partner profile – Watermill http://www.watermill.com A Strategy Driven Private Equity Partnership Mon, 05 Nov 2018 19:17:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Partner Profile: Meet Watermill Group’s Dale Okonow http://www.watermill.com/partner-profile-meet-watermill-groups-dale-okonow/ Wed, 28 Feb 2018 18:38:56 +0000 http://www.watermill.com/?p=2255 Providing internships to students interested in the private equity industry is an important part of the Watermill culture. Recently our intern Paul had the opportunity to sit down with Dale Okonow for an interview. How did you get into private equity? I went to law school and business school with the idea to practice law for...

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Providing internships to students interested in the private equity industry is an important part of the Watermill culture. Recently our intern Paul had the opportunity to sit down with Dale Okonow for an interview.

How did you get into private equity?

I went to law school and business school with the idea to practice law for a little bit. I always felt I needed to understand the role a lawyer played because legal is always involved in business. When you get into law, it can be challenging to transition into business, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The predecessor to Watermill was one of my large clients and they offered me a job originally as in house legal counsel, then eventually as CFO. One thing led to another, we started investing outside money and Watermill was born. It couldn’t have worked out better; I practiced law for 5 years and was able to use that background to transition into other things.

What is your favorite thing about Watermill?

The culture and the people. We always have a lot of fun. It’s a collegial group, very hard working. It’s not a culture where you must stay until a certain time, or you must stay until your boss leaves even if you don’t have anything you’re working on, but when we have a transaction, it’s all hands-on deck 24/7. I like the adrenaline of working on a deal and closing a deal. When that’s over you can relax a little and try to find the next one, which is nice, but I’m a transactions junkie.

What are you most excited about for Watermill in the coming years?

The private equity business is undergoing a huge transition. There’s lots of money chasing deals. The competition is becoming more and more challenging, but Watermill has always been able to find a way. We will always do a few deals a year and if we continue to have our strategic focus, stay true to our guns, and be patient, we will find a lot of opportunity in our particular niche. Watermill will never be a fast-growing firm, but we will be a very successful firm. We are not going to put out dollars for the sake of putting money to work, but rather invest in deals that we like, that make sense, and that will have a good return to our investors.

Just 10 years ago, the smart phone came out and it revolutionized the world. What’s the next game changing advancement?

Technology improves every single day. I can’t answer what the next thing will be, but I know it will be there. We always have to stay ahead of it. You can’t ignore technological advancements in what we do. When I look back to when we first started, there were typewriters, no cell phones. We sent things through fed-ex and not email. So much has changed in so little time. The hardest thing to do as an investor is anticipating what could hurt you from a technological point of view, even if it doesn’t exist or hasn’t been thought of yet. We have to be aware and think ahead of our time.

As an avid Boston sports fan. If you could pick one team to be on which would it be and why?

I would love to be on the Celtics because, first of all football scares me I don’t want all of those concussions, and second NBA basketball players are the greatest athletes ever, they are so incredible to watch. They run, jump, they are so athletic. Their hand eye coordination is unbelievable. I think playing in the NBA would be top notch, it would be a thrill. Baseball is fun, I would do that too, but as athletes, NBA basketball players can do it all. Lebron could be a tight end, he could be as good as Gronk, he could be a defensive end, he could be a linebacker, he could be anything. They’re just incredible athletes.

 

Dale Okonow, Paul, and framed $100 bill

Watermill Partner Dale Okonow (left), posing with intern Paul Balestrieri (right), and the $100 bill he parted ways with some time ago.

There are a few tokens of Watermill memorabilia throughout the office, including a framed $100 bill. What’s the story?

Well we had these interns here, before your time, and we gave them a project. We said, what’s the largest search engine in the world? Steve (Karol) goes, “its YouTube.” I say there’s no way its YouTube, its Google, everyone uses Google. You would say Google too right? How many people actually use YouTube as a search engine? So, I bet him $100 the largest search engine was Google and not YouTube. It was a big deal throughout the office. The interns came back, and what do you know, it was YouTube. I said go back that can’t be right. There’s no way, it can’t be YouTube, no way! It’s not possible, how is that possible! I lost the money, but I still think I’m right.

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Partner Profile: Meet Watermill Group’s Bob Ackerman http://www.watermill.com/partner-profile-meet-watermill-groups-bob-ackerman/ Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:48:25 +0000 http://www.watermill.com/?p=1807 Providing internships to students interested in the private equity industry is an important part of the Watermill culture. Recently a few of our interns had the opportunity to sit down with Bob for an interview. Enjoy! How does your prior experience running Watermill Group portfolio companies help you in your role as a partner? Working...

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Providing internships to students interested in the private equity industry is an important part of the Watermill culture. Recently a few of our interns had the opportunity to sit down with Bob for an interview. Enjoy!

How does your prior experience running Watermill Group portfolio companies help you in your role as a partner?

Working as a CEO for twenty years has invaluable in my current role overseeing portfolio companies. Having been a CEO enables me to think through operating problems I run into when Watermill Group acquires new companies. Also, it helps to hone my ability to think through the strategic implications of markets and products and how they are put together.

From your experience in private equity and other fields over the years, how have you seen the industry evolve?

When Watermill Group started, private equity was just gathering steam. There had been leveraged buyouts in the 80s and conglomerates before then, and there were also mergers and acquisitions, but you didn’t have investment groups buying companies on behalf of investors, so you didn’t have the organized PE world that exists now. It has become much more professionalized. In today’s environment, things are much more rigorous.

The financing world has grown up in two ways: one is asset-based lending, which is the way we got the top/liability part of the balance sheet done, and two is the growth in mezzanine/sub debt, which really didn’t exist twenty years ago. If you wanted long-term money, you went to insurance companies or you went to Wall Street, you didn’t go to pools of money that were there to finance longer term debt.

Do you have a favorite deal?

Some came very, very early in my career, such as during the first paper company that I ran. We had basically captured 100% of the elementary school textbook cover market, which had been cloth and then went to Tyvek before we converted it to saturated paper. That was thrilling because we were replacing another commodity, because what we had to offer, from a customer’s point of view, was of greater value: a better product at a reasonable price. All of these deals have had something to value. You learn more from your mistakes than from what went right, but they are each a part of the story.

When you look at new acquisitions or portfolio companies, what do you like to focus on?

I think when you can find something in a company that others haven’t seen, or an opportunity that may have been overlooked, that’s exciting. Take our Global Tubes business, comprised of Superior Tube and Fine Tubes, for example. They were precision tube manufacturers, one in Europe and one in the U.S., and the former owner had kept them apart, and they did sort of the same things, but not quite, and they were in some of the same industries, but not entirely. You look at this and say, “gee, if you could straighten out the operations in each case, and they each had some difficult issues, and built a global organization across the markets they share, and build out the ones where they each hadn’t been before, that’s an exciting opportunity.” You could really develop a global enterprise that hadn’t been there before and once you got into it, it was quite thrilling to put that together and see it come to life. All Watermill deals have something special like that.

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