Nine Must Reads for the CRE Industry Today (July 29, 2021)

By WMRE Staff
July 28, 2020

The CDC’s revised guidance on masking has shaken up return-to-office plans for companies. Some are shifting timelines and policies. Other companies are moving towards requiring employees to be vaccinated before they can return. These are among today’s must reads from around the commercial real estate industry.

  1. Google delays workers’ return to office, will require COVID vaccinations for employees “In a Wednesday email sent to Google’s more than 130,000 employees, CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning Oct. 18 instead of its previous target date of Sept. 1. The decision also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.” (KTLA)
  2. Work-from-home threat “overstated,” Boston Properties CEO says “While the continued work-from-home trend will have a long-term impact on the office market, the threat is ‘overstated’ for landlords of Class A office space, Boston Properties CEO Owen Thomas said Wednesday.” (The Real Deal)
  3. New C.D.C. mask guidance complicates back-to-office plans. “Companies that have already opened their doors must decide whether to retrench on masking policies. When the C.D.C. lifted its masking guidance in May, many companies issued new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated employees and customers to return without masks. The move served as an important incentive for workers, as well as a signal that the pandemic was winding down. For employees, it provided a sense of safety and normality in returning to offices.” (The New York Times)
  4. It really is different this time “When we examine the most-recent recession versus previous recessions, its status as an outlier becomes even more stark and apparent. If we measure duration in months versus severity (as measured by peak unemployment rate) a clear relationship emerges: deeper recessions are also longer recessions, while shallower recessions are shorter recessions. But the 2020 recession breaks that relationship with a deep, short recession, the likes of which we have never observed in the U.S.” (JLL)
  5. Beyond Zoom: Can Virtual Reality And Hologram Tech Reinvigorate Remote Work? “These different spins on the sci-fi premise of speaking to holograms at the office share a few things in common, namely a desire by Big Tech to make videoconferencing better and iron out the kinks in personal communication in newly remote and hybrid offices. Gartner research predicts by 2023, more than 40% of workers will work remotely at least one day a week, up from less than 30% before the coronavirus pandemic.” (Bisnow)
  6. Private Equity Makes Play for Skilled Nursing “The tragic human effects outweighed others, but there were also economic and business impacts from the pandemic that are currently still affecting the skilled nursing segment. REITs looking for stable income got nervous, according to investment banker James Cassel, chairman & cofounder, Cassel Salpeter & Co.” (GlobeSt.com)
  7. Social Clubs Could Be Way To Lure Office Workers Back “As workers trickle back to offices across the U.S., many employers may be seeking ways to encourage in-person interaction among employees who’ve worked remotely for 16 months. They would be interested to know about the forecast recently put forth by architecture, design and strategy firm NELSON Worldwide. Its prediction: The future office will evolve to become more like a social club than workplace.” (Forbes)
  8. ‘A Wild 15 Months’: Pandemic Spurs Conversion of Offices to Labs “Across the six largest U.S. life sciences markets, more than 20 percent of the laboratory spaces being built are conversions from offices. In San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Raleigh, N.C., asking rents for lab space have increased more than 60 percent since the beginning of 2016, while office rents have crept up only 15 to 30 percent.” (The New York Times)
  9. Hot Housing Market Lets Banks Sell Mortgage Risk “The transfers are a product of the effort to shield Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the risk of a mortgage-market reversal. Banks are now using them to raise capital and otherwise shore up their balance sheets, a process that ultimately adds to their lending capacity, analysts said.” (The Wall Street
    Journal)

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Private Equity Makes Play for Skilled Nursing

Covid deaths have had a big impact on investments in the sector.

By Erik Sherman

July 27th, 2021

The pandemic had a brutal effect in nursing homes. Mortality levels jumped from 17% in 2019 to 22.5% in 2020—nearly a one-third increase—according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This 32% increase amounts to 169,291 more deaths in 2020 than if the mortality rate had remained the same as in 2019,” the report said.

The data was based solely on Medicare claims, as nursing homes weren’t required to report Covid-19 cases and deaths before May 8, 2020, and so the number of deaths in nursing homes was likely higher.

The tragic human effects outweighed others, but there were also economic and business impacts from the pandemic that are currently still affecting the skilled nursing segment. REITs looking for stable income got nervous, according to investment banker James Cassel, chairman & cofounder, Cassel Salpeter & Co.

 

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SoftBank Unit to Invest in Thiel-Backed Crypto Exchange Bullish

By Miles Weiss
July 16, 2021

A unit of SoftBank Group Corp. agreed to invest $75 million in Bullish, the sponsor of a not-yet-operational cryptocurrency exchange, as the startup prepares to go public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

SB Northstar LP will acquire 7.5 million Bullish shares for $10 each at the time it combines with Far Peak Acquisition Corp., according to documents filed July 9 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It will also buy 3 million warrants to purchase shares of Far Peak, the SPAC taking Bullish public in a move that could value the combined entity at about $9 billion.

The SoftBank unit made the commitment through a $300 million private offering that Bullish held last week, according to the filings, though it was not identified in a subsequent release as one of the buyers. Representatives for SoftBank, Bullish and Far Peak all declined to comment.

By participating in the deal, SB Northstar joins a who’s who of executives involved with Bullish. The crypto company was launched in May by Block.One, a blockchain software company backed by Peter Thiel and hedge fund managers Alan Howard and Louis Bacon. Other investors include Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li and German entrepreneur Christian Angermayer. Meanwhile, upon completion of the SPAC transaction, Far Peak Chief Executive Officer Thomas Farley, a former president of the New York Stock Exchange, will become Bullish’s CEO.

SB Northstar, the asset management arm of Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank, became known as the “Nasdaq whale” after it made multi-billion dollar wagers on publicly traded tech stocks. SoftBank’s bets in crypto have been much smaller so far: It also disclosed this month that its Latin American Fund invested $200 million in Mercado Bitcoin, a Brazilian digital assets platform.

Still, it’s a sign that Son, who reportedly lost $130 million on Bitcoin when he sold in 2018, may be starting to warm to the crypto sector. In May, he said Bitcoin’s popularity has made it into a platform that “can’t be ignored,” though he doesn’t know its true value or if it’s a bubble.

SB Northstar will acquire the Far Peak warrants from either the sponsors of the SPAC or its anchor investors, which include funds managed by BlackRock Inc., according to the filing.

The seller will take a $1.5 million loss by selling the warrants below cost. That’s a step that SPACs may take to attract high-profile investors, said James Cassel, chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., a Miami-based investment bank that advises on SPACs.

“SoftBank has said ‘you can use my name and it will validate the deal and make all of the stock worth a lot more,’” Cassel said in a telephone interview.

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SoftBank Unit to Invest in Thiel-Backed Crypto Exchange Bullish

By Miles Weiss
July 16, 2021
  • Bullish to sell 7.5 milliom shares to SoftBank’s SB Northstar
  • It’s the second crypto wager disclosed by SoftBank this month

A unit of SoftBank Group Corp. agreed to invest $75 million in Bullish, the sponsor of a not-yet-operational cryptocurrency exchange, as the startup prepares to go public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. 

SB Northstar LP will acquire 7.5 million Bullish shares for $10 each at the time it combines with Far Peak Acquisition Corp., according to documents filed July 9 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It will also buy 3 million warrants to purchase shares of Far Peak, the SPAC taking Bullish public in a move that could value the combined entity at about $9 billion. 

The SoftBank unit made the commitment through a $300 million private offering that Bullish held last week, according to the filings, though it was not identified in a subsequent release as one of the buyers. Representatives for SoftBank, Bullish and Far Peak all declined to comment. 

By participating in the deal, SB Northstar joins a who’s who of executives involved with Bullish. The crypto company was launched in May by Block.One, a blockchain software company backed by Peter Thiel and hedge fund managers Alan Howard and Louis Bacon. Other investors include Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li and German entrepreneur Christian Angermayer. 

