James Cassel of Cassel Salpeter & Co.: How To Take Your Company From Good To Great

By Jerome Knyszewski
December 5, 2020 

As part of my series about “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing James S. Cassel, cofounder and chairman
of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment banking firm with headquarters in Miami, Florida, that works with middle market companies.

Using his unique experience as a dealmaker and attorney to guide clients and help them achieve their goals, Jim has successfully negotiated, structured, and executed a broad spectrum of transactions including mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, corporate and transactional financings, and public offerings for clients nationwide and worldwide. Having developed a keen understanding of the issues faced and alternatives available for distressed companies, he has particular experience in developing financial restructuring plans, negotiating with creditors, and guiding debtors through bankruptcy proceedings. Nationally recognized for his investment banking expertise, Jim frequently lectures on timely issues related to middle market investment banking and writes a column for the Miami Herald about emerging trends, strategies and tactics for middle market business owners. Before founding Cassel Salpeter & Co., Jim was cofounder and chairman of Capitalink, an investment banking firm that was acquired by Ladenburg Thalmann & Co., a New York Stock Exchange member firm where Jim continued and served as vice chairman, senior managing director, and head of investment banking.

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 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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More charged, $12 million to victims: an update in South Florida company’s $281 million fraud

By David J. Neal
December 28, 2020

Victims of the 1 Global Capital fraud received another $12 million this week and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged three more unregistered brokers allegedly involved in selling the Hallandale Beach company’s securities this month.

But that $12 million and the $317,690 from one of the men charged by the SEC still might be scant solace to the 3,600 investors scammed out of hundreds of millions by 1 Global Capital’s white collar gang.

THE MONEY

Cassel Salpeter’s James Cassel, liquidating trustee of the 1 GC Collections Creditors’ Liquidating Trust, said the $12 million brings the total returned to investors to $124 million, about 44 cents on the dollar.

“I got a phone call from a retired teacher in California who put $10,000, everything she had other than Social Security, into the the company. That is who I’m working for,’” Cassel said he told another attorney connected to the case. “We want to feel we’ve maximized recovery for over 3,500 investors, who are, unfortunately, going to lose money.”

At 44 cents on the dollar, that puts the amount ripped off at $281.8 million. Various court documents place the amount at $322 million.

THE SCHEME

As stated in various court documents of those already convicted of their role, 1 Global Capital was sold to investors as a short-term, high-interest cash lender for small businesses. Investors would get their principal and some interest when the businesses repaid 1 Global.

Lies fooled those investors concerning the high commissions paid to middlemen and unlicensed brokers; the securities laws being broken, concealed by fraudulent legal opinions; the money sucked out of 1 Global for personal use by CEO Carl Ruderman; and the $50 million in arrears the group attempted to cover up, Ponzi-scheme style.

Over the last 15 months, the Justice Department and SEC pulled a parade of 1 Global cronies through the federal courts on their way to federal prison.

  • Chief financial officer Alan Heide​ already is sitting in federal prison in Jesup, Georgia until December 2024 after pleading guilty to securities fraud.
  • Attorney Jan Atlas’ sentencing has been set for Jan. 21 on securities fraud.
  • Former 1 Global director Steven Schwartz is set for sentencing April 9 on
    securities fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
  • Attorney Andrew Ledbetter has entered a plea agreement​ on those same charges and even was allowed to travel to Washington D.C. to spend Thanksgiving with his adult son.

Ruderman still hasn’t been criminally charged. ​The SEC gained a judgment against him​ in 2019 that included a $32 million disgorgement, a $15 million civil penalty, another $750,000 in cash; and half the equity in his five-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 9,600-square-foot tower suite condominium at Aventura’s Bella Vista North, 20165 NE 39th Pl.

