Best practices from some of Cleveland’s top executives

ASPIRE 2017 – Leadership Q&A

Every one of the leaders below has a wealth of knowledge and expertise on how to succeed in business. Here, they share their thoughts on the principles they follow in leading their respective companies:

What advice has been most helpful to you in your career?

“There is no substitute for doing your homework upfront in preparation for a potential deal. Knowing or anticipating the issues facing the other party and being able to find a workable solution is key to a successful transaction. Dealmakers that can do this effectively will ultimately win out over those who simply are focused on their own issues. Moreover, you will save a lot of time and money in doing so.”
­—Carl J. Grassi, chairman, McDonald Hopkins LLC


“Your most valuable assets are your reputation and your time, and you need to be very cognizant of how your decisions impact each and every day. Both are worth so much more than money or status. The degree to which you are thoughtful about the reputation you build and how you spend your time will in large part determine your happiness and personal success in life.”
Chris Jones, managing partner, Align Capital Partners


“Align with good and talented people who share your values and convictions and who have a desire to make a positive impact on the people who work for us, the clients we serve and the community in which we live and work.”
­—André Thornton, president and CEO, ASW Global



“Almost every deal is unique and requires a customized approach. Understand and respect the positions of the other parties in the transaction. Take strong positions on the issues that matter most to the client and find effective solutions to get the deal done.”
­—Brian O’Neill, business department chair, Tucker Ellis LLP



“Never do anything if you don’t understand why you are doing it. Always ask the next question. Do it the right way.”
Gregory J. Skoda, chairman, Skoda Minotti




“Don’t oversell your capabilities to a client/customer. You want to build long-term relationships. If you oversell and don’t meet expectations, the relationship will be harmed. However, if you’re honest, you will develop a trust with the client/customer that is likely to lead to greater business opportunities.”
Peter Van Euwen, partner, BakerHostetler



“You are riding on the shoulders of a lot of people. Treat them well and trust them. Hire better than you — they make for better shoulders.”
Philip Alexander, CEO, Brandmuscle Inc.



How important is preparation in achieving a successful business deal?

“There is no question preparation is hugely important. An interesting book that is a quick read on the topic in a way is ‘Getting Naked’ by Patrick Lencioni. Preparation can mean very different things to different people in different situations.”
Gregory J. Skoda, chairman, Skoda Minotti



“Persistence and grit could be the most significant determinates of success. At Riverside, we’ve built processes that have turned the deal business — once viewed as lightning a bottle — into something that is replicable. That is the only way we could have invested in 44 companies last year alone and over 460 in our history. Whether it’s originating the deal; forging partner-lender relationships for the debt; conducting thorough due diligence; winning the hearts and minds of the management team, sellers and their advisers; structuring the deal; negotiating the terms; closing the acquisition; or managing the investment through add-ons and organic growth to a successful exit, it all comes down to preparation and process.”
Stewart Kohl, Co-CEO, The Riverside Co.


“Our deal closure rate improves significantly when we are prepared to talk about the client and the value our offering provides to them. Clients don’t want to hear a lot about us or our other clients. They want to hear about how we will help them. That takes preparation. It’s particularly helpful to take a client’s perspective as it better prepares you for the objections.”
Philip Alexander, CEO, Brandmuscle Inc.


“The CEO or investor/owner needs to understand early in the process the potential deal economics. This involves high-level financial modeling: the buyer’s likely aggregate cash cost basis for this investment, identifying projected cost savings and the go-forward net income run rate of the acquired business. These three things are critical factors driving what the return on investment will be, whether this ROI meets acceptable investment return targets and whether the seller’s pricing expectations can be met.”
Jon Park, chairman and CEO, Westfield Bank


“I read it somewhere one day and I preach it to my kids and to people in the office. Proper preparation prevents poor performance. Throughout my career, I tried never to go into a meeting where I didn’t do my homework ahead of time. Knowledge is power.”
Mark Goldfarb, Ohio managing partner, BDO USA LLP



“I am a learning machine. I read every day as much as possible. I associate with people who are at the top of their field so I can learn from them. I always seek advice from multiple sources. It is my job to be a little wiser every day to operate in this exponentially faster moving marketplace.”
Bob Campana, CEO, Campana Capital


What led you to choose your career path and be involved in business?

“From a young age, I always enjoyed math and problem solving. That coupled with working on teams and the importance of relationships in business is what most influenced my career path. Professional service firms require leaders who have innate curiosity, who want to partner with companies to help solve problems and who want to inspire others to grow and develop in their careers — all while giving back to the communities in which they live, work and play.”
Julie Boland, managing partner, Cleveland, EY

How did you get your start as an entrepreneur?

“The biggest thing was the ability to control your own destiny and be independent and do things the way you would like to do them. I didn’t start off thinking about being an entrepreneur or a businessperson for financial success. It was basically so that I could do things the way I would like to with whom I would like to and how I would like to. It was more the independence. I march to the beat of my own drum. I was in my late teens and I had worked for some places and I just decided that’s not for me. I’m going to do my own thing.”
Umberto P. Fedeli, CEO, The Fedeli Group