Meanwhile, upon completion of the SPAC transaction, Far Peak Chief Executive Officer Thomas Farley, a former president of the New York Stock Exchange, will become Bullish’s CEO. 

Read more: Thiel-Backed Crypto FirmBullish in $9 Billion SPAC Merger

SB Northstar, the asset management arm of Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank, became known as the “Nasdaq whale” after it made multi-billion dollar wagers on publicly traded tech stocks. SoftBank’s bets in crypto have been much smaller so far: It also disclosed this month that its Latin American Fund invested $200 million in Mercado Bitcoin, a Brazilian digital assets platform. 

Still, it’s a sign that Son, who reportedly lost $130 million on Bitcoin when he sold in 2018, maybe starting to warm to the crypto sector. In May, he said Bitcoin’s popularity has made it into a platform that “can’t be ignored,” though he doesn’t know its true value or if it’s a bubble. 

Read more: Masayoshi Son’s Not Racing to Join Tesla in Buying Bitcoin

SB Northstar will acquire the Far Peak warrants from either the sponsors of the SPAC or its anchor investors, which include funds managed by BlackRock Inc., according to the filing. 

The seller will take a $1.5 million loss by selling the warrants below cost. That’s a step that SPACs may take to attract high-profile investors, said James Cassel, chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., a Miami-based investment bank that advises on SPACs. 

“SoftBank has said ‘you can use my name and it will validate the deal and make all of the stock worth a lot more,’” Cassel said in a telephone interview. 

— With assistance by Pavel Alpeyev 

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How US Defense Spending Has Changed Over the Past 10 Years

By Nicole Spector
May 12, 2021

We all know that our federal taxes help fund the U.S military, but the ins and outs of this financial relationship and exactly what it all means for the average taxpayer is more esoteric knowledge. To put it very simply: our tax dollars are hard at work, and, to some extent, at war.

How much the U.S. spends on defense fluctuates, but from a big picture spending perspective, we’ve been on a downward slope.

“From a taxpayer’s perspective, the amount of taxpayer dollars that is spent on defense has been generally decreasing for the past 70 years,” said BG Michael J. Meese, USA, Ret., Ph.D, president of The American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA). “In 1953, during the Korean War, 69% of federal tax dollars were spent on defense. During Vietnam in 1968, defense represented 46% of federal tax dollars. During the Cold War in the Reagan administration in 1987, 28% of taxes were on defense. In 2010, with a surge of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, 1 in 5 (20% of) tax dollars were spent on defense. With today’s budget projections — under the budgets of either President Trump or President Biden — taxpayers now have the smallest proportion of federal tax dollars spent on national defense since before World War II (in 1937). Those proportionally smaller federal dollars support American military worldwide with an All-Volunteer Force.”

To get more granular, here’s a look at the Department of Defense’s (DoD) budget each year for the past decade, along with some insights into what was going in the sphere of the military at the time.

Last updated: May 12, 2021

1. 2011

  • DoD budget: $687 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: -4% or $0.58 billion

The 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) was signed into law on Aug. 2. A resuscitation of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings passed in 1985, the (BCA) reinstituted budget caps for defense, amounting in a reduction of some $1 trillion over the next decade.

Read: This Is Where Your Tax Dollars Actually Go

2. 2012

  • DoD budget: $645.5 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: -6.04% or $41.5 billion

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 was enacted, which implemented major budgetary reductions. For the first time in over 10 years, the U.S. base and war budget declined.

See: The Most Expensive US Conflicts From 1950-2020

3. 2013

  • DoD budget: $577.6 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: -10.5% or $67.9 billion

More drastic cuts in baseline military spending occurred under the Obama administration in 2012. These cuts were the most significant in the past decade but progressive economists reasoned that military spending was still untenably high.

Check Out: All You Need To Know About the Economy and Your Money

4. 2014

  • DoD budget: $581.4 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: +0.66% or $3.8 billion

The U.S’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War kicked off on Sept. 23, when it launched air raids in Syria against ISIS. In this year, Washington deployed 2,000 soldiers to the battle-scarred land.

More: All About the Federal Budget and Its Role in Your Life

5. 2015

  • DoD budget: $560.4 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: -3.61% or -$21 billion

More troops were sent to fight ISIS in Syria while tension between the U.S. and China heated up. More pleasantly, the Pentagon lifted its ban against women in combat, opening up all jobs to them at long last.

Read: IRS To Send Supplemental Stimulus Payments to 2020 Tax Filers

6. 2016

  • DoD budget: $580.3 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: +3.55% or $19.9 billion

Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, brewing expectations of significant military buildup and a big boost in spending as anticipated by military members, who largely favored Trump over Clinton.

See: Just How Rich Are Elon Musk, Donald Trump and These Other Big Names?

7. 2017

  • DoD budget: $606 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: 3.55+% or 19.9 billion

Trump was sworn into office, which triggered the anticipated surge in defense spending. The overseas fight against ISIS intensified. The U.S dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS branch in Afghanistan.

Check Out: National Debt and Deficit — What Is It and How Does It Affect Me?

8. 2018 

  • DoD budget: $670.6 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: +10.66% or $64.6 billion

Space Force, a new military branch devoted to space, launched in 2020. Toward the end of the year Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned, ostensibly because of then-President Trump’s orders to remove troops from Syria.

More: Understanding US Productivity and All the Ways It Affects You

9. 2019

  • DoD budget: $687.8 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: +2.56% or $17.2 billion

Former President Trump became the first U.S. sitting president to step across the military demarcation line between North and South Korea, doing so with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Meanwhile, in the states, the president struggled to erect the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In merrier news, more black female cadets graduated from the United States Military Academy than ever before.

Read: What Are the World’s Best Tax Havens?

10. 2020

  • DoD budget: $712.6 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: +3.61% or $24.8 billion

A war with Iran was suspected to be on the horizon when, on Jan. 3, the U.S. killed Major Gen. Qasem Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force. Iran then attacked U.S. military bases in Iraq. COVID-19 came and everything was upended, but the military continued to recruit, train and deploy during the pandemic.

See: Here’s What Men and Women in Uniform Earn

11. 2021

  • DoD budget: $705.4 billion
  • Year-over-year difference: -1.01% or $7.2 billion

Under the Biden administration, the U.S has begun to pull troops out of Afghanistan. Debris from a Chinese rocket plunged through the atmosphere in May, and the military opted not to attempt to shoot it down. As expected, Biden softened the U.S defense budget.

12. What We Can Expect in 2022

So, what does all of this mean going forward in 2022? That’s a hefty question that has much to be determined, but we can already glean some insights into the year ahead, including a bump in the Pentagon’s budget.

“The good news associated with the Pentagon’s 1.6% increase in the 2022 budget of $715 billion versus 2021, is that non-defense domestic discretionary spending will surge 16%, with education spending rising 41%, health and human services 23% and the Environmental Protection Agency 21%,” said Joseph Smith, director of aviation services at the investment banking firm Cassel Salpeter. “Certain taxpayers may feel good about that reallocation towards more needed domestic spending.”

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: For this piece, GOBankingRates looked at U.S. Department of Defense budget figures from the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for fiscal years 2001 through 2021. For each year, GOBankingRates found: (1) Department of Defense budget (in billions); (2) Department of Defense budget; (3) year-over-year change in DoD budget; and (4) percent change in year-overyear DoD budget. GOBankingRates also found the (5) total change in DoD budget from 2001 to 2021; as well as (6) percent change in DoD budget from 2001 to 2021. All data was collected on and up to date as of May 3, 2021.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: How US Defense Spending Has Changed Over the Past 10 Years

Joseph “Joey” Smith of Cassel Salpeter & Co: “Passenger Preparation”

By Candice Georgiadis, Founder of Digital Day Agency
May 7, 2021

As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph “Joey” Smith.