THE NEWLY CHARGED

The SEC charged Roger E. Dobrovodsky, a 66-year-old from Indianapolis, with being an unregistered broker during the 16 months in 2017 and 2018 that he sold 1 Global Capital securities while using fraudulent materials. The SEC says Dobrovodsky has consented, without legally admitting any wrong, to giving up the $317,690 he made in commission, $32,038 in prejudgment interest and $50,000 civil penalty.

The amounts of those punitive payments from Robert Seth of Georgetown, Texas, the SEC says, still have to be determined although Seth’s consented to them. He made almost $282,000 in commissions, the SEC charges, from his two years of selling 1 Global securities as an unregistered broker.

Matthew Walker, 40, from Olathe, Kansas, is the managing partner and chief compliance officer of Pinnacle Plus Wealth Management. The SEC says Walker, also, was an unregistered broker who kept selling 1 Global securities until June 2018, “despite being confronted with numerous red flags that the 1 Global investments were not what he had been told and that 1 Global officers had not been honest with him.”

The SEC says Walker earned $393,306 in commissions and his companies earned another $300,000. Most of his customers, numbered at over 140, were from the Kansas City area.

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Bankruptcy trustee recovers $12M more for victims of $332M 1 Global Capital fraud

By Ashley Portero
December 28, 2020 

A bankruptcy trustee recovered and distributed $12 million to thousands of creditors who were victims of a $332 million investment fraud.

Cassel Salpeter and Co. chairman and co-founder James S. Cassel, who was appointed director of 1 Global Capital’s estate in bankruptcy court, said about 3,750 creditors that invested in the company received a payment. To date, Cassel has recovered $124 million on behalf of 1 Global Capital victims, after distributing an initial $112 million payment to investors in 2019.

“Considering the challenges posed in collecting on 4,000 cash advances and pursuing legal actions all over the country, this significant additional distribution is a spectacular result for a situation like this,” Cassel said. “It is a testament to the team of professionals and the staff who worked diligently to continue the recovery efforts during the difficult year of 2020.”

Cassel said the liquidating trust will continue to pursue actions to generate additional returns to creditors.

Hallandale Beach-based 1 Global Capital, which provided loans to small businesses, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018.

Soon after the bankruptcy filing, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil fraud charges against the company and former CEO Carl Ruderman, claiming they fraudulently raised $332 million from investors.

According to the SEC lawsuit, 1 Global Capital overstated the value of investors’ accounts and their rate of returns and misappropriated at least $32 million to personally benefit Ruderman. Ruderman agreed to disgorge $32 million in ill- gotten gains and pay a $15 million civil penalty to settle the charges.

Many of the scheme’s victims were elderly individuals who invested between $50,000 and $100,000, Cassel said.

Earlier this month, the SEC charged three former 1 Global Capital sales agents with federal securities registration violations. The commission alleged the trio collectively sold more than $21 million in unregistered transactions to retail investors while acting as unregistered brokers.

In September, the SEC filed charges against Fort Lauderdale attorney Andrew Dale Ledbetter for allegedly using false legal opinion letters to raise $100 million from investors as outside counsel for 1 Global Capital.

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Though slow to come, better times are ahead | Opinion

2020 highlighted how critical agility is for middle market businesses, with many rapidly reinventing themselves to secure their future. While many technology and ancillary companies thrived, if your business did not fulfill a need created, or required by the pandemic, you likely had to be especially creative to stay afloat. While we are not through with 2020’s pandemic challenges, a gradual comeback is on the horizon, even as many traditional business norms may never be the same.

Here are four areas that companies need to watch in 2021:

Technology: Software and artificial intelligence will continue to revolutionize labor. Advances in virtual reality now promise equal or increased productivity from the comfort of your home office. Meanwhile, telemedicine, video conferencing, and a slew of apps with expanding capabilities exploded in usage with much faster adaptation than anticipated, but also with some obvious limits. Technology will continue to define 2021, but how much so and what will stick remains a question.

Work-from-home (WFH): Call me contrarian, but as an investment banker, I find it hard to achieve the same productivity working from home, especially when it comes to new client origination. In my view, you also lose corporate culture, camaraderie and collaboration.

