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Mackinac Partners Keith Maib Interview in the TMA Journal of Corporate Renewal

December 7, 2014

Senior Managing Director Keith A. Maib

Mackinac Partners’ Senior Managing Director Keith A. Maib was featured in the December edition of the Turnaround Management Association’s Journal of Corporate Renewal. The article provides great insight into the career of a successful restructuring executive and change agent, as well as providing focus on the human aspects of career-life balance, team development, and family.

 

Striking the Right Balance – Keith A. Maib, Senior Managing Director, Mackinac Partners

TMA Journal of Corporate Renewal – Nov-Dev 2014

Keith A Maib is a senior managing director with Mackinac Partners and co-leads the firm’s Financial Restructuring, Transaction Advisory, and Private Equity practice areas. Last year, he served as chief restructuring officer for AgFeed Industries. The sale of the company’s U.S. and China operations marked the first-ever sale of Chinese operations of a U.S. debtor to a Chinese buyer. Maib and seven other turnaround professionals received TMA’s 2014 Large Company Transaction of the Year award for their work on the engagement. Maib has more than 25 years of diversified business experience, including serving as a partner in two international accounting firms. He has served as CEO, CFO, COO, and CRO on a number of engagements in industries that include insurance, telecommunications, hospitality, retail, real estate, technology, and manufacturing. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting from the University of Kansas. Maib sits on the Archdiocesan Council of the Orthodox Church of America and was invested into the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle in October. 

 

Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround and restructuring work?

MAIB: I started my career out of college with Price Waterhouse in Kansas City and was fairly active in relationship building and community service activities. I became friends with a number of lawyers in town, who began asking, “Can you guys do this and that?”

That led to an opportunity to become involved in American Continental/ Lincoln Savings & Loan, which at the time was the largest filed Chapter 11 in history. From there, with the Price Waterhouse restructuring practice, I just developed and grew as there were more and more opportunities to get involved.

When I started in the business, which was in the 1987-’88 time frame, the accounting firms weren’t really in the business in a big way. E&Y had a fairly nice practice, but they were really the only ones. Price Waterhouse had a large litigation consulting practice that was largely focused on the West Coast. They hired a gentleman by the name of Don Thomas, who was a successful, very well-known bank workout officer. Don came in, I believe, as the first direct admission partner that Price Waterhouse had ever had and with the charge to build a troubled company Chapter 11 consulting practice. It was a very successful practice that ultimately was sold and is now known as FTI.

I was fortunate to be in on the ground floor, and my entrée to that practice was the introduction to American Continental/Lincoln Savings & Loan. As soon as Don heard I was being asked to get involved, he got involved very quickly and the practice kind of took off from there.

Q: They probably didn’t even call them turnarounds at that time.

MAIB: No, and it was primarily creditor focused in the early days. Then, Bettina Whyte (now a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal in New York) came into the practice, and Bettina and I became close colleagues. Along with some other folks, we started doing primarily company-side focused activities, moving part of the practice away from just being creditor and bank group focused to working on behalf of companies. I had a couple of those opportunities at Price Waterhouse, including a company called Borland, which at the time was the third-largest desktop software company in the world. I had just made partner at Price Waterhouse and was asked to come out as an advisor to Borland’s board. It was experiencing liquidity and other operational issues. Shortly after that, Borland’s board offered me the opportunity to become chief operating officer. I really liked running companies. I really liked the challenge of actually making the decisions, being responsible for the decisions, and implementing the decisions. I resigned from Price Waterhouse to take that opportunity and had good success at Borland. Then I started a career of running distressed companies.

Q: Who inspired you along the way, both professionally and personally?

MAIB: Two mentors early on in the business, not surprisingly, were Don Thomas and Bettina Whyte. They were very good practitioners at a time when there weren’t a whole lot of folks who really did what we did, and they gave me a lot of opportunities to try things, to experience things, and to learn it on my own, but they were always there to mentor and help with particularly difficult situations.

I really liked running companies. I really liked the challenge of actually making the decisions, being responsible for the decisions, and implementing the decisions.

