Investment banking firm named to 'Advisor 100'

April 4, 2017 - Grand Rapids Business Journal

A local investment banking firm has been named one of the most-referred middle-market advisors in the nation by its peers. Grand Rapids-based Charter Capital Partners was included in Axial’s inaugural 2017 “Advisor 100” ranking. Axial, a network comprising investors, advisors and CEOs, chose the winning firms by surveying 1,000 private equity firms, strategic acquirers and family offices.

Charter was one of three firms in the state to earn the designation, joined by Birmingham-based Finnea Group and Detroit-based Quarton International.

“We are honored that our clients and colleagues felt we were worthy of recommending to be included in this impressive list of firms located throughout the country,” said John Kerschen, managing director, Charter Capital Partners. “Being named as one of the Axial ‘Advisor 100’ confirms that our expertise in meeting the M&A needs of our clients is not going unnoticed.” more

Charter Capital Partners named in Axial's Top 100 Advisors

March 30, 2017 - Yahoo Finance

Charter Capital Partners, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based investment banking and capital management firm, today announced that it has been included in Axial's 2017 Advisor 100 List for most referred middle-market advisory firms in the United States, according to a survey of 1,000 private equity firms, strategic acquirers, and family offices.

According to the Axial, "We set out to find the very best middle market M&A advisory firms and investment banks in the USA for 2017. We did not want to create this list from deal tables or subjective criteria of our own. The currency we were interested in was referrals. We went looking for recommendations from the very people who have worked both alongside and across the negotiating table from countless advisors."

Charter was the sole West Michigan representative and one of only three firms headquartered in Michigan to make the inaugural Axial Advisor 100 list. The firm serves the middle market from four offices in the Midwest, utilizing a client-focused, collaborative approach to meet client needs in a wide range of investment banking transactions.

"We are honored that our clients and colleagues felt we were worthy of recommending to be included in this impressive list of firms located throughout the country," said John Kerschen, managing director. "Being named as one of the Axial Advisor 100 confirms that our expertise in meeting the M&A needs of our clients is not going unnoticed." more

Crystal Flash acquires Southeast Michigan fuels distributor

March 8, 2017 - MiBiz

Fuel distributor Crystal Flash Inc. has expanded its geographic footprint into Southeast Michigan with a new acquisition, its tenth since 2011.

The deal for the Adrian-based Lenawee Farm Bureau Oil Cooperative includes more than 500 customers. Two employees will stay on with Grand Rapids-based Crystal Flash, according to a statement.

Lenawee County Farm Bureau Oil Cooperative serves agricultural, commercial, construction and home heating oil customers.

Grand Rapids-based Charter Capital Partners served as financial adviser to Crystal Flash on the deal. more

Crystal Flash acquires Richardson Oil of Southwest Michigan

January 4, 2017 - MiBiz

Crystal Flash has acquired Richardson Oil LLC in a move that will expand the company’s footprint in Southwest Michigan. Lawrence-based Richardson Oil distributes a variety of fuel including diesel, gasoline and kerosene. Crystal Flash, a fuel distribution company based in Grand Rapids, will add over 350 new customers and four employees as a result of the deal.

 Grand Rapids-based Charter Capital Partners advised Crystal Flash on the transaction. The firm has advised Crystal Flash in the acquisition of nine companies since 2011. Crystal Flash employs 250 people across 14 locations in Michigan. In May 2016, the company was purchased by its employees via a leveraged employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).

 “Our transition to an employee stock ownership plan earlier this year allows us to offer employees who join us through an acquisition a true path to ownership,” said President Tom Olive. Olive, who joined Crystal Flash in 2015 to take over for former company president Tom Fehsenfeld, believes that the company’s status as an ESOP will “be an attractive option for business owners looking to transition into retirement or a next chapter.” more

Ferguson acquires Indiana distributor

November 28, 2016 - Supply House Times

Ferguson Waterworks recently acquired Underground Pipe & Valve in an asset transaction completed in mid-November. Charter Capital Partners served as financial advisor to Underground Pipe & Valve.

Headquartered in South Bend, Ind., Underground Pipe & Valve has been in business for nearly 40 years and offers a full line of water and sewer products through its four locations in Indiana and Michigan. The acquisition complements the new Ferguson Waterworks locations from the recent acquisitions of Michigan Pipe & Valve – Lansing, Michigan Pipe & Valve – Flint and Michigan Meter Technology Group.

