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No Sand Between Our Toes (2014)

Why our feet are not stuck in the mud.

I truly thought we might be skipping this 7th annual post – or have to retitle it “Feet Stuck in Mud”.  The cycle of summer seems to start only after the kids leave school and then return. My wife Tricia used to say “summer starts on the 4th of July and ends two weeks later,” and that sentiment brings near universal agreement –especially to those who have to pay attention to the back-to-school shopping rhythm and planning that truly does start in late July.     In truth, I was looking forward to an extended August respite because business was, well – just slow on the new biz development front.   No complaint, we are plenty busy and full of appreciation for clients and obligations we have right now. Our current collection of funds under management and associated portfolio companies are steaming along as we continue the work-a-day obligation of sustaining and growing value.   One of my favorites in the portfolio is going to crash through a $75 million run rate this year after plateauing near $25 million for the last few years.  Exciting stuff!  Our dozen plus Federal New Markets Tax Credit projects are either completed or in the ground, being particularly proud of the redevelopment of Liberty, Kentucky after its near total devastation by a tornado just two years ago.  We have even seen one of our completed University projects jump start an even more advantageous investment in a textbook demonstration of economic development leverage resulting in the creation of a fully privately funded nursing school. New jobs created, lives improved and strong emotional satisfaction from Florida to Oregon and San Antonio to New York City. 

So…what am I grumbling about?  In truth, we love the hunt for new fund and business opportunity.  We revel in the initial introduction to a vexing challenge.  It takes upwards of a year when we work with Limited Partners to help them understand the mitigation opportunities they have when they are involved with a troubled fund and/or recalcitrant General Partner.  All those months of free consulting – becoming intimate of the private troubles and competing interests, managing the diverse opinions and educating all parties about the complexities and opportunities of the intervention process  and the initial entry – is wonderfully exciting all by itself  (even if we don’t get paid for the effort).  I may be overselling that a bit but for those of you involved in biz dev I think you can more readily understand. 

We had at least two funds scheduled to come off the “contemplation and discovery” phase and move into “direct intervention” for the beginning of this summer.  However, for various reasons the engagements were put on pause until the fall.  We even demurred we step into one of those funds because we saw another path that would allow a repair of the GP/LP relationship twinned with some governance and oversight changes. Less income and work for us but it’s about doing the right thing for the client.  I will confess to missing the excitement of walking into a new challenge...alas. 

It was if we were planning to dig our feet firmly into the soft wet beach sand rather than trodding yet a few more airport terminals this August.  Then, just as the doldrums of summer were about to wash over us, BANG, a client crisis arrives.  Nothing is better than being able to stride into a maelstrom of doubt and fear that a challenging situation requires.  I can’t tell you about it just yet (on second thought, I’m likely to never tell you about it unless it becomes a heavily veiled business school case study) but I promise you we are enjoying the trials and pains of putting our clients at ease and reigning in the troubles caused by their badly-behaving GP. 

Maybe Tricia was right.  I did get the frantic initial Limited Partner call on July 20th. Summer did end two weeks after Independence Day.  Oh well, there is always Labor Day weekend.

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of troubled Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: troubled funds, equity, venture funds, private equity funds, Semaphore, Venture Capital, funds under management, general partners, limited partners, portfolio company, LP, private equity

An Office Lunch Table Thanksgiving Tale

 Leftovers and gratitude - a new Semaphore tradition.

By Mark S. DiSalvo

At my Thanksgiving Day table we go around the room and ask each family member (31 this year) to relate just what it is for which they are most grateful.  Responses are variously funny (“my big nose so I can better enjoy the smell of that wonderful pecan and pumpkin pie” or “I’m especially pleased to be taller than my runt older cousin who always tortured me when I was a kid”); poignant (“that Mother’s dementia has allowed her to forget the pain of the past year and simply enjoy our family get together”) and variously serious (getting into a favorite university, the blessing of a new child, etc.).  I’m sure it’s a tradition or experience that many other families enjoy.

On the Monday after the holiday, with my colleagues at our office lunch table, it was noted how I had not written a biz blog post for a couple of months. We agreed I should highlight the recent transaction where we acquired a New Markets Tax Credit platform and trumpet the recent investments. Somehow we got off on the tangent of family Thanksgiving expressions of gratitude.  It struck us that we don’t do the same at work as we do in our homes.  When the gang started discussing that very fact, we went from voicing gratitude for our good fortune to have interesting careers to bemoaning those, some of our relatives and friends that are up against it and pressed economically, in unproductive careers or who don’t have the privilege of a job at all. We discovered, in conversation, that our successes, in and of themselves are unimportant but that true satisfaction came in helping others get the same emotional fulfillment that we enjoy when we turnaround a fund or help a portfolio company earn a new customer. We were amazed to discover we’ve supported the creation of a few thousand jobs over the past decade and resolved, collectively, to see how we can ensure that the dignity of work is afforded to even more people as we continue to invest and nurture our current and future portfolio.  The discussion turned to taxes and universally, albeit some of  my colleagues begrudgingly,  we understood that the moaning about an increase in marginal tax rates and an expected upping of capital gain was a tiny price for the benefit of our  Semaphore Team working together and doing so in this engagingly challenging industry in a great country. Experiencing the ancillary profits of hard work as satisfaction, in and of itself, as well as the emotional stimulation of assisting entrepreneurs and stakeholders alike, we realized, was the true reason we labor. Sure, we like the monetary success but the sense of accomplishment when a business liquidates on its own terms and seeing the unadulterated joy of an entrepreneur actually accomplishing a dream is our most sustaining payoff.

Bottom line, we are privileged indeed.  I think we’ll start a new tradition.  Lunch table Thanksgiving. Nothing goes better with left-over turkey and stuffing sandwiches (with cranberry sauce, of course).  Try it – establishing the tradition of asking your colleagues about what makes them grateful at work.  You might find a new motivation and a reason to believe in yourself. The sandwich isn’t too bad either – lighter on the mayo next year.

Mark S. DiSalvo is the President and CEO of Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (www.sema4usa.com), a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity and Venture Capital funds under management and diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds, is a New Markets Tax Credit lender and advises General and Limited Partners as well as corporations around the world. Semaphore’s corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York, London and Dallas.

Topics: investment, new markets tax credits, portfolio company, turnaround

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