I’d have to put Steve Knowlton in that book as well. Steve ran the restructuring practice for Price Waterhouse. He wasn’t really a practitioner, but he was a very good practice leader and a tremendous mentor.

Then, there is Henry Miller. Henry and I have been working together for almost 25 years now. Henry’s been a great friend, a great mentor, and a professional colleague. Of all the people I’ve worked with, he’s the one I probably have the most respect for.

Q: What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned along the way?

MAIB: I think it’s the thing that all turnaround folks learn—liquidity is the key to everything. Without liquidity, you don’t have much of an opportunity to meet the challenges that you have. Number two, most companies don’t wake up one morning and find themselves in a world of distress. They migrate there. In that process of migration, you marginalize your supply chain, you marginalize your people, you marginalize your capital, you marginalize your products, and you marginalize your capital investment. It’s not just the financial distress that’s at the root of the problem, it’s all the other sorts of things that go with that. True turnarounds have to address all of those issues.

They have to address questions such as: What’s the current state of the competitiveness of the product? What’s our true ability to execute and deliver products and services that are competitive and meet the demands of the marketplace? What’s our true level of talent? Do we have the people that we need in the critical and key positions? You really have to address all of those issues ultimately as part of the turnaround plan.

That’s why in most instances I believe a big part of our job is to uncover where the value of the business is and develop a plan that is believable and can be due diligenced by a potential capital provider. Almost always, these transactions result in changes in control of the business, but with expectations around the management of products and capabilities going forward and with blueprints so that people can then take that, implement it, and actually recover businesses to a healthy state. It takes a very long time to do that.

Q: Are companies that end up in Chapter 22 or Chapter 33 those that only address one or two of those issues?

MAIB: Yes. They really only address the capital structure side of it. You always have the friction and dysfunctionality within the capital structure. Debt holders usually don’t want equity; they want interest bearing securities. That results in a natural bias that often results in the restructured company being over-leveraged. When you add up all the things I just went through—about management, products, capital investment, and all that—when you add that a company is still overleveraged, that’s where you get subsequent failures of a lot of these businesses.
Q: You’ve had a nice, long career. If you could start over would you do anything differently?

MAIB: No, I don’t think so. Some of my decisions have been better than others, for sure, but when I look back at the full 30-year run, it’s all been a challenge, it’s all been fun. I’ve worked with some great people, and I’m pleased to call many of them not only business colleagues but also close personal friends as well. I don’t think I would do too much of it differently.

Q: What have been some of your most gratifying, favorite, or important engagements along the way?

MAIB: PlayPower is probably my most satisfying company because I served in a lot of different roles. I served as chief restructuring officer. I served as chief financial officer. I subsequently served as the chief executive officer and now I sit on the board.

PlayPower was a good blueprint for how successful turnarounds really happen. You deal with the liquidity and cost issues first. You develop a restructuring partner who clearly understands the business. In this case, it was Apollo that was willing to inject new capital into the business and leave it with a level of leverage that was reasonable. We focused on getting the strategy right on the front end and then recruiting and hiring a management team that has just been outstanding. We’re in a position now where we have an opportunity to harvest the value of all of the good work we’ve done. It’s been five years in the making, so it’s been a long time, and that’s often what it takes to do these kinds of deals.

They’re the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial playgrounds. It’s kind of a cool business. I’ve done lots of different things, from raising pigs to software development to insurance and financial services. Getting up in the morning and working with people who design and build playgrounds for kids is a really cool business.

Borland was the first company I ran, so Borland will always be near and dear to me. It was a global provider of software. The time frame was 1993, 1994, and the whole technology revolution was in full swing. I’ve never been in a business where every day you went to work and you really bet the ranch with the decisions you made almost every day—platforms you were on, investments you were going to make, bets you were going to take on.

