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Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

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Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

Here’s hoping that everyone had a good 4th.  Since we are coming off a long relaxing weekend, rather than bore you with business philosophy or political rantings, I thought I would mix it up for once.  One of the great things about being in the business of investment banking is you get to meet and work with many different types of people and you get the chance to get thrown (literally and figuratively) into lots of different situations.



A number of years ago we were assisting an out of home advertising company through a sale process.  The company had grown rapidly with the help of an eccentric investor.  This investor’s family had made enough money through five generations of cotton trading to own its own bank as well as a portfolio of other businesses.  Harry*, the current patriarch, spent much of his time collecting very valuable art from around the world.  As is the case with many a smart, wealthy investors, he was not in such a rush to sell this little gem that his swashbuckling CEO, and their team, had built (i.e. “I love the cash that this business throws off…why they heck would I give that up?”).  The CEO, Ricky*, however, had worked his arse off for the past 7 years with the specific intent of turning steel and cement into U.S. currency.  Perhaps you see where this is going?  Give it to Mikey, He’ll try it.


After a number of effervescent conversations with Ricky (who was once described as slicker than a “slip and slide”), who convinced me his shareholders were “absolutely” ready to go and the assignment was going to one of the “easiest” we ever had, I met and simultaneously walked into a buzz saw negotiation with Harry over the terms of our engagement.  A month later we finally put the engagement to bed and soon went off to market.  The Company had great assets, super economic leases, a nice growth trajectory and had been stealing decent market share from its competitors.  On the flip side, the market it operated in, was going through some negative changes, the Company was still on the small side and it was a relatively new form of out of home.  Net net, we believed it would trade as a “really nice to have but not a must have”.

A number of in-market and out-of-market buyers showed up with decent offers for the Company, but there was one that was significantly out in front to the point that it made sense to move to close without further process.  In a phone conversation, Ricky told me he loved the buyer and the number, and Harry was ready to go but just wanted to “sit me face to face for a couple minutes” to make sure we were all on the same page.  No problem, I’ll hop a flight down there tonight and see you both first thing in the morning.  That’s what good advisors do right?  Ugh.

Right on cue, the evening flight is delayed and I get in at the wee hours of the morning.  Ricky picks me up at my hotel and we drive over to Harry’s house.  On the way he tells me Harry is a bit eccentric, he will want to show off his antiquities, that I should absolutely not touch anything and I should only sit where he, Harry, tells me to sit.  Not a problem.  We bankers roll with the punches.  We arrive at Harry’s house, which is more like a cotton plantation the size of central park in the middle of fairly urban setting.  After touring the largest collection of Ming dynasty statues (outside of China) in the garden, we are escorted past the helps’ quarters to a dark, wood paneled living room over stuffed with everything from 9 foot elephant tusks, to a Japanese emperor’s sword under glass, to lots and lots of English portraits on the walls.  Imagine dropping yourself into one of the storerooms of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and you will get the picture.

Harry escorts us over to one of the only non cluttered corners of the room, tells Ricky to sit on a Genghis Khan thrown, points for me to sit on a high red Chinese bench and he saunters over to a low Louis XIV gold tufted chair.  Just as I lowered myself on to the bench, whilst still trying my damnedest not to touch anything, Harry screams “NOOOOO”.  Thank God for Right Guard.  Frozen mid squat, he tells me to switch seats with him.  We cross paths and I sink into the most uncomfortable chair I’ve ever experienced.  At this point it might be helpful to mention that Harry is 5 feet even with loafers on.  As he begins to recline slowly on the red high bench, he looks at me and says in a soft voice, “so what is so good about this pathetic offer you tell me you have?”  Before I can answer, in slow motion, his butt hits the bench, his feet, because of the bench’s height, come off the ground, his head naturally falls backwards and hits the frame of a large painting behind him.  Ricky and I race in vain to get there before the portrait lands on his head.   We are too late.  Harry’s head emerges from the backside of a 16th century Lord Fauntleroy, perfectly in the center of the painting.  Time stops.

Ever find yourself in one of those severely tragic yet gut busting moments praying beyond hope that your not going to lose it?  What I had just witnessed was not real life but rather an episode of
El Kabong.


And yet I felt awful.  I knew for sure Ricky was in the same spot and I knew that no matter what, I must not look at him.  We lift the painting as gently as possible off Harry’s head.  Harry is absolutely apoplectic.  It might have been from the small physical injuries he sustained but it was more likely that the painting was worth more than the company we were trying to help him sell.  After several minutes Harry gets enough composure to tell us the meeting is over and we should show ourselves out.

Ah the life of a banker.  As I rode an afternoon flight home that day, I was grateful that they had scotch, and that I hadn’t sat on the high red bench.

*names changed to protect the innocent.

PS, hit me back if you would like to know the ending to the story.

Jim Johnsen

Securities transacted through StillPoint Capital Member firm FINRA/SiPC




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