“Growing our brick-and-mortar locations is an integral part of our growth strategy, and our recent waterworks acquisitions in the upper Midwest will position us a true competitor in the local market,” Ferguson CEO Frank Roach said. “We are pleased to welcome Underground Pipe & Valve’s associates to Ferguson.”

Underground Pipe & Valve owner Don Nuner added: “While we have been successful as an independent distributor for some time, we are excited about the chance to become part of the Ferguson family. We feel Ferguson brings added value to our customers and good long-term opportunities for our employees.”

Ferguson Waterworks, a division of Ferguson Enterprises, has more than 200 locations and 2,000 dedicated Waterworks associates. more

California PE firm acquires majority stake in Motion Dynamics

September 13, 2016 - MiBiz

Medical device supplier Motion Dynamics Corp. has received a major capital investment from a Los Angeles-based private equity firm to support growth.

Vance Street Capital took a majority position in Motion Dynamics, a manufacturer of small metal components and sub-assemblies used in disposable medical devices. The private equity firm specializes in medical, aerospace and defense investments. The firm provides not only needed capital but expertise and networks within the medical device industry that Motion Dynamics can tap to enter new markets and secure additional customers.

“It was really done to help us expand in the medical device arena and help us expand in some markets that we’re currently not in that they have experience with,” said Chris Witham, the second-generation CEO of Motion Dynamics. “We want to go farther upstream, and that requires manufacturing capabilities that we currently don’t have in-house, and don’t have the network of customers.”

Witham — whose father, Dick, started Motion Dynamics in 1992 — retains a minority but “significant portion” of the company and continues as CEO. The company’s management team also remains intact and the business will “absolutely” remain in Fruitport, he said.

Charter Capital Partners in Grand Rapids and Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey PLC served as financial and legal advisers to Motion Dynamics. more

Motion Dynamics Corporation Announces Strategic Partnership

September 12, 2016 - PR Newswire

Motion Dynamics Corporation, a Fruitport, Mich.-based manufacturer of custom wire components for the medical, electronics, aerospace and military markets, today announced its strategic partnership with Vance Street Capital, a Los Angeles-based private investment firm.

Motion Dynamics manufactures some of the smallest and most difficult wire components in the world. The company focuses primarily on the design, engineering, production and assembly of high quality wire components and sub-assemblies for medical device applications.

"Our company has achieved significant growth and performance since its inception, and we have been seeking the right opportunity to significantly accelerate that growth and take our performance to an even higher level," said Chris Witham, president of Motion Dynamics. "Given this strategy, we believe that now is the ideal time to bring in a strategic investor to deliver on our business goals, and Vance Street Capital, with over two decades of experience and a proven track record, is the right partner to help us achieve that next level of growth."

Vance Street Capital is a private investment firm which primarily invests in middle-market businesses that are established leaders in providing highly engineered solutions for niche markets in the aerospace, defense, industrial and medical sectors.

Motion Dynamics was advised throughout the transaction process by Charter Capital Partners, exclusive financial advisor in the transaction. Principals of Charter Capital Partners acted on behalf of the company in their capacity as licensed investment banking agents of M&A Securities Group, Inc. Miller Johnson served as legal advisor.

"We worked closely with Chris to identify the best match to continue his vision of the company," said Jason T. Byrd, managing director at Charter Capital Partners. "With its unmatched expertise in providing strategic support and investment capital to companies in the medical and aerospace operations, Vance Street Capital presents a unique ability to assist current leadership in further enhancing the company's robust growth."

Chris Witham and the existing management team will continue to lead the company. more

Charter advises Kentucky furniture manufacturer in deal with PE firm

August 28, 2016 - MiBiz

An investment banking adviser believes the current environment in the contract furniture industry should lead to more deals getting done before the end of the year. Andrew Williams, a director at Charter Capital Partners and head of the firm’s national contract furniture industry practice, said the sector mirrors what’s going on in other industries. “Contract furniture is no different than the broader North American economy with a lot of baby boomers identifying a succession plan in their businesses,” Williams told MiBiz. “There are certainly more deals to come yet this year.”

Williams served as lead on the transaction advisory team for Louisville-based KFI Seating, which last week announced a deal with Weller Equity Partners, also of Louisville. In the deal, two of the company’s owners looked for an equity partner to buy out a third owner who was looking to retire, as well as give the firm resources to grow, he said. The three co-owners were “able to achieve their financial and personal goals” and allow the two partners to remain with the company after the deal. 

