with the private equity deal. But in addition, right, how does it give them more and this is really, sometimes we go into a transaction and the private equity offers are more than what they’re going to be able to get from selling to an ease up. Most of our deals are done directly, though, with private, family owned businesses. And they could be a business in Des Moines, Iowa, or remote portion of Iowa. And they’re the private employer in that town. So when these companies start looking for liquidity strategy, these employees have been with them. In some cases, since they’ve been in that community since the 19th century. While they want to get the value for the company, getting the absolute maximum last time off the table is not what’s driving most of the people that are doing any stuff. They want value. They want strong value, but they’re also looking at their community and what’s selling to a third party could ultimately do to their community.
Cliff Locks 5:54 Well said, What industries do you serve?
Larry Kaplan 5:56 We’re industry agnostic. So right now we’re probably working on 30 or 40 different transactions. We’re working with companies in the construction industry, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, services and consulting. We’ve got a large medical practice. Aesop transaction right now, you’ve probably done some episodes on the healthcare industry. And we’re offering Aesop’s to medical practices, the same kind of a structure that they’re getting through private equity. They could do it through an Aesop. So you name any attack, we’ve got accounting firms, we’ve been uncertain specialized law firms, you name any type of an industry. And as long as those companies are paying taxes, then Aesop could be an alternative structure for them.
Cliff Locks 6:41 Very interesting. What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Larry Kaplan 6:45 Well, I think in general, we’re both proud of we’ve probably made hundreds, if not 1000s of employees, millionaires through use of putting these up in place. And I’ll just give you one quick story. One of the earlier, Aesop’s, I did turn out extremely well. And it was limited workforce. So most of the most of the top executives at the company when the company was sold four or five years later, walked away with north of a million dollars in their retirement account. And independent of this, I was playing in a casual poker game with my brother in law and some of his friends. And there was one of the guys who I’d never met before who said, Yeah, my wife worked at that a special needs child that really needed a lot of care and it was very expensive. And he said my wife worked at me SATCOM, through the sale of her stock. When the company was sold, she was able to fund the care for the rest of his life through the proceeds that she received from the Aesop. And to me, that was amazing. And we see this time and time again, now that we’re really transforming not just the selling shareholders, right, they’re happy, and they’re getting great deal. But it’s also the people that helped build these companies that are now getting dissipate in capitalism and ultimately sell and get this money. So it’s a nice thing to do very positive.
Cliff Locks 7:59 What is your approach to identifying risk factors that can lead to permanent impairment of capital,
Larry Kaplan 8:04 just like everybody else, right? So anytime we’re going into a company, we’re going to be the liaison between the company and the credit markets. And so we try to do the same type of due diligence and stress testing as any type of private equity firms come into a company and do right, what could happen to impair this company’s future cash flow. And of course, because of the ISA up in the company not paying taxes, they’re always gonna be better off at least there’s some positive cash flow. So when you stress testing and Aesop, even if the company is performing, you know, 50% less, they’re still generating the same after tax cash flows. So you’ve got more buffer in your ability if things go wrong, but it’s the same thing, right? How How big is your order book, how sticky is your clientele, the same kind of stuff that our private equity firms gonna go when we try to analyze and the better companies could get, you know, six, seven times, even puddings that don’t have that, you know that you get two times EBIT, done alone. So it just runs the gamut. And it’s the same analysis than any private equity firm will come in and do. How
Cliff Locks 9:05 do you help clients determine whether it’s worth exploring an Aesop transaction?
Larry Kaplan 9:09 Right, so we do a lot of right. So we’re a very quantitative driven firm, right? So the first thing that we go into a business owner is that we say, look, you have all these other options, right? And which is the best option for you. We’re gonna run financial models, and we do this virtually every day, we’re gonna say, what does an Aesop look compared to private equity day one? What does it look like in years 345? What does it look like and compare it to a strategic value strategic buyer. So we’re running all these different models with different assumptions and then we come through and we work. Normally we’re introduced to these clients through a trusted advisor, whether it’s their accountant, their lawyer, or some other type of their financial wealth manager. And so we’re including them in the process and collectively, they look at it and you also need to include estate planning, all the things that you look at in any type of asset. sale gets incorporated into the analysis very, very positive.