Joseph Smith, director of aviation services at investment banking firm Cassel Salpeter & Co., has more than 25 years of experience in the capital markets and securities industry. At Cassel Salpeter, Smith leads the aviation team, providing the firm’s clients with his expertise in mergers and acquisitions, capital raising, and advisory services to middle market private and public companies. He has structured, negotiated, and executed on numerous aviation industry transactions with institutional private equity and strategic investors, and has worked extensively with business owners, management teams, and boards of directors and their professional advisors, locally and nationwide. Since 2018, Mr. Smith has led the publication of the firm’s quarterly Aviation Industry Deal Report offering insights on industry trends while charting deal flow. Before joining Cassel Salpeter in Miami, he served as a senior vice president of Catalyst Financial and as principal and head of investment banking for Capital City Partners. He began his middle market investment banking career at First Equity Corporation of Florida, where he was a principal and managing director after initially being trained by Merrill Lynch and Shearson Lehman Brothers. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My investment banking path was unexpected as I was a history major from a small liberal arts college and never aspired for a career in finance or Wall Street, but I loved the stock market, and the historical aspect of corporations. Their operations, growth, and finance were fascinating to me. When Merrill Lynch surprisingly hired me, I became very adept at bringing in clients and assets, achieved success, and became enamored with the industry and was all in thereafter.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I don’t have a specific story that stands out as particularly interesting during my career, but rather have a period of time. That was when I was a broker/banker during the internet/technology dot-com boom, bubble, and ultimate bust times of the late 1990s and early 2000s. That was probably the most interesting chapter in my career. It was literally the Wild West of investing, with valuations being at astronomical levels for private placements, IPOs, buyouts, leading to huge failures and losses. That, combined with the excitement of technology truly advancing with the internet and new business models, while we were all trying to understand this new landscape and ecosystem and trying to pick the winners from the losers, made for fascinating times to be in the business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I was tasked to make sure a prospectus was printed for an IPO (before EDGAR online, etc.) so I was camped out late night/early morning in the office of the printing company (standard operating practice). Unfortunately, I fell asleep and my printing cohorts decided to prank me, by locking me in the small conference room I was working from. When I awoke, I could not get out of the office, so I freaked out thinking the prospectus would be late to the SEC and my boss and client would fire me (no cell phones back then). I almost broke down the door before they let me out, and they took pictures of me, a disheveled mess running out with the huge prospectus box in tow. Very embarrassing, too, when they sent the blown-up picture to my boss to memorialize the prank, and thereafter hung it in the trading room for many years.

The lesson learned was that in business, do not ever let your guard down, and “coffee-up” for all-nighters. And generally, to always have a plan B for all unforeseen events, and backup, just in case “what if” happens. Be proactive and find a colleague to buddy up with to have your back and vice-versa!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

As difficult as it is in the moment, be thinking long-term, protect your brand (image: how you are seen, perceived in the marketplace — internally and externally). Think of your career as a marathon with different milestones, constantly planting seeds and nurturing your story. Be willing to pivot and to forsake short-term gratification for the long haul. Be willing to be happy and to take risks, too. Try not to let yourself slide into a place where you are looking back with regrets because of inaction for the comforts of now.

For me, the entrepreneurial path was what I needed to explore when I was burning out, so I started my own advisory business, not necessarily to slow down, as I worked harder and longer hours than ever, but to control my own destiny and to have more flexibility for time with family.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My father, who taught me many lessons, always stressed that there is no substitute for hard work, to be a great listener, to always seek to do good (charity), and as for your adversaries, “to kill them with kindness.” He taught me that success is not defined by money, but by doing the right thing and being a well-respected and solid person to all who cross your path! His wisdom certainly defined my ultimate views on happiness, health, and success. I am trying to always pass it forward to my three adult children.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have always believed in giving back, paying it forward (preferably anonymously) because it truly makes me feel good to give. Whatever success I have is because of so many others (known and unknown), and I am thankful for whatever I have, and feel obligated to do my best to give back. I believe that writing checks to charities/organizations that interest you are not enough (though necessary) as I like to try to get involved in the organizations and leverage whatever I can bring to the table. Most importantly to me, is to find the time in our daily lives to do the little acts of kindness and to speak with or try to help/uplift a friend/acquaintance and strangers (too many of us run around with a phone on our ear, in our own little world ignoring others).

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Aviation and Air Travel industries?

As an investment banker, I cannot say that I am personally bringing innovation to the industry, but I would hope that some of our early-stage capital raising efforts may bring some interesting, cutting-edge, technology, and originality to the aerospace ecosystem.

Which “pain point” are industry leaders trying to address by introducing these innovations?

For travel industry leaders, efficiency and environmental responsibility are the pain points being addressed. Efficiency, as to travel time and experience, supply chain productivity, reducing expenses for all participants, while trying to reduce the carbon footprint and utilizing new technologies for the benefit of the entire ecosystem.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

The major players in aerospace and aviation (Boeing, Airbus, GE, defense contractors) are certainly participating in innovation with disruptive next gen technology/systems, but the entrepreneurial start-up world is where things get interesting when thinking about the longer-term future of travel, here on earth and beyond.

Are there exciting new technologies that are coming out in the next few years that will improve the air travel experience? We’d love to learn about what you have heard.

There will be lots of new and exciting technologies to enhance the passenger experience from robots in the terminals, to quieter and faster planes, to drones assisting with baggage and security, but the truly disruptive advancements are currently being funded and will reveal their unique, value-add services during this coming decade. A few examples would be:

Eviation has leapfrogged the competition as the first zero-emission, all-electric airplane. Designed to take nine passengers up to 650 miles at a cruise speed of 240 knots on a single battery charge.

Boom Supersonic — founded in 2014 and having raised hundreds of millions is developing a delta-wing supersonic passenger aircraft. Its upcoming Overture jet will travel at Mach 2.2, making it the world’s fastest airliner. It will carry up to 45 passengers, aiming to start transporting passengers by 2023.

All-electric jets with VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) short range taxi start-ups: Lilium & Volocopter — Germany; Joby Aviation and Opener — USA, among others.

As you know, the pandemic changed the world as we know it. For the benefit of our readers, can you help spell out a few examples of how the pandemic has specifically impacted air travel?

The pandemic has crushed the commercial aviation industry unlike any other event. To encourage commercial travel, the industry has put in place some of the most aggressive cleaning/filtration systems in the world onto their aircraft, and have embraced as much touchless/remote activities as is feasible. The issue will always remain the “in air” safety, but also getting to and from the airport and the waiting in terminals for flights, from a social distancing perspective. The airlines have been quick to accommodate but until the vaccine is widespread, many will continue to err on the side of caution and not fly unless necessary.

Can you share five examples of how the air travel experience might change over the next few years to address the new realities brought by the pandemic? If you can, please give an example for each.

Airline/Airport Remote/Touchless enhancements — AI and biometrics to enhance airline checklists, check-in, baggage, security, and boarding (collaborating with FAA, TSA, airports and airlines)

Airline Leniency with Passengers — change fees, rewards programs, and pricing flexibility

Aircraft Manufacturer/OEM safety enhancements — Plane ventilation systems and various safety equipment installed permanently or during pandemic to best deal with virus microns.