As the company went to market, it garnered “significant interest” from strategic investors and private equity firms alike, Williams added. The response to the KFI deal was emblematic of the capital chasing opportunities in the broader industrial sector, said Williams, who has long ties to contract furniture. “In contract furniture, M&A remains very healthy with too much capital chasing … deals out there,” he said, adding that since the KFI deal was announced, he’s already received calls from other prospects. 

Charter Capital, which also operates two Indiana-based offices in South Bend and Indianapolis, first connected with KFI Seating during the 2015 NeoCon contract furniture trade show in Chicago. The company, which manufactures seating and table products, had looked at another deal Charter was representing at the time and stayed in contact, according to Williams. “With our roots in Grand Rapids and our contacts across the country, we’re working on projects all over the U.S.,” he said.

Charter Capital formed the contract furniture practice in 2013, announcing it at that year’s NeoCon. Since then, the firm has worked on deals involving all three levels of the industry, including OEMs, suppliers and distributors. The company represented Interphase Interiors, Sauder Manufacturing, The Worden Co., and Bold Furniture on recent transactions. more

Weller Equity Partners Acquires KFI Seating

August 22, 2016 - PR Newswire

Weller Equity Partners (Weller), a Louisville, KY-based private equity firm, today announced that it has acquired KFI Seating (KFI), a Louisville, KY-based leading supplier of business and institutional furniture products. The acquisition closed on July 29, 2016.

"We have been looking for an experienced partner to help us replace a retiring co-owner and key executive, while keeping our sights fixed on the continued growth and development of our business," said Chris Smith, president of KFI. "We feel very comfortable with our new partnership with the Weller team, especially considering we are both based in Kentucky," added KFI Chief Operating Officer Scott Williamson.

According to Ken Berryman, managing partner of Weller, "The KFI transaction is a classic fit for Weller as we look to partner with existing management teams to provide liquidity for shareholders, capital for growth, and organizational development to help businesses achieve their full potential."

KFI was represented by Charter Capital Partners, with Andrew Williams, director, leading the transaction advisory team. "A key component of the transaction's success was making sure everyone's interests were aligned," commented Williams. "The transaction was designed so that each co-owner of KFI was able to achieve their financial and personal goals, while providing the company with a strategic partner to propel future growth. It was a win-win for all parties."

Additional advisors to Weller included Frost Brown Todd (legal) and BKD (financial). more

Louisville equity firm acquires local furniture company

August 22, 2016 - Louisville Business First

Weller Equity Partners, a Louisville-based private equity firm, has acquired the Louisville-based furniture supplier KFI Seating. The acquisition closed July 29. Weller Equity invests in lower middle-market companies ($5 million to $50 million in revenue) in the Mid-South region of the U.S. The firm provides funding structures and private equity expertise to a company's owners, particularly in the manufacturing, health care, information technology and food and beverage industries.

"We have been looking for an experienced partner to help us replace a retiring co-owner and key executive, while keeping our sights fixed on the continued growth and development of our business," Chris Smith, the president of KFI, said in a press release.  Scott Williamson, the chief operating officer at KFI, said that he is comfortable with the partnership with Weller, because both companies are based in Louisville.

"The KFI transaction is a classic fit for Weller as we look to partner with existing management teams to provide liquidity for shareholders, capital for growth and organizational development to help businesses achieve their full potential," Ken Berryman, the managing partner at Weller Equity, said in a press release.

The financial details of the deal were not disclosed. KFI was represented by Charter Capital Partners, with director Andrew Williams leading the advisory team. more

Lawsuit questions legality of Herman Miller's Acquisition of Design Within Reach

June 10, 2016 - MiBiz

Herman Miller Inc.’s highly praised $154 million acquisition in 2014 of high-end furniture retailer Design Within Reach Inc. may not legally have occurred. That’s according to a pair of former Design Within Reach (DWR) shareholders who filed a lawsuit in December 2014 against the company’s current and former owners. The lawsuit alleges the company violated Delaware law in how it executed a 1-for-50 reverse stock split, a move that predated its acquisition by Herman Miller.

While plaintiffs Andrew Franklin and Charles Almond name Herman Miller in the lawsuit, the pair appear to be using the office furniture manufacturer as leverage to put pressure on the former majority shareholders of DWR, according to a lawyer who spoke to MiBiz and asked not to be named in this report. The lawyer described the lawsuit as an “unusually messy situation.” For one, if the reverse stock split did not occur from a legal standpoint, it means Herman Miller purchased far fewer shares than was required to complete the 2014 acquisition of DWR under Delaware law, making the transaction null, according to multiple sources.