Cliff Locks 10:03 What kind of analytics and data drive the SOPs recommendations? Number one, you
Larry Kaplan 10:09 start with the same thing. So we start with the same base financial models, they would with the private equity, you can have a low growth, moderate growth, high growth case, looking at the cash flow of the business. Is it cashflow intensive? Is it not cashflow intensive, we have to look at factors that lower taxable income such as a cubii deduction, depreciation, and then we look at the company and saying, Okay, how much the bottom line driver with does the E sub really make sense? Higher the taxes that those companies are paying? When I say to companies, they’re usually pass through entities 95% of the time, either an S or an LLC, paying taxes at the personal level? And then we say, okay, when we layer on the ISA, right, how much better off of those companies be? And then we say, how much money Can we borrow, right? What’s the value of the company for Aesop purposes, so all these when we do analysis, it’s usually a 60 page analysis that covers value, capital, raise cost of capital, the ability to pay that down based on various assumptions. So again, it’s a lot of modeling. And that’s where people appreciate the detail that goes into this analytical exercise,
Cliff Locks 11:17 very professional. Describe the culture and philosophy of the firm.
Larry Kaplan 11:22 You know, our culture philosophy is always do the right thing for the client, right. And so number one client comes first, second, and third, always, you know, tell the good news and the bad news, if it makes sense. Let’s go for it. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, then let’s not waste everybody’s time and, and try to put a square peg in a round hole. Most people at CSG have been with us further, you know, for the last 20 years, when they start coming very few people leave most of our managing directors now they become a Managing Director Emeritus. So even though they’re not working full time anymore, what ex partner who is now in his 80s, and he’s still bringing in business. And so who worked with some of the younger people, they’ll run the deals, and he’ll do it. So we have no stop limit, you know, you could continue working. And then now what we’ve really done over the last five years is bringing a real good core group of younger people that are gonna be the future of this for I think we give the best training. I mean, we know that because a lot of times, historically, they kind of target our employees and take them over the bigger banks. And then sometimes we just hired our new head of capital markets, have worked with us 15 years ago, went to work for the major banks, and then we brought him back in, and he’s been a phenomenal help for us opening up new sources of capital that we could never have touched by ourselves. So that was great.
Cliff Locks 12:39 I’m proud of you and your team a continuity, yeah, and flourishing, and really the doing the training with internal. And then the mentor. I think it’s very, very positive. And I wanted to ask you, what do you love what you do in what do you find most rewarding personally?
Larry Kaplan 12:53 Yeah, so I’m not a normal person. Because I love I mean, I love what I do, right? I mean, we’re working with different business owners in different businesses all around the country. And one thing I really didn’t love was I was on a plane, you know, usually two or three days a week. Now I bow under COVID, I sit here, we’re doing a meeting in Los Angeles, I’m doing a meeting in Phoenix, and I don’t have to travel as much, I enjoy that. But I enjoy working with business owners, right. And I enjoy working with the companies and then seeing them transform, and then seeing the success that comes out of these businesses and how successful they could become and how value how wealth is a tremendous wealth creator, not just for the few people on top, but for all of the employees at the company. And it really is great when you start to see some of these companies in the success they’ve had. Since I’ve been doing this now it’s our 21st year, you know, we see some major, major success stories.
Cliff Locks 13:46 It’s exciting. It’s not just the top sea level, the really it’s the employees at that point. And it’s
Larry Kaplan 13:51 we’ve got, you know, hourly employee workers at companies that have got retirement accounts that are in the seven figures, tremendous, what would be your personal legacy? Well, my personal legacy, just that this see our firm and the work that we’re continuing to do, to see and continue to see that, you know, we’re out here and do more of them. Unfortunately, Aesop’s are, you know, a backwater area of finance, most people don’t know them. So when you look at the benefit they bring versus the amount of market penetration they have. We’re just scratching the surface. My what I would like to see is a company that hopefully this year we’re going to do 25 to 30 of these transactions, but in five years, we’re doing 150 to 200 of these transactions and just to continue what we’re doing but in a bigger, more broad based way. Very positive. I truly appreciate you spending the quality educational time with our listeners today, Larry. Larry, can
Cliff Locks 14:47 I share your contact information with our listeners? Absolutely. You can reach Larry by email at info at CSG partners comm which is spelled info inf o at CSGP ar T and ers.com you can reach Larry by phone at 212-433-5500. Again that’s 212-433-5500 Thank you for our listeners. I look forward to being back with you shortly for another episode of the private equity profits podcast. This show has been produced by market domination, LLC.