However, some studies disagree, positing that productivity increases when employees work from home. For those working from home with families, the intangible benefits of spending more time with them is now evident, and they will likely lobby for WFH to continue.

For companies that can provide the option, a hybrid model seems likely, with some days spent at the business location or traveling, and others spent working from home. But keep in mind this is simply not an option for many industries.

How will the COVID vaccine rollout go? Will the vaccines be like a flu shot? Will enough people take them? Will vaccines be required yearly, and will each be as effective? Once taken, what comes next? Is it back to the office immediately, or will we ease back into reentry? How long will your immunity last?

Given our interconnectivity, these answers will have huge implications for the 2021 marketplace, but without knowing them, businesses will find it difficult to plan next moves. Flexibility will be key. In any case, the rollout’s impact likely won’t be felt until the second part of the year.

Will we even go out when it’s safe? This newly guarded approach to life has many wary of shaking hands or venturing to business functions. But your company can’t grow unless you’re hunting and securing fresh opportunities, while also developing new relationships. At some point, people will certainly break out of their silos in 2021, but how often, and what must be done to make us be and feel truly safe? Finding the right pace will prove a balancing act.

So much remains uncertain. Most of us survived 2020, albeit not unscathed, and we saw the acceleration of innovations like virtual meetings, telemedicine and WFH. Many of these changes are here to stay, and yet, even with an ambitious vaccine rollout, much business activity may look like it did in 2020, especially for the first half of 2021. There are, however, promising bright spots ahead, but much we have to watch carefully to make the best adjustments and come out on top in 2021.

James S. Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment- banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies. jcassel@casselsalpeter.com or via LinkedIn at  https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesscassel.

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Creditors recovering another $12 million lost in Broward securities fraud case

By David Lyons
December 23, 2020
 

It’s technically not a gift for the holidays. But the 3,750 investors and other creditors allegedly defrauded by a payday loan operation based in Hallandale Beach will gladly accept the $12 million recovered on their behalf.

The money is the latest distribution to people who are said to have lost more than $300 million to a business called 1 Global Capital. The firm filed for bankruptcy in mid-2018 after running short of cash amid a Securities and Exchange Commission probe that led to civil fraud charges against a variety of individuals, as well as criminal charges against lawyers by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

“There was a substantial group of investors in South Florida” who lost money, said James S. Cassel, trustee of the 1 GC Collections Creditors’ Liquidating Trust and chairman of the Miami investment banking firm Cassel Salpeter & Co.

Last year around this time, creditors received $112 million thanks to the efforts of a court-appointed legal team that tracked down assets connected to
the companies.

The latest distribution pushes the total sent back to investors up to $124 million, or 44 cents on the dollar, Cassel said Wednesday. Other firms involved in the recovery include Baker Mckenzie, Greenberg Traurig, Development Specialists, Inc., along with special counsel Genovese Joblove & Battista, and Stichter, Riedel, Blain & Postler, P.A,

According to allegations brought by the SEC, 1 Global was a commercial lending business that made the equivalent of payday loans with high interest rates to small businesses. The firm obtained the funds to make the loans from investors nationwide, offering short-term investment contracts. The investors would supposedly receive a proportionate share of the principal and interest payments as the loans to the small businesses were repaid.

1 Global, according to federal authorities, raised money using investment advisers and others who were promised significant commissions.
Many of the investor victims funneled retirement funds by the tens of thousands into the operation, Cassel said.

Last week, the SEC in Miami filed civil charges against three more individuals for illegally selling securities of 1 Global Capital, LLC in unregistered transactions to retail investors while acting as unregistered brokers.

The commission previously charged 1 Global, its owner and others with operating a fraudulent scheme to misappropriate millions of dollars from investors. The SEC also charged 1 Global’s largest sales agent for various registration violations.