High-profile acquisitions can often bring about lawsuits from unhappy shareholders, but this deal appears to have some unique characteristics, said Christine Baker, managing director of business valuation services at Grand Rapids-based Charter Capital Partners. “I’ve heard of dissenting shareholder suits not infrequently,” Baker said. “But someone asserting that the deal never actually closed is a new one to us, especially for companies that have to report so much in a public way. That’s kind of stunning.” more

Firm raises $5M venture capital fund

June 3, 2016 - Grand Rapids Business Journal

A local investment banking firm has raised a $5-million venture capital fund to continue investing in Michigan companies. Grand Rapids-based Charter Capital Partners, an investment banking and capital management firm, said today that it has closed its MAF Opportunity Fund, which the firm designed to invest in companies already backed its predecessor fund, the Michigan Accelerator Fund I.

The new $5-million fund was oversubscribed with commitments from institutional, family office and individual investors. “The fact that the fund was oversubscribed in seven weeks indicates that investors support our vision and the investment thesis of early stage investing in Michigan-based companies,” Charter Capital Partners Managing Director Dale Grogan said. “We have seen tremendous investment opportunities over the past five years and fully expect that this trend will continue as realizations occur.”

The fund is managed by Charter managing directors Grogan and John Kerschen, along with Brian Hamilton, senior venture capital associate. “As our portfolio companies mature, they have continued capital needs,” Kerschen said. “Like many smaller, early stage venture funds, we were nearly fully deployed and had limited ability to continue investing in the portfolio, hence the development of the MAF Opportunity Fund.” more

New $5 million fund to continue investment in Michigan Accelerator Fund companies

June 3, 2016 - MiBiz 

A new venture capital fund in Grand Rapids that will do tack-on deals for existing portfolio companies of Michigan Accelerator Fund I closed this week after raising $5 million from investors. MAF Opportunity Fund was oversubscribed and secured commitments from backers that include institutional and individual investors as well as family offices. The fund will make follow-on investments to support companies that are already backed by Michigan Accelerator Fund I and need later-stage funding, as MiBiz exclusively reported last month.

“Over the past five years, we believe that we have built a strong portfolio within the Michigan Accelerator Fund, with several companies demonstrating excellent progress towards value accretion and a near-term exit,” Co-managing Director John Kerschen said in a statement. “As our portfolio companies mature, they have continued capital needs. Like many smaller, early-stage venture funds, we were nearly fully deployed and had limited ability to continue investing in the portfolio. Hence the development of the MAF Opportunity Fund.” more

Michigan Accelerator Fund closes opportunity fund, oversubscribed

June 3, 2016 - Michigan Venture Capital Association

Charter Capital Partners, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based investment banking and capital management firm, today announced the closing of the MAF Opportunity Fund. The $5 million fund was over-subscribed with investment commitments coming from institutional, family office, and individual investors. The Fund was organized to invest in elite companies from its predecessor fund, Michigan Accelerator Fund I.

John Kerschen and Dale Grogan, both managing directors of Charter Capital Partners, also serve as managing directors of the Michigan Accelerator Fund I and the MAF Opportunity Fund. The management team is rounded out by Brian Hamilton, Senior Venture Capital Associatemore

Michigan Accelerator Fund seeks $5 million raise for tack-on fund

May 15, 2016 - MiBiz

The managers of Michigan Accelerator Fund I are seeking to raise up to $5 million from investors to provide further financial backing to portfolio companies. Four of the Grand Rapids-based venture capital fund’s eight existing portfolio companies may need additional capital in the near future, said co-Managing Director Dale Grogan. Capital raised for the new MAF Opportunity Fund LP could go to make follow-on investments in those companies, plus one new investment, Grogan said.

Grogan said he remains confident that Michigan Opportunity Fund will raise the $5 million by this summer. Part of the pitch to prospective investors is that the new fund will offer later-stage venture investments to companies with less risk than when they first began. Each of the companies has long been vetted and their innovation and technology have been validated in prior investment rounds, Grogan said.

“We have the benefit of living with these companies,” he said. “These are companies we have known intimately. They are very hands-on investments for us.” Grogan and his partner, John Kerschen, formed Michigan Accelerator Fund I in 2010. They hope to eventually create a much larger successor venture fund in the future. more

Fehsenfeld family relinquishes control of Crystal Flash

May 13, 2016 - Grand Rapids Business Journal

For three generations, Crystal Flash has been controlled by the Fehsenfeld family. Now, however, one of the largest fuel distribution companies in the state has new owners — lots of them. Crystal Flash on April 28 established an employee stock ownership plan, commonly known as an ESOP, to ensure the company’s long-term future.

