Saturday, April 20, 2024

ABTV consulting group turns itself around

Partners John Magee, Ed Sanz and Thomas Kirkpatrick are expanding ABTV’s focus to advise businesses that aren’t exclusively distressed. Their work encompasses clients outside the Southeast.  

By David Dykes

As North Carolina’s best-known turnaround management group, Anderson Bauman Tourtellot and Vos specialized for the last two decades in helping repair distressed businesses. Now, with the last recession fading in the rearview mirror and a growing economy lifting most sectors, the company has shifted strategy to help improve performance at a wider range of organizations, whether healthy, distressed or underperforming.

The repositioning coincided with a March 2016 reorganization in which Thomas Kirkpatrick, John Magee and Ed Sanz bought the firm from two original partners and five employee-investors and shortened its name to ABTV. The firm shouldn’t be slotted as a turnaround company that works only with businesses in crisis, Kirkpatrick says. “That is not the ABTV brand.”

It was the brand, however, when turnaround pioneers Neal Anderson, Ed Bauman, Peter Tourtellot and Gary Vos started their company in 1989. Each had been a senior manager at Greensboro-based Blue Bell, the maker of Wrangler jeans acquired by VF Corp. for $760 million, including debt, in 1986. Bauman, who died in March at 92, was Blue Bell’s chief executive officer and chairman when it negotiated the sale to the apparel giant, also based in Greensboro.

Over the next 25 years, ABTV became a favored choice of Southeast CEOs seeking advice on streamlining and restructuring at hard-hit furniture, textile, apparel and trucking companies. Tourtellot, who died at age 78 in 2016, was one of the founders of TMA Global, a Chicago-based trade association for turnaround managers.

ABTV gradually added experienced staffers: Magee joined in 2004, Kirkpatrick in 2010 and Sanz in 2011. Eight years after the worst recession in generations, there is less need for turnaround consulting, Kirkpatrick says. Many companies downsized in the recession, re-examined their business plans and, in some cases, made acquisitions amid a slow-paced economic recovery. The planning and transactions provided entrées that have morphed into larger assignments.

“A lot of times there is no magic in what we do,” Kirkpatrick says. “It’s a process. It’s execution. It’s the ability to bring in talent.” About a third of ABTV’s assignments involve partners or directors acting as interim CEOs, chief operating officers or chief financial officers. “We’re inside actually operating, making the decisions along with the management of the company and, in some cases, leading the entire organization.”

As of August, the company had 18 clients spread across the nation and encompassing “just about every industry you can think of,” Sanz says. Most are privately held with annual revenue of $20 million to$250 million. The firm has 15 professionals: Eight live in Charlotte, two in Raleigh, one in Elon, two in Tallahassee, Fla., and one each in Jacksonville, Fla., and Richmond, Va.

While the three ABTV partners lack a Fortune 500 CEO pedigree like Bauman, each is a veteran consultant or banker who has worked with dozens of businesses. Kirkpatrick worked as a senior manager at KPMG serving clients with annual revenue ranging from $5 million to $500 million.

Magee, 62, came to Charlotte in 1983 and worked for First Union Corp. and Norelli & Co. before moving to ABTV. “He has been in enough warehouses and operations, too, to walk around and know when something is right, smells right, or doesn’t,” Sanz says.

Sanz, 53, has been a CFO and financial consultant to business owners, boards and senior management. Past stops include Bank of America, SunTrust Banks, BellSouth, and a Cone Mills Inc. joint venture based in Mexico.

ABTV’s partners, who don’t name their clients, look at characteristics and potential problem areas, including new competition, family conflict or dated technology. For a current client, a family-owned home-furnishings manufacturer and retailer, ABTV developed a budget, sold assets to cut debt by 85% and helped the company improve its efficiency.

ABTV’s partners hope for measured growth in the next five years, possibly increasing the staff to 25. They stay in touch with Anderson, who has been CEO of Asheboro-based hosiery maker Acme-McCrary since 2012. “I see [us] continuing to work on more subjects outside the turnaround and distress world,” Magee says.

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