The SEC’s latest complaints alleged that Roger E. Dobrovodsky, Robert Todd Seth and Matthew L. Walker were among 1 Global’s top revenue producers, cumulatively selling more than $21 million in unregistered transactions to many retail investors, according to a statement.

According to civil complaints filed by the commission, the three men marketed 1 Global securities to investors “as a safe alternative to the stock
market and reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions on their sales even though they were not registered as broker-dealers or associated with registered broker-dealers.”

 

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Drawing on brand loyalty can help ensure your company’s survival | Opinion

It’s going to be a long winter. Even with a successful vaccine, normalcy may be as far away as next summer.

Middle market companies can learn from a recent CBS news story about the famous Strand bookstore in New York City. The struggling independent bookstore turned to social media to highlight its economic plight, successfully motivating a cavalry of support from loyal and new customers, and even some celebrities. With many businesses facing tough choices right now, finding new ways to tap into customer loyalty and secure new clients, while keeping people comfortable doing business with you, is critical to survival and success.

Here’s what to consider:

IS THERE A PATH FORWARD?

Most middle market businesses have already belt-tightened on their expenses, sought capital, and right-sized. Now, it’s once again time to project revenues, expenses, and capital needs for the next six to 12 months and pursue any existing government aid, or new aid that might become available. If you do not see a clear path forward, seek a buyer or a capital partner now. Do not wait. If selling is the only option, position your narrative to explain why your business is a good opportunity. An investment banker can help.

Middle market businesses that do have a path to survival should focus on actively engaging consumers, building client confidence, and tapping into brand loyalty.

Invest in resources that make consumers/clients feel safe doing business with you. Retail outlets and restaurants, for example, can put up plexiglass dividers, secure air purifiers, and/or Far-UVC lighting that may curtail the spread of COVID-19. They should also coach staff on promoting and maintaining social distancing, create or beef up delivery/pickup services, and of course, wear — and even provide — masks and other PPE to employees, guests and customers. Some businesses can set up tents and move merchandise into the open and would do well to invest in outdoor kiosks, awnings and umbrellas, as well as fans or heaters, and move business outside.

You can make other strategic moves, too. Review your product/services line and tailor them to pandemic needs. Seek accommodations with landlords who would rather have some rent than none at all. You can engage real estate consultants to assist in negotiations, while seeking concessions, and also consider collaborations or partnerships that might help.

Most important, do not underestimate the power of drawing on brand loyalty. Like The Strand, use social media and other channels, such as customer lists you may have built, to call for action and help, letting your customers know how much you need and appreciate them. Explain how buying local means revenues stay local, so getting goods and services from you means supporting their community. They will want you around when things get back to normal.

HOLIDAYS MATTER

Many businesses secure a disproportionate amount of their business during the weeks before the holidays. Get ready now. Use messaging to let customers know about the range of extra measures taken to keep them safe. And with many retailers and online businesses already offering bargains, run your own deals now too.

This next COVID phase may be the most challenging yet for business owners. While many middle market companies have already implemented or exhausted traditional cost-cutting and capital-raising efforts, more can be done to keep loyal customers returning and maybe even gain some market share as we get to the other side of this crisis.

James S. Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment- banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies. jcassel@casselsalpeter.com or via LinkedIn at  https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesscassel.

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Cassel Salpeter Advises Westchester General on Sale to Keralty Affiliate

November 4, 2020

Cassel Salpeter & Co., an independent investment banking firm that provides advice to middle market and emerging growth companies in the U.S. and worldwide, announced it acted as exclusive financial advisor to Westchester General Hospital in connection with its sale to Sanitas USA, Inc. a subsidiary of Keralty SAS, an international health enterprise leader in patient-centered care and health outcomes in operation for over 50 years in seven countries.

Cassel Salpeter led the search for the buyer and worked to ensure the transaction was seamless and successful.