John M. Jennings is President and Chief Strategist of The St. Louis Trust Company. In these roles, he leads the client service practice and is responsible for developing and implementing strategic initiatives. John is a member of the firm’s Management Committee, on its Board of Directors, and also serves on the Investment, Risk Management and Trust Committees.
John works closely with client families, advising them in all areas of wealth management. Prior to joining The St. Louis Trust Company as a founding principal, John gained varied professional experience in investments, tax, estate planning and trusts in the Private Client Service group at Arthur Andersen LLP and in the Estate Planning and Tax practices at the St. Louis-based law firm, Armstrong Teasdale LLP. John earned both his Bachelor of Science in Finance and Banking (cum laude) and JD degrees from the University of Missouri.
A past St. Louis Business Journal “40 under 40” honoree, John is a frequent speaker on investment, trust and various other family office topics. Personally, John is married, the father of two teenage daughters and an avid reader, skier, music lover and is vegan. He serves on the Boards of Logos School and the St. Louis Community Foundation, where he chairs its investment committee. He is also a trustee of The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Endowment Trust. He is an instructor at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. Daily he produces an “interesting fact of the day” which can be found at http://www.theifod.com.
Seth Greene 0:00 Welcome to the podcast. This is your co host, Seth Green. Today I have the good fortune to be joined by john Jennings president and chief strategist of the St. Louis Trust Company. JOHN, thanks so much for joining us. I’m super happy to be here. So, all right, so for our folks watching and listening and tell us about the St. Louis company, St. Louis Trust Company, what do you guys do and who do you serve?
Unknown Speaker 0:21 Yeah, so we our multifamily office started about 19 years ago out of the ashes of Arthur Andersen. So, you know, I worked at Arthur Andersen for about four years. And when it was imploding in the wake of the Enron scandal, I was like, Oh, this is horrible. But looking back, selfishly, you know, personally for us, and I think other people that were there, it worked out really well. So. So being a multifamily office, we work with 60 client families, and we have 55 employees, so nearly a one to one ratio.
Seth Greene 0:51 That is awesome. That’s it? Yeah, that’s a great ratio. And so what is it that you think makes the St. Louis Trust Company other than the ratio obviously, stand out? And how do you differentiate yourself?
Unknown Speaker 1:04 Yeah, so I’m kind of to borrow from Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist, you know, he had this great book, zero to one and other venture capitals have talked about this, like, truly successful companies need to have a secret. And the definition of a secret in their parlance is what do you believe that most other people or businesses don’t believe? And if you told them that, you’d think that a sort of crazy so and pretty much every business, but especially financial services, there’s a trade off between customization and scalability. And the goal for most businesses, almost all of in the financial services industry is to increase scale. So for instance, we work with 60 client families and oversee and advise on about $13 billion of assets with 55 employees. So imagine just the profits, if we double that to 120 and 26 billion with the same 55 employees, we’d be like, where do we stack all our Benjamins? Right? What our secret is, is, we believe that if you are as customized as possible, and you don’t scale, that that’s a great business. And you can be profitable, and you can really be among the best in the entire country, or entire world, which would mean the entire solar system. And I don’t go further than that, because who knows what else is out there? Right. So
Seth Greene 2:35 that is an excellent point.
Unknown Speaker 2:37 So we want to be as close as possible for our client families to a single family office. And we’re able to do that, because we’re 60% owned by clients. So the main, you know, our main ownership group, you know what, it’s kind of nice when you know, they get a nice dividend. The number one thing is they want us to be customized and serve their families well.
Seth Greene 3:01 Alright, so that could that that’s very interesting, talked a little bit more about the and that’s probably another thing that differentiates you talk a little bit about the ownership structure.
