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Signet’s Anthony Manna

Starting a business is one of the best ways to help a community

August 31, 2018

By: Mark Scott

Anthony Manna doesn’t have a lot of downtime when it comes to dealmaking. Wherever he goes and whatever he is doing, the odds are pretty good that he’s getting ready to close some kind of transaction.

The key to not being overwhelmed by such a frenetic pace is the ability to quickly walk away from deals that aren’t a good fit, says the principal and chairman at Signet LLC.

“What we’re always trying to do is filter out the ones we’re not interested in as quickly as possible,” Manna says. “I think the other side appreciates a no answer quickly. The important thing is we can focus in on the ones that we want to look at.”

Manna is an experienced dealmaker who also played a lead role in developing Canal Park in Akron, home of the Akron RubberDucks, as well as the SummaCare Center and the new honor dorms at the University of Akron, among other real estate projects.

In this week’s Dealmakers Live, we spoke with Manna about his readiness to examine deals and some great advice he got in his youth from the legendary John McConnell, founder of Worthington Industries. What follows is a transcript of the above video, edited for readability.



In a constant state of readiness

We’re always in a state of readiness. At Signet, we also own our own law firm. So the dealmaking aspect of this, we’re always ready. As an example, just this morning, a technology company was sent to me from a guy I know down in Florida. He said, ‘This company wants to be acquired and I thought of you.’ I had another guy from here in Northeast Ohio send me a distributor that is looking for an investment. We’re taking a look at that. On the way in, we just closed on another deal to invest in a technology company out of New Jersey.

So we’re constantly ready for the deals to come in. What we’re always trying to do is filter out the ones we’re not interested in as quickly as possible. I think the other side appreciates a no answer quickly. The important thing is we can focus in on the ones that we want to look at. Many times, you’re getting started and you think you’re interested. As you go into the due diligence, you find out in a hurry that, ‘Oh, we’re not interested in this and we have to move on.’

Time to move on

First of all, I’ve had deals that haven’t worked. I’ve had deals that didn’t go through and it hurt. I’ve had deals where it did go through and later on, the business went under. I’ve had those types of deals. The biggest thing I would tell everybody is put the pain behind you. In other words, sometimes they try to drag it out and so forth when it’s so obvious that you’ve got to move on. I remember one time writing out a pretty hefty check back when it really hurt for me to do that so I could move on.

The biggest thing is trying to move on. Make sure you’re transparent in what you’re trying to do, that you’re not catching everybody off guard and so forth. But there comes that point in time where if it’s bad, you just have to move on.

Encourage honest feedback

Driven, smart people do not want to be managed. You have to give them the highway and make sure they follow the highway, but they are driven. You have to find those types of people who are driven. I do not like yes men. I like people who are respectfully candid. We’re not going to have a fistfight in the middle of something. But the point is, you want to have people who can express their opinions about the direction we’re going on a particular deal as an example and make sure that everybody can think through it.

Businesses can change lives

I always remember when I was in college, one of the most influential things that ever happened, John McConnell of Worthington Industries, Mr. Mac as they called him. At the time, I went to Ohio State undergrad, the Midwest, people were fleeing. We referred to it as the Rust Belt. Everybody was leaving. His business in the steel industry was booming. Everywhere else, the plants in Youngstown were closing. I always remember, he came in and he was like a rock star. I was in the business school. The professor who introduced him went on for what seemed like forever. I’m sure it was only five minutes. But he was talking about all the great things Mr. McConnell had done for the community.

I remember he got up there and said, ‘You know, that’s great. That was the nicest introduction I’ve ever had. I probably should sit down because it was so nice.’ Then he looks at everybody and goes, ‘But everything he said there is true. And there are lots of things I do for the community that no one knows about. So I’m going to tell you kids about the 20 things you need to do to make sure you can do these things for your community.’ And of course back them, there’s no PowerPoint presentation. He had those overhead projectors. He says, I want you to draw one through 20 in column form.’ We all get our papers out and write one through 20. He puts EPS at No. 1, draws a line all the way through 19. And at No. 20, he writes, ‘money for your community, civic and other charitable activities.’ He says, ‘You want to do the most for your community? Start a business. That way, those people have money to give to their community.’ I remember walking out of there thinking, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’

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