Friday, June 21, 2024

Ben Sutton Jr.’s new ballgame

After leaving IMG College in 2016, Ben Sutton Jr. started Teall Investments, a private-equity firm backed by contacts Sutton made during his sports-marketing career.

By Spencer Campbell

Winston-Salem college-sports impresario Ben Sutton Jr. is back building businesses, this time as a private-equity investor. Teall Investments, founded by Sutton in 2016, plans to invest at least $65 million during its first funding round, which he expects to wrap up during the first quarter of 2018. (The name is short for “Touch ’em all,” a baseball term for hitting a home run.)

In 1992, Sutton founded ISP Sports in Winston-Salem, where he had attended college at Wake Forest University. He grew that business, which handled marketing, licensing and media services, from a single school (his alma mater) to more than 60 colleges and universities before selling it to IMG Worldwide in 2010. That number grew to 225 at IMG College, the division that Sutton ran as chairman and CEO until 2015 when he became chairman emeritus. Sutton left IMG College for good in 2016. “After 20-plus years of growing, IMG wasn’t going to invest in new platforms,” says Sutton. “They needed a CEO to sustain the business. That didn’t appeal to me.”

Too young to retire, the 60-year-old Sutton says he’s back doing what he loves — growing. Of Teall’s eight employees, seven previously worked for IMG College, including General Counsel Lou Doherty and Chief Financial Officer Joe Weatherly.

“At the end of [2016] I thought, ‘Well, if we can put the band back together, I have 20 ideas. We can pursue eight or nine of them.’” The winning concept proved to be Teall, which has already invested in or acquired several companies, including Opelika, Ala.-based Tailgate Guys, a hospitality business that provides tents, catering and other game-day services for tailgaters; Boston-based marketing agency Riddle and Bloom; and Sunshine Beverages, a Winston-Salem-based energy-drink company. In mid-December, Teall said it had launched Dyehard Fan Supply, an event merchandising company.

Primarily, Teall will focus on companies within its leadership’s expertise, such as sports promotions, merchandising and media. Many of the firm’s backers are individuals he’s met throughout his career, Sutton says. “I think they realize you bet on the jockeys, not the horses,” Sutton says. “Having the right guy on the horse matters a lot.”

While Sutton was intricately involved in raising money, he admits he no longer works 80 to 90 hours a week or travels 200-plus days a year. His staff does the legwork before he reviews a deal. That leaves him more time to mentor young executives.

“This group is about building companies,” Sutton says. Tailgate Guys, for instance, had six schools on its roster at the time of Teall’s investment. Now, it has 22, which could double by next fall, Sutton predicts. That sort of rise is a familiar trajectory for Sutton. “Somebody said I look 20 years younger,” he recalls. “I’m having more fun than I’ve had in 10 years.”

MEBANE — Airgas will invest $47 million and add 35 jobs at an air-separation plant producing liquid oxygen, nitrogen and argon. The new jobs will pay an average annual wage of more than $78,000. Radnor, Pa.-based Airgas was acquired by Paris-based Air Liquide for $10 billion in 2016.

WINSTON-SALEM — Debra Crew resigned as president and CEO of Reynolds American effective Dec. 31. British American Tobacco acquired the cigarette company in July for $54.5 billion. Previously president of subsidiary R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Crew became CEO last January. Ricardo Oberlander, BAT’s regional director of the Americas, will succeed her.

WINSTON-SALEM — Krispy Kreme Doughnuts planned to lay off 90 people at its local headquarters. The company, founded here in 1937, will open offices in Charlotte and London. Owned since July 2016 by Germany-based JAB Holdings, Krispy Kreme employs more than 500 people in Forsyth County.

WINSTON-SALEM — Tar Heel Basement Systems was acquired by JES Companies, a Virginia Beach, Va.-based group of foundation-repair, basement-waterproofing and crawl-space repair companies. Tar Heel Basement was founded in 2003 by Pete Burgess, who will remain CEO and has taken an ownership stake in JES.

WINSTON-SALEM — The firm, to be called Womble Bond Dickinson, will have more than 1,000 lawyers at 23 offices and revenue of more than $410 million. Started here in 1876, Womble Carlyle has 15 offices in seven states and the District of Columbia, including Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, and Raleigh.

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