Unknown Speaker 3:11 Yeah. So when we started, we decided to be a Trust Company, and we needed working capital, but we also needed capital to be a Trust Company. And so we turned to, you know, we turned our initial set of clients. So they were, they were early investors in the company. And as we’ve grown, we’ve had some other clients that have bought in and we are overseen by a board that is all, you know, all but two of us are, you know, clients on our board. And so, you know, clients that are on our board, buy in, and and it’s really, it’s really great. The other 40% is owned by, you know, our primary founder owns a chuck chunk, who’s now retired, and the rest is principals of our firm. So
Seth Greene 4:02 and, obviously, we’re not asking you to break confidentiality to, quote, disclose any names, but what types of families do you work with? Yeah, so who is an ideal client for you?
Unknown Speaker 4:14 So it’s interesting. So if you look at the size of our clients, you know, I don’t believe we have anyone that just made a lot of income, like we don’t have any wealth generators that are doctors or lawyers. And we don’t really have anybody that just saved money and invested in the stock market really, really to create great wealth. You have to have equity in a single company usually. So you put together your you know, you’ve taken a big risk, you’ve been concentrated, you put your own sweat equity into it, and you get lucky. So our client families, somebody did that. Whether we’re working with a first generation or you know, we’ve worked with we have sixth and seventh generation. We will So they, they either started a company, and then over time it was was sold, and sometimes they start multiple, or they were an executive at a public company and and was able to buy in or be granted a lot of equity. So that’s who our clients are, or their descendants.
Seth Greene 5:17 What are you finding some of the biggest mistakes they’re making are that they’re coming to you to help fix, or that they want to help your help to avoid?
Unknown Speaker 5:28 Yeah, you know, we get, we get a quite a few client families interested in us that realize that they need a higher level of customization and service. And really, at this sort of wealth, the wealthy families that kind of the waters we’re swimming in, kind of use a shark reference. So yeah, it’s, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of sharks out there. But the level of wealth we’re dealing with, there’s no real just platform they can be on. So if you go to a lot of investment firms, they’re like, okay, here’s the way we do things. And the family needs to fit into how we do things. And we flip that on its head, we say, you know, we’re going to help you invest and do everything else in your lives, the way that fits your values and your goals. Right. So that’s, that’s number one. And number two, we see a lot of client families have just really been burned in the financial industry, even if they’re working with, you know, some of the really big name, you know, kind of gold standard firms, they just feel like, you know, the desire is the firm, the investment firm, just throwing things at them, just trying to sell them. And it’s all about their profitability, the investment firm, rather than what the family needs. And so we were having come in, they may still work with that firm, but they’re like, okay, we need somebody to help us to look at all this stuff and say, Okay, this makes sense that doesn’t, and we really start focusing on fees and taxes and things that the investment industry really doesn’t like to talk about.
Seth Greene 6:53 Okay, so you say you segued into the next question perfectly. So what are the services that you offer beyond the traditional investment management that they’re attracted to? They go beyond that Main Street offering, right.
Unknown Speaker 7:09 So you know, one of the we have three main lines, one of the three is, you know, investment management. And, you know, we do a nice job of investment management, but you can find good investment managers all over the place. The second thing we do is family office, and I think a great thing. And we sort of, you know, we started in 2002, we rode this wave, where, you know, people didn’t know what a family office or multifamily office was, you know, nearly 20 years ago. And so we really wrote this way we were, we were sort of early. And I think what’s great for investors is pretty much every, you know, financial advisory firm or investment firm out there says, Okay, we’re going to provide some family officers, I think that’s great. But it’s hard to do, if you have 100, you know, every advisor works on 100, or 250 200 200. accounts. So the way we do family office, is each of our professionals only works with, you know, five to seven families. So it really allows you to dig in and do bill pay and cash flow and help with charitable planning and educate kids, you know, the next generations about wealth and put together a strategy, and on and on and on and on. I mean, there’s just all these these ones off, you know, private jet charter, and, you know, should I lease or buy my car, or, you know, the next generation, I’m starting a business, can you help me on that, and we do all that. The third line of business is we can either be trustee, which is a really a convenience for our clients, there’s different reasons, they may need a trustee, or they had it, have a corporate trustee, that’s, you know, some big institution that they don’t feel like they’re a fit with anymore, and they can move to us. But probably a bigger thing is a lot of family members serve as trustee for trusts, and, you know, partnerships and things like that. And we help them be good trustees or, you know, managers of their LLC and do all the legwork behind the scenes. And, and there’s liability, you know, I, you know, there’s, there’s all these cases you hear, you know, both around where I live and nationwide about, you know, families Sue each other, and there’s, there’s real liability when you’re trustee of a family, family trust, so we help them with with that. And by the way, real quick, you know, even though our name is St. Louis trust, and we’re actually in the middle of rebranding to St. Louis trust and family office. So it hasn’t really been released yet. But we have clients in 33 states and some some, you know, family members live out of out of the US and, you know, our biggest growth areas have actually been on the coast. So, notwithstanding our name, we are not a local organization. We are nationwide.