Passengers destinations/preferences — will likely be more domestic oriented and shorter distances (to avoid layovers/cancellations)

Passenger Preparation — more thought regarding meals before flight, staying in seat more during flight, transportation to and from airport/hotels, being more selective vs. Uber/Lyft

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love to find a way for the for-profit and nonprofit world to engage in a global transportation/humanitarian project to promote food and health care equity to the over a billion people globally living below the poverty line. If I am dreaming big without budgets or borders, this initiative would utilize all transportation modes: air, land, and sea with the best-in-class technology to promote the mandate. It would be a supply chain project to include the last mile of goods (to reduce corruption) for food and medical supplies, while also transporting those in need to the hospitals, schools, training facilities in the developed world. The human interaction and cultural exchange component would lift us all, with ongoing engagement programs to keep the connectivity through many educational/out-reach venues. The current system of providing the needy with food and health care services is not enough, it must be more thoughtful, organized, bilateral, and sustainable to train the next generation of providers from within these communities of need. Hey, I am thinking big and outside the proverbial box!

How can our readers further follow your work?

Joseph “Joey” Smith may be reached via email at jsmith@cs-ib.com or via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/joeyibanker/. His firm’s website is: www.casselsalpeter.com

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Business Travel Plans Could Leave Hotels High and Dry

By Erik Sherman

April 29, 2021

CRE companies in the office space market are getting accustomed to news of space cutbacks, like the 20% one in 2021 HSBC Holdings Chief Financial Officer Ewen Stevenson mentioned in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Tuesday.

But it was the second plan Stevenson referred to that underscores problems for the hotel industry: a 50% reduction of past business travel expenses. Why send people on the road when a video call gets there so much faster? Klaus Kohlmayr, chief evangelist for hospitality industry revenue management company IDeaS, tells GlobeSt.com that business travel is “absolutely critical” for hotels.

“I would say about two-thirds of revenue comes from some sort of business travel related segment,” whether individual traveler, managed or unmanaged accounts, or conventions and meetings, he says.

The signs for business travel are mixed, with “the lucrative business routes, both domestic and international, that are usually the mainstay of the airlines route profitability,” being crushed, Joseph Smith, director of aviation services at investment banking firm Cassel Salpeter, tells GlobeSt.com. “Many airlines have tweaked their route system to accommodate the leisure traveler, which is leading the post-vaccine travel recovery. As a result, the surging leisure travel segment is currently far outstripping the business/commercial passenger revenues, flights, and mileage.”

While Smith expects “travel norms and business activities to substantially increase, leading to a substantial, healthy and sustainable recovery for the airlines and the overall aviation ecosystem,” that will take a few years. It’s a sign that hotels will continue to face challenges.

“I think there’s going to be certain parts of business travel that will start picking up now,” Bruce Rosenberg, president of HotelPlanner, tells GlobeSt.com. “I think the first part will be sales calls, people going out there, mixing it up with customers. The expectations that you’re going to be meeting in person will return faster.” Even meetings have started to come back to life, though major events like the annual tech CES show could take another year or two.

“The last part of business travel that will be slow to come back will be intra-company trips,” in which executives and employees visit other facilities of their corporations, Rosenberg adds. “That’s going to take a while to come back, and that’s probably 25%, 30% of total travel trips.”

As of early 2021, hotel room demand was still down 32%, according to data from Oxford Tourism Economics. Depending on geographic region, average occupancy rates across the U.S., Europe, China, and the rest of Asia Pacific ran between 20% and 50%.

The loss of business travel is particularly worrying, as it’s traditionally one of the highest rate segments, Kohlmayr says.

According to commercial real estate marketplace CrowdStreet, overall improvement has begun to show strong momentum, but “while good news currently abounds for resurging demand in the hospitality sector, true recovery at the operating level is still likely months, if not a year away.”

 

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Inflation Worries? Here’s What A Business Needs To Do

By Erik Sherman

April 9, 2021

Worried about all the predictions of inflation and how you’ll manage?
Relax, you could be doing business in Ukraine, with its dizzying changes
from one year to the next.

In comparison, inflation over the last 30 years in the U.S. has been
laughably small.

“The new generation of business owners [in the U.S. have] never
experienced inflation,” said Henry Shterenberg, CEO of World Trade
Center Kyiv in Ukraine. “Ukraine is much better prepared for financial
shocks,” like supply chain disruptions, currency devaluation, price hikes in
markets, labor costs, and more.

And yet, go back an additional decade and you find a top inflation rate of
13.5% in 1980 in the U.S. It doesn’t take 50% per month hyperinflation to
upend business practice. Maybe it’s time for executives to review the skills
necessary to steady a business through turbulent times. Just in case.

Inflated inflation worries?

After the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, some economists are pounding
the inflation drums. So much money in the system will cause inflation and
the Federal Reserve is complacent, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence
Summers argues on Twitter and in ongoing debates with other
economists.

Economic predictions are notoriously unreliable, especially as different
people with illustrious pedigrees can’t seem to agree. For example, after
the roughly $2.5 trillion spent on the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, inflation
didn’t jump higher. Why should it now?

High inflation may not seem likely, but it is possible—especially when you
consider how one industry can experience inflationary shocks that don’t
perturb the rest of the country, and can still drive higher costs, supply
chain disruptions, and labor shortages.

And yet, a business should be cautious when rolling the dice on strategy,
as inflation can be tricky. Executives should always be ready to hedge
their bets when trying to manage macroeconomic change.

Individual inflation

When the government calculates and discusses inflation as a single
number, the figure includes samplings of many different types of
purchases over multiple geographic areas. The rate at which expenses rise
for one person or company may not be the same as that for another
because the choice of purchases is different.

Michael Alexis, CEO of virtual team-building activities company
Teambuilding, emailed Zenger News to say that over the last decade he’s
also done restaurant industry business in Beijing. China’s inflation rate in
the last ten years has run mostly around 2%, with exceptions in 2011
(6%) and 2020 (5.5%). However, the specifics for restaurants in the
country’s capital has been far different. He called the industry’s
inflationary pressures “massive.”

“For example, at the end of a five year lease your rent may double or even
triple,” Alexis wrote. “Similarly, the cost of staff and labor grows
substantially year over year.” So did food costs. He thought that the
pressures “may have been more isolated to Beijing by specific policies,”
such as migrant labor restrictions. Other industries, however, could have
continued without concern.

“From a firm’s perspective, why do they care about inflation?” William
Branch, a professor of economics and department chair at the University
of California, Irvine, told Zenger. “They just would care about it if there’s
some mismatch in how their costs are increasing and how their revenue is
increasing.” When everything changes at the same rate, the effect is
unimportant because margins and profits remain steady.

Then again, a mismatch in degree or a time lapse in which cost escalations
run ahead of revenue can cause problems. So can localized demand for
goods or services, whether in a region or specific industry.

“The worst inflation that I ever experienced, and it wasn’t the normal kind
of inflation that you’d think of, was during the dot com era,” said Ray Zinn,
who was a semiconductor company CEO for 37 years in Silicon Valley.

“Anytime you have a belief that there’s a lack of inventory, that’s when
inflation starts.” Companies were “double ordering, triple ordering,” and
that drove prices sky high as many assumed the dot com boom would
continue indefinitely “People overreact on the upside and they overreact
on the downside,” he said.

The effect can be seen right now in the lack of chip supply that is
hindering automobile manufacturing. Low inventory levels drive up costs
for a form of inflation that might not affect a clothing retailer or
manufacturer of mechanical fasteners.

Managing inflation

The first step in managing inflation for a business is to forecast what
might happen. “You have to predict how long that’s going to last, wow
long will this inflation go,” Zinn said. There is risk in making the wrong
forecast but worse in not forecasting at all. In the latter case, executives
will continue to chase changing conditions and always be left behind for a
guarantee of more challenging times.

If inflation is likely to be ongoing and not a momentary bubble for a
quarter or two, then it’s time to consider how to hedge. One way is to do
any necessary borrowing early on because the value of the dollar drops,
so that debt becomes cheaper while inflation is higher.