When Westchester General Hospital expressed interest in selling the hospital and the property it occupies, Cassel Salpeter utilized its extensive network in the healthcare industry to raise awareness of the purchase opportunity and find a suitable buyer for the hospital. Keralty, under the Sanitas Medical Centers’ name, soon emerged as the purchaser of the hospital, and both sides were able to successfully complete the transaction.

“We’re proud to have been able to work with Westchester General Hospital and the family that owned it to find an appropriate buyer for the hospital, one that shares the same commitment to serve the community and provide state-of-the-art, expert health care,” said James S. Cassel, Cassel Salpeter chairman and cofounder. “With its Sanitas Medical Centers, Keralty has built a dependable network of health centers, and this purchase will allow them to expand their network, services, and commitment to serving the community.”

The sale includes both the 78,000 square foot acute care hospital with 125 beds, inclusive of a 27 bed acute psychiatric unit, as well as the land surrounding it. Keralty intends to retain the approximate 570 staff currently employed at the hospital, and the hospital will continue to provide the community with emergency services, intensive care, and all other services it does presently.

The Cassel Salpeter team was led by Chairman James S. Cassel and Vice President Laura Salpeter, with the assistance of Associate Julian Astrove.

“We are thankful for the help of Cassel Salpeter in working with us to find a suitable buyer that would continue the hospital’s mission of providing invaluable services to our community which our family has done for over 50 years,” said Dr. Gregory Fox of

Westchester General Hospital. “James, Laura, Julian, and the rest of the team at Cassel Salpeter worked tirelessly to find viable opportunities for us and were crucial in throughout every stage of the deal.”

Cassel Salpeter also thanks Gary Davis and Sam Goodman of McDermott Will & Emory for serving as the legal advisor for Westchester General Hospital, as well as, Carol Barnhart and Anthony Fernandez of Greenberg Traurig for their role as legal advisor to Keralty.

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Keralty buys Westchester General Hospital in Miami

By Brian Bandell
October 29, 2020
 

Westchester General Hospital in Miami-Dade County was sold to Keralty, an international health care firm based in Colombia.

The 125-bed hospital at 2500 S.W. 75th Ave. was sold by the family of ​Gregory Fox​. The deal includes the 78,000-square-foot hospital building and 5.7 acres of parking lots and undeveloped land. Keralty said it would retain the hospital’s 570 employees and appoint ​Juan Carlos Echandia​ as chairman. Echandia was previously the South American region president for Keralty.

The price wasn’t disclosed.

Westchester General was one of the few stand-alone for-profit hospitals remaining in South Florida.

Keralty operates Sanitas Medical Centers in Florida and three others states in partnership with Florida Blue. It also operates hospitals in Latin America and offers insurance products. The company moved its global division headquarters to Miami in 2019.

“On behalf of the nearly 20,000 Keralty employees worldwide, we welcome Westchester to our family of companies,” said ​Sergio Martinez​, CEO of Keralty Global. “This addition provides a new opportunity to expand our presence in the U.S. and to advance our journey to establish a better model of care and support for our patients and health plan partners.”

Keralty said it plans to “re-engineer” Westchester General to expand its behavioral health, advanced palliative care, and complex care for individuals with multi-chronic conditions.

According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, Westchester General had a bed occupancy rate of 53.4% in 2019, which was below the county average. It lost $5.9 million on revenue of $39.3 million in 2019, a year when most South Florida hospital saw earnings growth.

Most South Florida hospitals have suffered financially during the Covid-19 pandemic this year, so having an owner with deep pockets should be beneficial for Westchester General.

“Our vision is to reimagine the services provided by the hospital and to coordinate with Sanitas Medical Centers, other healthcare providers, community organizations, and insurance companies, to establish a patient-centered health program supporting the local community and designed to keep patients healthy, rather than treating someone who is sick,” Echandia said.

Greenberg Traurig was legal advisor to Keralty in the purchase. The sellers worked with law firm McDermott Will & Emery and investment banking firm Cassel Salpeter & Co.