The propane retailer services approximately 24,000 Lower Peninsula customers through 14 locations in the state. The company is now 100 percent employee-owned, said Tom Olive, president. “Our 250 team members are very excited by this opportunity. They’re very grateful for the gift of the family, and the trust they’ve placed in us. They’re excited to continue growing the business,” he said. “As always, our goal is to provide customers with reliable and high-quality service. We believe an ESOP puts us in the best position to continue that commitment to our valued customers.”

Warner Norcross and Judd LLP provided Crystal Flash with legal counsel for establishing the ESOP, Olive said, adding Charter Capital Partners served as financial advisors and Mercantile Bank of Michigan provided the financing. All of them served as “exceptional partners” during the transaction, he said. more

Crystal Flash sold to employees through ESOP transaction

May 6, 2016 - MiBiz

Following a two-year preparation process, Crystal Flash has successfully transitioned to a 100-percent employee-owned company. The Grand Rapids-based fuel distribution company’s roughly 250 employees purchased Crystal Flash in late April from longtime owner and Chairman Tom Fehsenfeld via a leveraged employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).

As a leveraged ESOP, Crystal Flash’s employees borrowed an undisclosed sum from Mercantile Bank to purchase the company instead of the owner contributing stocks to the employees, as is the case in a non-leveraged ESOP. Grand Rapids-based Charter Capital Partners and Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP advised Crystal Flash on the process.

Going forward, Crystal Flash plans to continue its strategy of making strategic acquisitions, a strategy the company put on hold during this transition. more

Startup uses gaming tech for virtual health care

March 20, 2016

Backed by a recent $2 million capital raise, a startup Grand Rapids-based digital health company plans to expand its sales force and further develop its software that allows patients to receive virtual care at home. The latest investment came as RespondWell LLC seeks to close another $8 million fundraising round to support the company’s development. “It will take us to scale,” RespondWell co-founder, Chairman and CEO Ted Spooner said of the capital raise that included investments from Start Garden and Michigan Accelerator Fund I in Grand Rapids.

Michigan Accelerator Fund I first learned of RespondWell more than a year ago at a pitch event hosted by the Cleveland Clinic, said co-Managing Director Dale Grogan. As the venture capital fund heard more about RespondWell, it decided to make an investment because the company was led by a seasoned management team and offered a promising technology that’s starting to change how health care is delivered, he said. more

Southwest Michigan’s Advia Credit Union plans to acquire Wisconsin bank

March 6, 2016

Advia Credit Union’s proposed acquisition of Mid America Bank, a small community bank in southern Wisconsin, is the kind of deal that occurs infrequently in the financial services industry. The last instance in Michigan of a credit union acquiring a bank was the 2011 deal in which United Federal Credit Union of St. Joseph acquired Griffith Savings Bank in northwestern Indiana, which had assets of $81 million.

“It’s a relatively unusual, but certainly not an unheard of circumstance,” said Ken Ross, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Michigan Credit Union League. The credit union trade publication CU Today reported that eight mergers have occurred since 2011 between U.S. banks and credit unions, including the United Federal Credit Union deal for Griffith Savings Bank.

Bank acquisitions by credit unions occur usually when a bank is in distress, or is too small to attract the interests of another bank and “has limited opportunities” to pursue, said Jason Byrd, managing director of the financial institutions practice at Charter Capital Partners in Grand Rapids. “I don’t see this as an exit path for most banks,” Byrd said. “You could see them happening, but there will be special circumstances.” more

MichBio report outlines path to continued life sciences industry investment, growth

February 21, 2016 - MiBiz

A new roadmap aims to reboot efforts to build Michigan’s life sciences industry and compete with similar clusters around the U.S. and the world.While the industry has come far in the last decade-plus and offers “strong assets,” it remains uncompetitive compared to other states and requires a renewed private- and public-sector effort to grow and meet its potential, according to a report by MichBio, an Ann Arbor-based trade group.

One investor in Michigan’s life sciences industry views MichBio’s Roadmap for Success as aligning key players in the industry — the academic, scientific and business interests. What’s needed is more public-sector awareness in Lansing, said Dale Grogan, managing director of Michigan Accelerator Fund I and Charter Capital Partners in Grand Rapids.

“The other side of the equation is the legislators,” Grogan said.  “I think we still have a ways to go in building understanding and, more importantly, convey the need for sustained investment. Sustained is the word I think we have to underline there because it takes a long, long time to build an industry, particularly one that has lots of regulatory necessities and lots of capital requirements moving into it.” more