“Tie in costs with longer-term contracts if you can do it,” said James
Cassel, chairman and cofounder of investment banking firm Cassel
Salpeter. The effect is the same as early borrowing—locking in pricing
that will drop in real terms after inflation. “Look to productivity, ways to
use technology to bring your costs down. And then be very careful in
watching your pricing sensitivity.” With enough price elasticity, a company
can raise prices to protect margins without a an equally offsetting drop in
demand. Without elasticity, it could become necessary to find ways to cut
costs.

Ironically, for many businesses, a slight rise in the inflation rate—to 3% or
4%, for example—could be useful. “You need to keep an eye on what your
competitors are doing,” said Alessandro Rebucci, an associate professor of
finance at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Now that we’re
talking about everyone raising prices, it will be much easier for individual
firms to raise their prices a little bit without losing demand.”

Companies also typically negotiate wage and supplier agreements across
multiple quarters, with expenses set in advance. “A little bit of inflation is
going to lower their [real] costs,” Rebucci said.

But if it’s necessary to manage inflation, be careful about the steps you
take. Keesjan Engelen, CEO of Taiwan-based electronics design firm
Titoma, mentioned in an email that he had worked for another firm in the
1990s during an inflation spike. Long-range vendor contracts and
eliminating non-vital costs “allowed us to minimize the price increase that
was sure to come.”

Not all companies were careful enough. “Many businesses sacrifice quality
while cutting costs and meet their end as a result,” Engelen warned.

 

Click here to read the full article.

Here’s James Cassel, Chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co.

By Jerome Knyszewski

March 19, 2021

Chairman and co-founder of Cassel Salpeter & Co. James Cassel is an expert at making deals. His considerable experience as an investment banker and attorney have helped him guide his clients to achieve their goals. For his work, he has earned a seat at the board of Equity One, and a seat at the advisory board of “The Launch Pad,” a business incubator program for entrepreneurs at the University of Miami. He has also been part of the executive committee of Broad and Cassel, “one of Florida’s largest law firms.” Among his other memberships are in the American Association of Arbitrators, National Investment Banking Association and the NASD Board of Arbitrators. He is also a regular columnist for The Miami Herald, writing about “emerging trends and strategies and tactics for middle-market business owners.

Before Cassel Salpeter & Co., James Cassel also co-founded and became chairman of Capitalink, which is an investment banking firm acquired by Ladenburg Thalmann & Co., a member of the New York Stock Exchange. At the same firm, James worked as vice chairman, senior managing director, and head of investment banking. At the same time, he also served as chairman of a company that owned hospitals.

James Cassel believes that creativity and common sense can resolve many of the challenges of investment banking. He also says that experience helps out a lot in identifying any development. “We may not have seen it all, but we have seen a lot,” he says, “and anything new that comes up is usually a variation of something we’ve already handled.” He adds, “I particularly enjoy the challenges of investment banking—when we have to roll up our sleeves and apply our creativity and common sense to achieve our clients’ goals.”

Check out more interviews with successful investment bankers here.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think, maybe more than other companies, we are very much committed to being a relationship business and doing what is best for our client and maybe, at times, to our own detriment. It is our culture. What I mean by that is that while we are always looking for a business opportunity, I think that we really are there to help irrespective of whether or not the person is ultimately going to become a client. To a certain extent this is in line with our work culture of giving back. And as a result, there have been more than a few occasions when we were going after business and lost it when the potential client switched directions, but we were still called back later to do work for them.

There may not be an immediate monetary benefit to committing to building a relationship, but you never know when those efforts may come back to benefit you and others if you take a long-term perspective. Very often, for example, we will see a client who really wants to sell a business and our analysis tells us this just isn’t the optimal time for a sale. I could take a fee to create a deal, but ultimately, I don’t believe that serves the client, so we encourage them not to move forward at this time. That’s about being relationship-minded, putting people above a single deal, and I think it’s something that separates us from the pack.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

The investment banking business is not an easy one. There’s a lot of research, analytical work, and background reading you have to put in to serve your clients at the level they expect. And then you have to really commit to developing and managing your relationships. This takes time. There are no shortcuts.

You have to pace yourself as you take this on. You have to constantly keep a clear head about where a relationship or deal is going and be prepared to pivot at all times. If you are really having a challenge with a client, for example, you have to face the fact that you either have to work it out or disengage from the client. If you keep a toxic working relationship going too long, you are setting yourself up to fail as well as to burn out.

When it comes to thriving, it starts with accepting that investment banking work means fundamentally understanding that this is a relationship/knowledge/idea business. If you can think creatively, you’ll find that developing those relationships isn’t a burden. Also, what clients are looking for are ideas, advice and knowledge. With many today working from home and not having face-to-face contact, maintaining relationships and developing new ones has never been harder. But by coming up with new ways of connecting and helping people and clients, you not only perform better, but sleep better. When you can see that there are people behind your deal strategy, I think it puts you on a pathway to a healthier lifestyle.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Besides my wife and family, I really owe a lot to my partner, Scott Salpeter. I was blessed to be introduced to him over 25 years ago by his father, who was a client of mine when I was practicing law. I went on to have Scott as a client, as well. When I left the practice to change careers and become an investment banker, I needed someone with his skills set and he agreed to join with me. We’ve been partners ever since, working together for almost 25 years through three investment banking businesses, the original Capitalink—which we sold to Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. and where I was vice chairman and head of investment banking—and our firm now, Cassel Salpeter & Co., that has been doing work I’m very proud of for over a decade.

Our personalities are very different. Between I and Scott we have a sort of yin yang balance. Our personalities and skills sets are very different, yet perfectly complimentary to our investment bank and therefore our clients. I believe, and I think that Scott would agree, that by teaming up we’ve been more successful working together than we would have been on our own. We’ve managed to be greater than the sum of our parts. One key is that we have implicit trust in each other, and that is priceless in this business.

Luck has also been a part of success for me. I was lucky when I married my wife. I got engaged to my wife after dating her six weeks and we’ve been together over 43 years and raised four kids together. So, I’ve managed to have great people to spend my time with during the day at work, as well as when I get home. When you talk about thriving without burning out, finding the right people to spend most of your time with is fundamental.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

A good company usually has reached a high level in a range of criteria from having the right people in key positions, to being in a sound financial position, to having a good work culture, to having a leader with a clear and achievable mission. A good company will do well frequently in a lot of these areas, but a great company goes a step further and is firing on all pistons, without any areas of deficiency and therefore will have longevity.

As an investment banker working with companies across a range of industries, I’ve seen what look to be good, some might say great companies, but they don’t perform well because of the industry they are in. And I’ve seen good companies where that’s just a fine place to be, and the leaders are happy operating at that level. To take a company to the next level, for example, takes hard work and a commitment to be a great company. It starts at the top and must be the culture throughout the whole company. Not every company can be great, but they can strive to be better.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

First read the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. He describes this much better than I could ever do.

  • To take a company from good to great you have to have the right people in the right positions to begin with. We run a small company. As with any company, having the right people in each role is critical. You can take someone with an outgoing personality and put them in the back room drafting documents and end up setting them up for failure instead of putting them in a position where they can flourish.
  • You have to have leadership that is openminded and collaborative, and at the same time, has a real vision and determination to achieve greatness and make the tough decisions. This starts with bringing in people to your team that may not necessarily have the same ideas or background as you and being open to doing things in new ways that you may not have previously experienced. If it’s getting you more efficiently to your ultimate goal, and you can incorporate your contributions as well, you have to be open to that.
  • You have to be willing to innovate and part of this is being willing to take calculated risks and think outside the box.
  • You have to be willing to make mistakes, acknowledge them, and change direction. I’ve hired wrongly, for example, and I’ve learned to correct that quickly. You do no favor to the employee, or the company by extending the relationship.
  • And you have to be willing to help others and extend yourself to others in your industry, while taking a long-term view about business relationships.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

When I think of purpose driven businesses, I see this as an internal and external dynamic that ends up promoting the overall health of a company, as well as the environment it comes into contact with.