Seth Greene 9:38 Understood. Now, you talked about a lot of the majority of the families be having a at some point in their history. There was a business that was started perhaps there’s some liquidity event or something that qualifies them to have the cash to work with a fat multifamily office like yours. How are you helping them because I mean, there’s a stereotypes and cliches of shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations, and how many businesses don’t make it past generation three? How are you helping them bridge that gap?
Unknown Speaker 10:09 Yeah, that is that is a real issue. And really what drives shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves, and you know, three, or four or five up here, stated different ways, is is a big part of that as math. So I’ll give you an example. So there’s a CLI family we’re with its, I think the main, the main ones we work with are depending on how you count fifth or sixth generation. And if you look at their, you know, this, this generations grandmother, so the grandmother and the grandfather, so they had a big chunk of wealth. And then they had six kids, and they paid a state tax. So the six kids then had one six of the wealth, less tax. And so the grant, the grandparents lived amazingly well, like they had just money just flowing it, the six kids, also very wealthy lived well, but it was a step down, right. And then those six kids, it varies between having two to six kids for each of those six kids. And then that drops down and there was a state tax. So a lot of it is math, that you know, even even if you invest well, and you control your spending, you know, some of it’s just math, and where we see some families not go shirt sleeve shirt sleeve, some of it is just because they don’t have as many descendants. So if the grandparents had one child who turned out had two children, you know, you can out earn that math, so part of it is just looking at the math and setting expectations, and just telling a lower generation, by the way, you know, even when all the money flows down to you, just because of the math, you probably can’t live as your parents did. And you definitely can’t live as your grandparents did. So that’s the first thing. So some of us just, it is what it is. The second thing is, is fees, and taxes are huge. So limiting fees, and taxes is is is really important. Investing well. And investing well isn’t just always, okay, I’m going to go out and you know, I’m going to find the next Facebook while it’s private or beyond meat or whatever, you know, Tesla and SpaceX is gonna be all this, this growth. I mean, that’s great. But that’s really hard to do. Part of it is just not making big investment mistakes. That’s, that’s, that’s a big deal. And then a state planning. So the way the estate tax laws are in wealth transfer tax laws are now you know, paying a state tax is largely optional, if you plan it early, and often, and you’re willing to do what it takes. And we’ve seen this time and time again, people that have 10s of millions of projected estate tax liability, and 10 or 20, late years later, it’s it’s zero. So, you know, we’ll see what the future tax laws hold. But it it really is optional. And all the time we see people that wait till they’re their 60s or 70s, or have a family owned business, and they’ve done little estate planning, and it can just be devastating, again, in terms of the math, and how that that passes down. So that was a long answer. I could talk more on it. But I think that’s it’s probably pretty good.
Seth Greene 13:16 How has the COVID pandemic affected your business and your clients?