Borland sold dBase and Quatrro Pro and C+++ programing languages. Paradox. It was a very, very successful company with a number of really, really good products. I remember sitting in a conference room with the senior software engineers of the company in 1993 debating whether we should have a website and whether or not we ever thought e-commerce was something that we needed to think about as part of our own strategy going forward. This was 1993—it’s not really that long ago. It was a great time to be in that business.

Q: Looking back, that’s a no brainer. But at the time, nobody knew.

MAIB: Yes. Whether or not we should bet on Microsoft was another issue then. At the time, you had the raging debate as to who was going to control the underlying infrastructure of software, whether it was going to be the desktop, which was Microsoft, or whether it was going to be the network, which was Novell. And you still had IBM out there as a potential player.

The question was whether or not you bet on Microsoft or you bet on Novell or you bet on somebody else. Which version of Microsoft? Did you migrate to Windows 3.1 quickly or did you not migrate to Windows 3.1 quickly? All of those decisions created winners and losers. You either won big or you lost.

Borland’s problems really stemmed from the fact that it made a bet against Windows 3.1 and was late to the party with dBase. At the time, dBase had the largest installed base of any database application in the world. The company made the decision to delay, was late to the party on the Windows 3.1 platform, and overnight lost tremendous market share. At the time, market share was what the entire game was about.

Now we all know that subsequently Microsoft has won that battle. Access has been a phenomenally successful product. A lot of the engineers that used to make great products for Borland are now making great products for Microsoft.

Q: What role has TMA played in your career?

MAIB: When a group of folks originally envisioned the formation of TMA and the certification program for the CTP, Bettina asked me to get involved. I did, but not at a real deep level. Shortly thereafter, I migrated away to just running companies without an attachment to a firm.

The reality of it is, I haven’t been a real active participant in TMA. The primary benefit is the networking opportunity. I think it provides a wonderful forum for people who are relatively new or at earlier stages of their careers to develop networking and mentoring opportunities. The education and certification is a wonderful deal. We’re a small firm, so we don’t have the ability to develop our own internal continuing education programs and training programs. For firms like ours, TMA works wonderfully in terms of providing training and continuing education.

Q: What kind of advice do you give those younger people in your firm or to people who are just thinking about getting into the industry?

MAIB: It’s a tough business for young people. Even today, having done this for almost 25 years now, I travel 250 to 275 days a year. For young people with families, that’s tough to buy into. My counsel to folks like that is that there are great opportunities. There are great learning opportunities. There isn’t a profession that I can think of where you get broader exposure and get tested through the fire of daily critical decisions and leadership.

Make sure that, coming into the business, you understand the personal demands that the business takes on you as well and that you and your family are prepared. I’ve been blessed with an incredibly supportive family throughout this process. My wife and I, through the 1990s and the 2010 decade, moved every couple years. You have to have a phenomenally supportive family and spouse to be able to do those sorts of things, and I’ve been really blessed with that.

Q: How was your investiture this past weekend?

MAIB: It was great. The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle is a very, very high honor within the Orthodox Church. It was a very fulfilling weekend. It was even more than I was expecting. It’s a very humbling experience.

Q: Is this something you work for or are selected for?

MAIB: First of all, the mission of the Order of St. Andrew is the defense and the continuity of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is in Istanbul. We still refer to it as Constantinople. Our primary role is the continuity of the seat of the Patriarchate in Istanbul or Constantinople. More broadly, it’s the defense of religious freedom—any denomination, be it Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian, whatever. The defense of people to practice their religions without fear of or actual persecution is really what the Order of St. Andrew is all about.

To become an Archon, you must have a demonstrated record of service to the church. In scripture, it’s “time, talents, and treasures,” and it’s really all of the above. It’s a significant contribution of your time, use of your talents, and financial stewardship to the church. But it’s not really a reward for what you’ve done; it’s a recognition of what you can do. The Order of St. Andrew is a working group. It takes on a very important responsibility and takes that responsibility very, very seriously. I also sit on the Archdiocesan Council, which is the lay administrative governing body for the Orthodox Church for North America.

Q: How long have you been doing that?

MAIB: I’ve been on the Archdiocesan Council for eight years.