Look at a company like TOMS shoes which does good by not only selling a product, but by donating a substantial amount of that product to people in need. What they do helps the company internally in terms of morale because they feel good about their mission, but it also helps the company externally, because they are right to get their message out regarding their efforts to help others. That not only helps build brand loyalty, but it can lead to other companies following suit.

As the company itself says, “TOMS has always stood for a better tomorrow–one where humanity thrives. To us, that means no matter who you are or where you live, you feel physically safe, mentally healthy, and have equal access to opportunity. Every TOMS purchase enables us to invest in local partners around the world who are working to create positive change in these three areas.”

You can also look at a company like Apple, which now has great momentum with its watch. But that watch is not just telling time, it connects to one’s health care stats. They are developing a product that’s far beyond something designed just to make its creators money. They are developing a product that can actually do good.

As an investment banker engaged in health care industry M&A, I look at companies that are working on COVID-19 vaccines and therapies and it can be argued that they are purpose driven businesses. Sure, they are looking to earn a profit, but you can bet that they are also motivated to do great things for our society. The folks I work with in the health care industry are also mission and purpose driven.

At the end of the day, when you are a purpose driven business you are building momentum to make the world a better place and that’s definitely a part of going from good to great, because another aspect of a great company, is that everyone on board is motivated and feels their work has meaning and is part of something larger. Greatness isn’t just about a bottom line, but it’s how you feel inside about your company and your work. That builds camaraderie and helps create energy to achieve your mission and goals as a company. When you have satisfied employees, they end up more innovative, harder working, and they help your company grow, which is just better for everybody.

All that said, it’s important to note, that before you can be a truly purpose driven company, you have to have a quality product and a viable economic model. You can’t skimp on that.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

From what I’ve seen many times in my work, companies come to a standstill when they fail to innovate or when they cut back on new product development. They really need to readjust their mindset. They need to reevaluate why they aren’t growing. Do they have the right products and services? Are they in a stagnant market in which case they need to find new markets and new products and services? Then they have to determine how to become innovative. Sometimes this requires a change of management at the top.

There has been many a company that was wonderful until it wasn’t. Much like people, sometimes it’s complacency and arrogance that keeps a company down. Consider Kodak or Polaroid. In the beginning, they were very innovative, and then they weren’t. Kodak went on to survive although as a shadow of its former self, but there was a point where they lost their edge, their drive, their innovation.

Getting that drive back is sometimes about bringing in new people to get that fire started again. In some cases, it’s bringing back experienced, senior-level people, like when Steve Jobs rejoined Apple.

Business moves rapidly and there’s no place for those who take their current success for granted. If you are not moving forward, generally you’re moving backwards. Just look at Sears and what happened to them. They really should be the Amazon of today, but they didn’t innovate. They missed the boat. Sears Roebuck was the first catalogue company. What was Amazon? It was just an online catalogue for a bookseller at the beginning. But they obviously had a much bigger plan. They were looking to go from good to great.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Focus and sales are the key. I believe that in a service business, which I’m in, it comes down to networking, staying in touch with your referral sources, not cutting back on revenue-generating things like marketing and PR, even though it might be difficult in the present environment to see their value right away.

When things are not going well you have to figure out where to cut back, and many make the mistake of cutting back on advertising, marketing and sales when it might be better to cut back on employees. PR and marketing are the front-facing part of a business, not something you necessarily want to cut back on. These are tough choices and one must choose wisely. You have to be out there with your advertising, with your PR, with your relationships.

Finally, you have to evaluate all of your expenses and look at risk and reward, with it coming down to making sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. With the coronavirus it is even more difficult. So, we have to adapt and learn new ways to market.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

I think this can come down more to perception rather than truth. We tend to underestimate whatever aspect of the work we aren’t doing. The other guy’s job is always easier. But one aspect isn’t really less valuable or harder to do than the other. It doesn’t matter how good you are at one side of your business, if you don’t make all the parts seamless from sales, to production, to collections, it makes things harder for the other positions. Sales is always important, but if execution or production is not done properly it is all for naught.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all when it comes to conversions. I think you have to tailor your pitch, your products and services to particular sets of consumers and customers. I think listening to your customers and clients and understanding what their needs and wants are is the important thing.

You get that feedback by asking your clients and customers for it. You can do so directly, one-on-one, or using digital communications platforms and social media. My father used to tell me there’s a reason God gave us one mouth and two ears: we should listen twice as much as we should talk.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

What’s behind the image of a great brand really comes down to consistent customer service, standing behind your products with good warranties, and ensuring they are of top quality. It’s about not cutting corners, listening to your customers and being responsive, and providing good value. And, ideally, you do want to go that extra mile by giving back and there’s no reason a business shouldn’t let its customers know that they are giving back. Customers want to know they are supporting a company with a vision that’s larger than the bottom line, especially now.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Developing a “wow” experience is about developing a “wow” product or service. You have to look at companies like Disney, Apple and Amazon. They are all great brands that people perceive they get great value from. They are all also very protective of their brands, making sure everything they put out on the market is great. For them, being second best isn’t an option and they are willing to invest substantial assets to ensure this.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

You obviously have to monitor social media and really have to have consultants to help you because even the best of companies can piss off somebody. You also have to be vigilant and prepared to respond to attacks you may receive. Part of this comes back to creating a culture of providing great customer service. And you have to have a system in place so that what’s happening on social media is being monitored and reported to top leadership. You don’t ever want leadership blindsided. Concerns have to be elevated. Today, this is so important. Damage can be done that might be irreversible.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The most common mistake I’ve seen through decades in the investment banking business is that CEOs and founders underestimate the amount of capital needed to succeed. They haven’t done enough homework on the market to understand its size. They don’t understand the competitive landscape they are playing in and they underestimate the time it will take to get to cash flow breakeven and then profitability. Another thing I see quite a bit, is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist.

To not get into this sort of trouble, they have to make sure they have really done serious, thoughtful work on the way in, so that they have a realistic budget in place to move forward. But keep in mind, not every business will be successful. Knowing when to cut and run is also important.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I were to start a movement, it would have to begin with getting businesses to increasingly make the preservation of the environment a central concern, while at the same time raising consciousness about equal opportunity. Without a healthy environment, and an engaged, diverse workforce whatever we may do might be all for naught. When looking at businesses, buyers and operators should really be taking into consideration what every individual business can do to help with sustainability and to limit or reverse environmental destruction. Businesses need to be profitable to survive, and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed to be profitable, but you can make a profit and still be conscious about the environment, and about the dignity of your employees by promoting and benefiting from diversity, and committing to creating equal opportunity. Encouraging diversity and giving people equal opportunity is not only good for the business, but it’s the right thing to do. Making a profit is nothing to be ashamed of provided you do it responsibly.

How can our readers further follow you online?

James Cassel may be reached via email at jcassel@casselsalpeter.com or via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesscassel. His website is: www.casselsalpeter.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

 

Click here to read the full article.

Meet James Cassel, Chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co.

By Jerome Knyszewski
March 4, 2021

James Cassel is a co-founder and the chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co. As an investment banker and attorney, he uses his extensive experience in deal-making to guide his clients to secure deals that advances their goals in the best way possible.

Focused on “​representing middle-market companies​,” James Cassel has “successfully negotiated, structured, and executed a broad spectrum of transactions.” These transactions include “mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, corporate and transactional financings, and public offerings for clients nationwide and worldwide.” Through his experience, he has also developed a “keen understanding of the issues faced and alternatives available for distressed companies.” This understanding has helped him complete negotiations with creditors, guide debtors through bankruptcy proceedings, and plan for financial restructuring.

Besides making deals, James Cassel also holds frequent lectures on issues regarding middle-market investment banking. His banking expertise has earned him national recognition, as well.