Unknown Speaker 13:25 If you would have told me 18 months ago that this was gonna happen, you’re gonna have this pandemic, and we’re going to work virtually and we couldn’t visit, even our clients live locally because of, of health concerns, I would have been like, Okay, this is good, it’s gonna be devastating. And what has been surprising is how well it’s gone. So we’ve been able to, we transition remotely, you know, over a three day period last March. And our people just done a great job. You know, meeting with our clients virtually, and staying in contact with them, you know, we call them a lot. They didn’t call, it’s gone really well. Now, I will tell you that my analogy I use is both in terms of our company culture and working together and client relationships. I felt like we were running on battery power. So it was working. But I felt like the battery was degrading and training over time, right? And I wouldn’t want to do this for you know, two years or five years. And we are, you know, with the vaccines and almost everybody in our company is vaccinated, more people are coming back to the office. We’re bringing them, you know, everybody’s gonna start coming back to the office more The day after summer solstice. So he didn’t want to interfere with summer solstice celebrations, but it’s going to be the day after the summer solstice. We’re traveling to meet clients, we’re meeting him in person. It’s really fantastic to see everybody again, but again, I was just stunned that there wasn’t more of a disruption and how well it went. And I just think about him. What if this was, you know, even 10 or 15 years ago? And we didn’t have all the technology we do, it would just be a far different situation.
Seth Greene 15:06 Absolutely. How has it changed the investment advice you’re giving your clients?
Unknown Speaker 15:11 I don’t, it really hasn’t really hasn’t, you know, going in even going into the pandemic, you know, we’re big on on the belief that, you know, the financial industry, models risk and returns using the standard bell curve, or the normal distribution, the Gaussian distribution, that doesn’t work, that math does not work, you cannot take projections and and say, Oh, well, this is your downside risk, or this is what’s going to happen. So we’re very big on investing. Acknowledging the uncertainty of the future, part of that means having an adequate margin of safety. And so when we hit the nearly 35% doubt, and just over 30 days, so, you know, the the, the 30% down that occurred in it was the fastest drop in the stock market ever, even faster than some of the times in 1929 1930. So, really, No, none of our clients panicked. And some of them rebalanced and really rode the, you know, sold high and our, you know, take to liquidity and bought low thing. So, you know, they really did quite well, or did fine through it. Now, if it had gone instead of 34% down, if it had gone 70% down. Yeah, that would have been, you know, it would have been, it would have been more difficult, but it just really reminds you just the folly of trying to forecast when investment returns are. And a lot of the industry says okay, well, you know, and I did it. I am also a contributor for Forbes, I wrote an article wrote a few hours, I’ve written a few articles kind of lambasted this idea that you can predict and a common excuse that people give when they predict is, well, I couldn’t have foreseen that, I could, I didn’t know that there was gonna be a pandemic, or that, you know, going back that you know, 4% of the mortgage market of some Prime’s would be one of the main things that led to, you know, unraveled the, you know, the entire financial system, almost or, you know, who had on their, their, their scorecard for 2021, that a boat, we get stuck in the Suez Canal and further disrupt global supply chains, or that a tsunami would take down the, the reactor in Japan, you know, and these things happen. And it just reminds again, with a pandemic, you, you should invest in a way that’s robust to the unexpected. So it’s just, it’s really been a great lesson. And if you don’t mind me saying another lesson that just says home again. So the stock market and economy are not correlated, you can’t look at what’s going on in the world or the economy or even geopolitically and say, now I’m going to make investment decisions. And three days after, in retrospect, what was the bottom, I wrote an article in Forbes, and it was advice we were giving their clients and reiterate with the clients, that they’re just not correlated. And the point of the article was, we’re heading into a really bad recession, unemployment was spiking. The stock market was dropping, everything just seemed horrible. But the point was, is you shouldn’t sell out of your portfolio, just because the news is bad is going to get worse. Because they’re not correlated. And then what happened is, you know, turned around and had a, you know, 70 some odd percent gain from about the time that I wrote that article, and what people have said to me is, Jennings, how did you know, we had bottom? And I said, No, you don’t understand the point of the article is, I didn’t know and that nobody knows. And you should invest, like you don’t know. And a challenge we have sometimes is talking to prospective client families that want us to give them the certainty of, we know what’s gonna happen. Instead, we say, we don’t know what’s going to happen. And we’re going to invest that way. And we find that our clients that are very sophisticated investment wise, love that. And some investors that are less sophisticated, you know, don’t choose us, they want to go to the big bank or investment firm that says, you know, here’s our chief strategist, and you know, the s&p is going to be up 14% this year, and blah, blah, blah, blah. And they like that certainty. Because as humans, we don’t like uncertainty. If somebody says, I know what the future is going to be, we get this dopamine rush or like, we feel good. So, again, I’m just like, sorry,
Seth Greene 19:30 that’s quite a fascinating answer. When you are not serving as president, what do you I know that you are an avid reader? What are a couple of the best books you’ve ever read that had the biggest impact on your career?