Q: That shows a long period of dedication to your church.

MAIB: It’s how you find a way to use your time and your talents to give back and hopefully make this a better, more fulfilling world for other people. Everybody chooses their avenues differently. This is one I chose because the opportunity presented itself

My wife is first-generation Greek. I’m not Greek, so I often find myself as the lone non-Greek in a lot of these settings. The culture of the Greek people is a wonderful, enriching culture of family and faith and dedication. I’ve embraced it in a very big way.

If you go on YouTube and pull up “philotimo,” you’ll see what I think is the best articulation of how the Greeks think and act. What it’s about is that family peer pressure is the best way to secure healthy families. I never really knew there was a word for it until I saw this video.

My kids knew this, very much so. It’s why we moved back to Kansas City. If you screw up, it’s not your parents that you need to fear the most. You need to fear your grandparents. You need to fear your cousins. You need to fear your priest. You need to fear the fact that you are a representative of your family every waking minute of the day, and if you let them down, you’re letting down the entire family. That’s just the way we view that. It’s a beautiful way to think about things, and particularly for us with our children, it was very helpful.

Q: I think that’s the way things used to be viewed more broadly, but at least the United States in a lot of ways has moved away from that.

MAIB: Very much so. If there’s any one thing we can do to assure our success as a country and a people going forward, it is focusing on and investing in family because at the end of the day, it’s what really matters. Family and faith—focus on those two things and other stuff tends to melt away.

Q: What other types of things are you passionate about outside the office?

MAIB: I used to be passionate about golf, but I don’t get to play as much as I used to, so now it becomes more of a frustration than a passion. Two of my children live in New York and one lives in Scottsdale, and there never seems to be enough time to spend with them. So from a passion perspective, it’s finding opportunities and time to bring family back together.

Q: You get to have a little bit of fun this fall with your Kansas City Royals playing in the World Series.

MAIB: It’s interesting because in 1985, the last time the Royals were in the playoffs, my oldest son was born, on October 9. I remember the doctor and I had the radio on in the delivery room, listening to the Royals play the Toronto Blue Jays in game four. My children have never seen a successful Royals baseball team, so it’s been a very long time. The city is going crazy. It’s amazing what a successful sports franchise will do to the overall psyche and morale of a city. Kansas City is really riding high right now. It’s fun to be here. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my other big passion, as a University of Kansas graduate, is Jayhawks basketball. As with all members of Jayhawk Nation, when October 15 rolls around, basketball fever starts to kick in.

Q: What might people who only know you professionally be most surprised to learn about you?

MAIB: Maybe I can switch the question around and say, what would I like for people to know? I feel like I’ve been able to strike a pretty good balance in my life between what is a very rigorous and demanding professional life, but at the same time make the right sort of decisions around family and faith and things of that nature.

Like a lot of folks, sometimes you stray and sometimes you get out of balance, but I’ve always been able to, with the support of my wife and my family, get back to that balance. To me, if anybody is looking at judging Keith, I’d like for them to say, “That’s a guy who’s figured out how to strike that good balance in his life.”

Q: Do you have any items on a bucket list?

MAIB: I’ve been able to do and see and experience so much. I want to see my kids continue to grow and continue to achieve success in their personal and professional lives, and I want to be a part of that. I’ve traveled everywhere I’d really like to. I’ve done the things I’d really like to do. There really isn’t a whole out there that makes me say, “I really want to go do that before I leave this earth.”

Q: I think that’s a sign of a life well-lived.

MAIB: It is exactly that. I’ve traveled all over the world. Most of my engagements have had international flavors to them—fascinating, interesting places—and I’ve experienced all of the things that they had to offer. I can’t overemphasize that to me, from a professional perspective, the most rewarding thing that we do is that we get to work with really talented and smart people who are dedicated to what they do. If you’re in the distressed world, there’s no place to hide. Either you know what you’re doing or you don’t, and people figure it out pretty quickly.

http://www.tmajcr.org/journalofcorporaterenewal/nov_dec_2014#pg28