Before ​Cassel Salpeter & Co​., James Cassel was also the co-founder and chairman of Capitalink, an investment banking firm. This firm was acquired by Ladenburg Thalmann & Co., a member of the New York Stock Exchange. James also served as the vice chairman, senior managing director, and head of investment banking at the firm.

James Cassel also sat on the board and served as president of the South Florida Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth. Check out more interviews with ​successful deal-makers​ ​here​.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was a securities lawyer for 17 years but really didn’t have anything close to a work/life balance. Like most securities attorneys I thought we did all of the work while the investment bankers were making all the money. I had a client who encouraged me to become an investment banker and join his firm because I was good at making deals, so I finally did it. Although I have better work/life balance, today, I still continue to be deeply absorbed by my work. I’m not complaining. I love the career I’ve chosen, but I’ve had to work very hard to carve out the success I and my firm enjoy today.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I grew up comfortably, but there were times in my professional career in both law and the financial industry when things looked bad. As a budding securities attorney, I found myself working very hard for a six month stretch without getting paid. I was getting seriously worried, when a friend who knew of my situation called informing me that I had won 5000 dollars in a raffle. I thought it was a joke, but he showed up at my home 10:30 at night with the check. I used that to pay my next mortgage payment.

I then joined a new law firm. After 17 years of law practice, I walked away from that career as a corporate/securities attorney, and as managing partner of the firm’s largest office during my best year and entered investment banking. Little over a year later, things went south with a business partner, and I had to face a decision: Do I turn back and practice law, or do I start an investment bank? To a certain extent, in both cases it would be a restart.

I think it’s important to note that I expected to succeed either way. This is not about being arrogant, but about believing you will succeed and having that confidence. It’s fundamental to succeeding, and a key to taking a business from good to great. You really do have to believe. I thought, I’m going to be successful at whatever I decide, but by creating an investment bank at the end of my career, I’ll also have a quality business to sell. So, I found new partners and started the investment bank ​Cassel Salpeter & Co.

About six months after kicking off my first investment banking firm, I did consider giving up when things were not going well. But by then realized there was a niche opportunity in the market issuing “fairness opinions.” Here, after substantial analyses we might determine that a transaction is fair from a financial point of view — and that saved our firm. That was 25 years ago, and we were rescued by a lawyer who sent us one deal that turned out to be the difference between making it or not making it. I never forget what he did for me.

There is also a lesson here in going from good to great in how this all played out, because before you can even get to good, never mind great, you have to survive. That lawyer decided to trust our services even though we didn’t have the track record that other firms had. Some might say we weren’t entitled to the opportunity, but we seized it and performed at a very high level and went on to prosper. We still do business 25 years later.

I started the first investment banking business from scratch when I was writing checks without receiving them. In both of my early starts the money was going out the door and not coming in as fast. When things got difficult what most kept me going was that I could not afford to fail. I had a wife and four children, and lots of bills and knew I could and had to make it work. There was no alternative.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I wouldn’t say this was a mistake, but when I quit practicing law and started in the investment banking business, I found myself with my new partner rising on a lift preparing to ski with clients. When we got to the top of the mountain, my new partner turned to me and said, “It’s all downhill from here.” I guess technically he was right.

What I’m trying to say is that depending on the sort of investment banking work we are doing, there can be significant impacts on the people behind the deals. Quite often we are selling what amounts to a person’s baby, and quite often it’s a baby in deep trouble. This can be traumatic for many business owners for whom their company can be an extension of their personality. Having a sense of humor and real compassion and feel for the players in a deal goes a long way.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think, maybe more than other companies, we are very much committed to being a relationship business and doing what is best for our client and maybe, at times, to our own detriment. It is our culture. What I mean by that is that while we are always looking for a business opportunity, I think that we really are there to help irrespective of whether or not the person is ultimately going to become a client. To a certain extent this is in line with our work culture of giving back. And as a result, there have been more than a few occasions when we were going after business and lost it when the potential client switched directions, but we were still called back later to do work for them.

There may not be an immediate monetary benefit to committing to building a relationship, but you never know when those efforts may come back to benefit you and others if you take a long-term perspective. Very often, for example, we will see a client who really wants to sell a business and our analysis tells us this just isn’t the optimal time for a sale. I could take a fee to create a deal, but ultimately, I don’t believe that serves the client, so we encourage them not to move forward at this time. That’s about being relationship-minded, putting people above a single deal, and I think it’s something that separates us from the pack.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

The investment banking business is not an easy one. There’s a lot of research, analytical work, and background reading you have to put in to serve your clients at the level they expect. And then you have to really commit to developing and managing your relationships. This takes time. There are no shortcuts.

You have to pace yourself as you take this on. You have to constantly keep a clear head about where a relationship or deal is going and be prepared to pivot at all times. If you are really having a challenge with a client, for example, you have to face the fact that you either have to work it out or disengage from the client. If you keep a toxic working relationship going too long, you are setting yourself up to fail as well as to burn out.

When it comes to thriving, it starts with accepting that investment banking work means fundamentally understanding that this is a relationship/knowledge/idea business. If you can think creatively, you’ll find that developing those relationships isn’t a burden. Also, what clients are looking for are ideas, advice and knowledge. With many today working from home and not having face-to-face contact, maintaining relationships and developing new ones has never been harder. But by coming up with new ways of connecting and helping people and clients, you not only perform better, but sleep better. When you can see that there are people behind your deal strategy, I think it puts you on a pathway to a healthier lifestyle.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Besides my wife and family, I really owe a lot to my partner, ​Scott Salpeter.​ I was blessed to be introduced to him over 25 years ago by his father, who was a client of mine when I was practicing law. I went on to have Scott as a client, as well. When I left the practice to change careers and become an investment banker, I needed someone with his skills set and he agreed to join with me. We’ve been partners ever since, working together for almost 25 years through three investment banking businesses, the original Capitalink — which we sold to Ladenburg Thalmann & Co. and where I was vice chairman and head of investment banking — and our firm now, ​Cassel Salpeter​ & Co., that has been doing work I’m very proud of for over a decade.

Our personalities are very different. Between I and Scott we have a sort of yin yang balance. Our personalities and skills sets are very different, yet perfectly complimentary to our investment bank and therefore our clients. I believe, and I think that Scott would agree, that by teaming up we’ve been more successful working together than we would have been on our own. We’ve managed to be greater than the sum of our parts. One key is that we have implicit trust in each other, and that is priceless in this business.

Luck has also been a part of success for me. I was lucky when I married my wife. I got engaged to my wife after dating her six weeks and we’ve been together over 43 years and raised four kids together. So, I’ve managed to have great people to spend my time with during the day at work, as well as when I get home. When you talk about thriving without burning out, finding the right people to spend most of your time with is fundamental.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

A good company usually has reached a high level in a range of criteria from having the right people in key positions, to being in a sound financial position, to having a good work culture, to having a leader with a clear and achievable mission. A good company will do well frequently in a lot of these areas, but a great company goes a step further and is firing on all pistons, without any areas of deficiency and therefore will have longevity.

As an investment banker working with companies across a range of industries, I’ve seen what look to be good, some might say great companies, but they don’t perform well because of the industry they are in. And I’ve seen good companies where that’s just a fine place to be, and the leaders are happy operating at that level. To take a company to the next level, for example, takes hard work and a commitment to be a great company. It starts at the top and must be the culture throughout the whole company. Not every company can be great, but they can strive to be better.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each​.

First read the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. He describes this much better than I could ever do.