Unknown Speaker 19:44 So, you know, the Black Swan by Nassim Taleb had a huge effect. I read that shortly after it came out in in 2007. I’d like to say that I read it was like, Oh my gosh, I see you know, 2008 coming, but let’s, let’s at least open my eyes to it. And it really last few years, one of the books that has, you know, just, I was just like, wow, just really, you know, knocked me as like I’ve learned so much and really caused me to see the world a bit differently. There’s a book called scale, by Geoffrey West, who was a physicist at Los Alamos, and then went over to the Santa Fe Institute, and was the head of the Santa Fe Institute, if you don’t want the Santa Fe Institute is it’s a academic think tank and their, their main area of research is complex adaptive systems. It’s how things interact, when you have intelligent agents and feedback loops and everything, which is really how the stock market works, by the way, why we that’s why we can’t predict it. But this book is all about scale, like power laws, it’s on about organisms and businesses and things and what a power law really is, is, I’ll use an example of let’s let’s use the example of book sales, you can look and say the, you know, that there’s, you know, how many ever books published in the USA, every year, it’s, you know, hundreds of 1000s. And you can say, the average book, you know, sales 10,000 copies. And if you think in terms of a bell curve, you’re thinking, Oh, you know, there’s, you know, kind of, if you’re listening, I’m sorry, I’m like drawing a bell curve with my hands, high in some low, but a lot around the $10. That’s not how it works. You have people like Stephen King, and JK Rowling, you know, you have this very small percentage of authors that sell a ton of books, and then drops off immensely, we have this very long tail of most books selling, you know, less than 2000 copies, less than 1000 copies. So that’s a that’s a power law distribution, or think about wealth. So, you know, if you take a, you know, you go to a concert venue that has like, 2000 people, and you go, okay, the average income of these are that, let’s say, the average wealth of these people is, you know, $250,000, if you average it, right body, and if you think bell curve, you’re like, oh, okay, but imagine if, you know, Bill Gates walks into the room, okay, the average just skyrocketed. And it doesn’t tell you anything about what everybody else has. And, and that’s the way wealth works in America, too, is at every stage, you know, you look at the top 50 versus the low 50. And then the top 10%, the top 1%. At every stage, there’s a few number of people that are massively out of range that that affect everything else. So this book is all about that is a little technical. Like I’ve, I’ve talked before about how much I liked this book, I’ve had people that have like I couldn’t get through it. So if you want to just really expand your mind, but it’s work scale by Geoffrey West.
Seth Greene 22:40 Great recommended patients fascinating interview, and anything else want to share that we didn’t think to ask you yet.
Unknown Speaker 22:46 Well, I would just like to, if I could plug my blog, of course, please. So I write a blog a few days a week, it’s called the interesting fact of the day, it really should be called what Jenny’s thinks is interesting, but I get a you know, it’s very well received. And it’s just all sorts of different things. Some some times as things on leadership, sometimes it’s as simple as its national Grilled Cheese Day, you should go eat grilled cheese, and, you know, today’s sent out as a rerun because my daughter guys, graduates from college tomorrow, and it’s on the five best commencement speeches. So it’s just a lot of different eclectic thing you can think you can find it
Seth Greene 23:22 at V th e.
Unknown Speaker 23:25 iPod, which stands for interesting fact of the day. So th e, i fo D calm, feel free to subscribe, feel free to unsubscribe. But just me, I find that people say that it kind of kind of tickles their interest in things. So.
Seth Greene 23:39 All right, well, this has been Seth Green with john Jennings of the St. Louis Trust Company. JOHN, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you so much. Thanks, everybody for watching or listening. We’ll see you next time.