“When Westchester General Hospital and the Fox family who owned it approached us to help them find a buyer for their hospital, they were adamant that they were only looking for a buyer who would continue putting patients first and would provide the same quality of care that had long been the family’s legacy,” said ​James Cassel​, chairman of Cassel Salpeter. “Keralty and their Sanitas Medical Centers checked off all those boxes. We then worked closely with both parties on behalf of the seller to secure this successful outcome.”

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Fly Buying

Prices are down and interest is piqued in the post-pandemic marketplace.

By Dale Buss
September/October 2020

The future market for corporate planes is just as uncertain as everything else amid the pandemic. But some post-Covid-19 trends in business-aviation purchasing already are emerging: Prices are lower. Sales and lease activity is recovering. More company owners are concerned about the health risk of flying commercial. And after an industry struggle with pilot shortages, suddenly plenty of capable commanders for business planes are available.

Joe Mullings has been trying to take advantage of these trends in his search for a Hawker 800, a mid-size twinjet aircraft originally produced by British Aerospace and now fetching $1 million and up, previously owned. The founder and CEO of Mullings Group. an executive-search firm in the medical- device industry, travels so much that he’s long held ConciergeKey status on American Airlines. Mullings has also chartered flights for himself and his Delray Beach, Florida-based staff. When the company’s charter bill hit $1 million in 2019 and Covid-19 came, he began searching for a plane to buy.

“I had been looking because of the accessibility the plane would give me, saving wear and tear on my body, and the value of time,” says the 58-year-old Mullings. “But now, prices are more interesting. Time is money for me. If I can get in front of more customers because I have a better tool—my own plane— it will create more opportunities for me and my employees. The plane also can end up being a flying conference room.”

“Even when we return to a post-Covid environment, [airline] routes are going to be dramatically reduced anyway,” Mullings posits. “So, they won’t be able to offer rates and flexibility. And I don’t want to waste two and a half hours at airports in Palm Beach and Raleigh-Durham, sitting on a couch eating Ding Dongs.”

The Year of the Newbies

Despite prospective buyers like Mullings, business-airplane deliveries dropped by 21 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with two years earlier. Industry experts blamed Covid-19, which grounded air travel worldwide and created unprecedented uncertainty for business decision- makers. The giants of the industry—Bombardier, Textron and Gulfstream— responded by slashing production. But while large companies are standing down on purchases, owners of medium-size and small companies, and other high-net-worth individuals, are testing the plane market for the first time. “I’m actually calling 2020 the year of the small jet,” says Janine Iannarelli, head of aircraft broker Par Avion, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. “They’re perfectly suited for regional travel within the U.S. At $1 million to $5 million, they’re within the reach of a broader cross-section of [company owners] who may not have a travel budget that large but who are willing to expand it now in exchange for what’s provided by corporate aviation: safety, security, eliminating a huge number of touch points and literally being able to control your environment. What’s that worth?”

Such buyers are benefiting from prices that have softened from 10 percent to 20 percent compared with early 2020, depending on the segment. The wing- tappers and tire-kickers include “a return of some owners of small and mid- size companies who actually fled the business-aviation marketplace” after the industry debacle of 2008 and 2009, Iannarelli says.

Charter and fractional-jet services are also getting closer looks by business travelers getting thwarted by airlines’ service cut-backs—and lured by how the plane-rental services are cutting prices to widen their market. “At four times the price of an airline first-class seat,” says Joseph Smith, leader of the aviation-management division of Miami-based investment bank Cassel Salpeter,” these services were never going to get most business owners. But now that they’re seeing one-and-a-half or two times prices for a first-class seat—and you throw in the health considerations—it starts to become a value proposition for them.”

Bring on the Bandwidth

Unlike the past few years, when the Trump administration’s approval of immediate 100 percent depreciation of major purchases, including corporate aircraft, goosed sales, there’s no huge regulatory or legislative development spurring interest. Technology upgrades, however, continue to intrigue buyers interested in trading up for the newest bells and whistles.

