Marks makes switch from factories to finance
By David Dykes
Kenneth Marks enjoyed success as an entrepreneur, operating Kenmar, his Raleigh-based contract-manufacturing business, for 13 years in the ’80s and ’90s. He sold it to a competitor, but the biggest benefit was gaining some real-world experience that he’s now using as a business consultant for other companies. Marks, 55, runs High Rock Partners with partner John “Buddy” Howard, 60, advising on about four to 10 sales annually while working with about two dozen companies on growth and exit strategies and leadership transitions.
Marks started his consultancy as Marks & Co. in 1999 after earning an MBA from UNC Chapel Hill. Then came 9/11: JPS Communications, a Raleigh-based telecommunications company owned by several former executives of conglomerate ITT Corp., hired Marks to lead the company as it responded to the terrorist attacks. “At the time, there were about a half-dozen sizable companies where we could couple our brand and technology to provide a unique offering for the homeland-security market,” Marks says. Waltham, Mass.-based defense contractor Raytheon, which had revenue of $25 billion last year and employs 64,000, acquired JPS in 2002. Marks stayed as president of its JPS Communications subsidiary for four years. Sales and profits more than doubled by the time he left Raytheon in August 2006, Marks says.
At that time, Marks reignited his consulting work with the newly named High Rock Partners. He partnered with Howard, who also runs Equity Research Services Inc., which provides investor research for publicly held financial companies. Howard previously worked at Carolina Securities Inc., a Raleigh-based brokerage firm acquired by Thomson McKinnon Inc. in 1987.
Networking through the Young Presidents’ Organization and other business groups, Marks developed a solid reputation in the Triangle, says Gerald Roach, managing partner of Smith Anderson, the largest law firm based in Raleigh. He met Marks in the early 1980s when Smith Anderson served as legal counsel for Kenmar. Roach calls Marks an out-of-the-box thinker who showed interest in robotics ahead of his time.
High Rock clients are typically privately held companies with $5 million to $100 million in annual revenue. The company charges a monthly retainer and a performance fee based on achieving the client’s goal. Clients include technology companies, manufacturers and firms specializing in business-to-business services.
High Rock provided strategic and financial advisory services to Clinton-based DuBose National Energy Services during its sale earlier this year to Los Angeles-based Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., the largest U.S. metals services company. DuBose had sales of $36 million last year.
Other High Rock assignments have included advising CEI Labs Inc. in its sale to a publicly traded European company, Eurofins Scientific, and Electrical Equipment Co.’s purchase of Williams Supply Inc. Both CEI and Electrical Equipment are based in the Triangle. Marks also helped Mt. Olive Pickle Co. on its share-repurchase strategy and contract-research organization Ockham Development Group Inc. of Cary in its sale to London-based Chiltern International Inc. in 2014.