  • To take a company from good to great you have to have the right people in the right positions to begin with. We run a small company. As with any company, having the right people in each role is critical. You can take someone with an outgoing personality and put them in the back room drafting documents and end up setting them up for failure instead of putting them in a position where they can flourish.
  • You have to have leadership that is openminded and collaborative, and at the same time, has a real vision and determination to achieve greatness and make the tough decisions. This starts with bringing in people to your team that may not necessarily have the same ideas or background as you and being open to doing things in new ways that you may not have previously experienced. If it’s getting you more efficiently to your ultimate goal, and you can incorporate your contributions as well, you have to be open to that.
  • You have to be willing to innovate and part of this is being willing to take calculated risks and think outside the box.
  • You have to be willing to make mistakes, acknowledge them, and change direction. I’ve hired wrongly, for example, and I’ve learned to correct that quickly. You do no favor to the employee, or the company by extending the relationship.
  • And you have to be willing to help others and extend yourself to others in your industry, while taking a long-term view about business relationships.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

When I think of purpose driven businesses, I see this as an internal and external dynamic that ends up promoting the overall health of a company, as well as the environment it comes into contact with.

Look at a company like TOMS shoes which does good by not only selling a product, but by donating a substantial amount of that product to people in need. What they do helps the company internally in terms of morale because they feel good about their mission, but it also helps the company externally, because they are right to get their message out regarding their efforts to help others. That not only helps build brand loyalty, but it can lead to other companies following suit.

As the company itself says, “TOMS has always stood for a better tomorrow–one where humanity thrives. To us, that means no matter who you are or where you live, you feel physically safe, mentally healthy, and have equal access to opportunity. Every TOMS purchase enables us to invest in local partners around the world who are working to create positive change in these three areas.”

You can also look at a company like Apple, which now has great momentum with its watch. But that watch is not just telling time, it connects to one’s health care stats. They are developing a product that’s far beyond something designed just to make its creators money. They are developing a product that can actually do good.

As an investment banker engaged in health care industry M&A, I look at companies that are working on COVID-19 vaccines and therapies and it can be argued that they are purpose driven businesses. Sure, they are looking to earn a profit, but you can bet that they are also motivated to do great things for our society. The folks I work with in the health care industry are also mission and purpose driven.

At the end of the day, when you are a purpose driven business you are building momentum to make the world a better place and that’s definitely a part of going from good to great, because another aspect of a great company, is that everyone on board is motivated and feels their work has meaning and is part of something larger. Greatness isn’t just about a bottom line, but it’s how you feel inside about your company and your work. That builds camaraderie and helps create energy to achieve your mission and goals as a company. When you have satisfied employees, they end up more innovative, harder working, and they help your company grow, which is just better for everybody.

All that said, it’s important to note, that before you can be a truly purpose driven company, you have to have a quality product and a viable economic model. You can’t skimp on that.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

From what I’ve seen many times in my work, companies come to a standstill when they fail to innovate or when they cut back on new product development. They really need to readjust their mindset. They need to reevaluate why they aren’t growing. Do they have the right products and services? Are they in a stagnant market in which case they need to find new markets and new products and services? Then they have to determine how to become innovative. Sometimes this requires a change of management at the top.

There has been many a company that was wonderful until it wasn’t. Much like people, sometimes it’s complacency and arrogance that keeps a company down. Consider Kodak or Polaroid. In the beginning, they were very innovative, and then they weren’t. Kodak went on to survive although as a shadow of its former self, but there was a point where they lost their edge, their drive, their innovation.

Getting that drive back is sometimes about bringing in new people to get that fire started again. In some cases, it’s bringing back experienced, senior-level people, like when Steve Jobs rejoined Apple.

Business moves rapidly and there’s no place for those who take their current success for granted. If you are not moving forward, generally you’re moving backwards. Just look at Sears and what happened to them. They really should be the Amazon of today, but they didn’t innovate. They missed the boat. Sears Roebuck was the first catalogue company. What was Amazon? It was just an online catalogue for a bookseller at the beginning. But they obviously had a much bigger plan. They were looking to go from good to great.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Focus and sales are the key. I believe that in a service business, which I’m in, it comes down to networking, staying in touch with your referral sources, not cutting back on revenue-generating things like marketing and PR, even though it might be difficult in the present environment to see their value right away.

When things are not going well you have to figure out where to cut back, and many make the mistake of cutting back on advertising, marketing and sales when it might be better to cut back on employees. PR and marketing are the front-facing part of a business, not something you necessarily want to cut back on. These are tough choices and one must choose wisely. You have to be out there with your advertising, with your PR, with your relationships.

Finally, you have to evaluate all of your expenses and look at risk and reward, with it coming down to making sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. With the coronavirus it is even more difficult. So, we have to adapt and learn new ways to market.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example​?

I think this can come down more to perception rather than truth. We tend to underestimate whatever aspect of the work we aren’t doing. The other guy’s job is always easier. But one aspect isn’t really less valuable or harder to do than the other. It doesn’t matter how good you are at one side of your business, if you don’t make all the parts seamless from sales, to production, to collections, it makes things harder for the other positions. Sales is always important, but if execution or production is not done properly it is all for naught.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all when it comes to conversions. I think you have to tailor your pitch, your products and services to particular sets of consumers and customers. I think listening to your customers and clients and understanding what their needs and wants are is the important thing.

You get that feedback by asking your clients and customers for it. You can do so directly, one-on-one, or using digital communications platforms and social media. My father used to tell me there’s a reason God gave us one mouth and two ears: we should listen twice as much as we should talk.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

What’s behind the image of a great brand really comes down to consistent customer service, standing behind your products with good warranties, and ensuring they are of top quality. It’s about not cutting corners, listening to your customers and being responsive, and providing good value. And, ideally, you do want to go that extra mile by giving back and there’s no reason a business shouldn’t let its customers know that they are giving back. Customers want to know they are supporting a company with a vision that’s larger than the bottom line, especially now.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Developing a “wow” experience is about developing a “wow” product or service. You have to look at companies like Disney, Apple and Amazon. They are all great brands that people perceive they get great value from. They are all also very protective of their brands, making sure everything they put out on the market is great. For them, being second best isn’t an option and they are willing to invest substantial assets to ensure this.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

You obviously have to monitor social media and really have to have consultants to help you because even the best of companies can piss off somebody. You also have to be vigilant and prepared to respond to attacks you may receive. Part of this comes back to creating a culture of providing great customer service. And you have to have a system in place so that what’s happening on social media is being monitored and reported to top leadership. You don’t ever want leadership blindsided. Concerns have to be elevated. Today, this is so important. Damage can be done that might be irreversible.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The most common mistake I’ve seen through decades in the investment banking business is that CEOs and founders underestimate the amount of capital needed to succeed. They haven’t done enough homework on the market to understand its size. They don’t understand the competitive landscape they are playing in and they underestimate the time it will take to get to cash flow breakeven and then profitability. Another thing I see quite a bit, is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist.

To not get into this sort of trouble, they have to make sure they have really done serious, thoughtful work on the way in, so that they have a realistic budget in place to move forward. But keep in mind, not every business will be successful. Knowing when to cut and run is also important.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I were to start a movement, it would have to begin with getting businesses to increasingly make the preservation of the environment a central concern, while at the same time raising consciousness about equal opportunity. Without a healthy environment, and an engaged, diverse workforce whatever we may do might be all for naught. When looking at businesses, buyers and operators should really be taking into consideration what every individual business can do to help with sustainability and to limit or reverse environmental destruction. Businesses need to be profitable to survive, and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed to be profitable, but you can make a profit and still be conscious about the environment, and about the dignity of your employees by promoting and benefiting from diversity, and committing to creating equal opportunity. Encouraging diversity and giving people equal opportunity is not only good for the business, but it’s the right thing to do. Making a profit is nothing to be ashamed of provided you do it responsibly.

How can our readers further follow you online?

James Cassel may be reached via email at jcassel@casselsalpeter.com or via LinkedIn at ​https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesscassel​. His website is: www.casselsalpeter.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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