In addition to advances in propulsion and avionics that make corporate aviation faster and safer, the biggest lure continues to be digital connectivity in the passenger compartment. Makers already are offering so-called Ka-band satellite-based Internet capabilities in larger and expensive jets, which provide home-like speeds and make simultaneous high-definition streaming possible.

Some buyers are paying $70 million or more for a jet in Bombardier’s Global series that includes Ka-band—a system that often, in itself, costs a half-million dollars to include. “The flying passenger wants to stay connected just like at home,” Iannarelli says. “That’s the most important thing to them.”

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Business succession planning in the time of COVID | Opinion

President Ronald Reagan was in office little more than two months when he was shot by an unhinged gunman. In the confusion that followed, Secretary of State Alexander Haig declared, “I am in control here,” claiming power at the White House, bypassing the Vice President and the leaders of the House and Senate. While there was some good in having someone assume charge, Haig had no real authority and added uncertainty to an already precarious situation. There’s a lesson here. If you lead a middle market company and become suddenly unable to stand at the helm, don’t invite such chaos. Instead, have a plan.

Recent events at the White House show COVID-19 does not discriminate. Even while practicing social distancing and wearing a mask, one slip, and you, or a member of your leadership team, could be its next victim. Incapacitation at the top of your company could invite incalculable disruption to your business. And even if you remain virus-free, accidents happen and other health risks exist. Plan accordingly and have a succession plan to ensure your company is prepared.

Most large companies have a succession plan that’s monitored by their board, but many middle market business owners find such plans a morbid topic and avoid developing them. This is cruelly ironic given that most large companies could better manage a disruption like the death of a CEO, while smaller companies are typically much more reliant on their CEOs/leaders for everything from managing payroll to literally signing checks.

Even those who outrun the grim reaper longer than most will likely see a day when, at the very least, they may be temporarily incapacitated. What then? Remember, the well-being of colleagues, employees, partners, clients, consumers, and family, matter. Should you shed this mortal coil, or become ill, a succession plan is a good business move that ensures your legacy and protects your employees, clients/customers, as well as relatives when a family business is impacted.

Start with weighing the leadership skills, competence, and trustworthiness​ of those around you as you define your hierarchy of succession. Give these leaders opportunities and training, while mitigating competitive tensions that arise as they yearn for the throne. Be honest and make sure you have the right person or people to take over for the short and long-term.

A well-conceived succession plan keeps your company on track to hit growth targets​ even after leadership takes a hit. It establishes protocols for addressing the temporary or permanent incapacity of the person at the top and other company leaders. These protocols ensure key leaders have access to critical company resources from payroll and operating lines of credit, to all the company passwords. They establish who has company signatory authorization and delegate other operational decisions and essentials such as maintaining relationships with customers, lenders and investors. A good plan also helps get the most out of people before they assume the role, making for a stronger company.

The succession plan also contains strategy for hiring and grooming new talent​ to meet projected company needs. It is also periodically updated, keeping it in line with industry developments, creating personnel redundancies that position your company to flourish, no matter what.

In times of uncertainty, internal and external messaging plans help complete the picture, establishing communication protocols for getting the message out internally, and a PR plan for getting word to those outside the company. Together, they help project, promote, and maintain stability.

Too often, small and middle market companies don’t address succession planning. But the President’s recent hospitalization serves as a warning: Major disruption could be just around the corner. Leaders don’t like giving up control, even temporarily. But none of us are invincible and the fate of your company and the clients and consumers who depend on it, affects more than just yourself. If you don’t already have one, put your succession plan in place now. You owe it to your company, your clients, your family, and yourself.

James S. Cassel is co-founder and chairman of Cassel Salpeter & Co., LLC, an investment- banking firm with headquarters in Miami that works with middle-market companies. jcassel@casselsalpeter.com or via LinkedIn at  https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesscassel.

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