Speaker Event

A Discussion with Bill Mulligan of Primus Capital: From Venture Capital to Private Equity Investing

March 15, 2019 2:30 AM

  - 

3:50 am

A Discussion with Bill Mulligan of Primus Capital: From Venture Capital to Private Equity Investing

Event Recap:

The Center For Free Enterprise hosted its latest sold out program on Friday, March 15, 2019 at The Racquet Club in Pepper Pike.

With 145 registrants, this was our most popular program yet. The momentum continues to build, as over 40 of the attendees indicated that they were attending their first CFE program!

Ben Calkins, of The Calkins Law Firm, Ltd., was the master of ceremonies and, after thanking the program’s sponsors, notably JP Morgan Wealth Management and Mixed Media & Design, Inc., and all attendees were given the opportunity to briefly introduce themselves, Ben Calkins turned the microphone over to the program’s host, David Brown of Red Hawk Associates.

Our featured guest and speaker was Bill Mulligan, Managing Partner of Primus Capital. Bill is a graduate of Denison University and received his MBA from the University of Chicago.

Bill recalled how in the early 1980’s he worked first for First Chicago and thereafter for McKinsey and Company in its Cleveland office. At that time, Cleveland Tomorrow, a group of Cleveland area based public companies and with a board comprised of their CEO’s, had recommended that the Cleveland Tomorrow member companies form a Cleveland based venture capital fund and that became Primus Venture Partners.

Primus raised $10 M from the Cleveland Tomorrow member companies and another $20 M from Ohio’s public employee pension funds. These pension funds had not invested in this type of vehicle before.

Loyal Wilson was brought in from First Chicago to run Primus, and one day he ran into Bill Mulligan on Concourse C at Cleveland Airport and they talked about the new fund that Loyal Wilson had been brought in to run. When Loyal Wilson’s initial hire backed out, after his wife refused to move from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Loyal Wilson hired Bill Mulligan to work with him at Primus.

Fund 1 had $30 M in it, and invested about $1 M in each of 30 companies, some startups and some more venture capital type investments. During the first 18 months, Primus had to make investments in Ohio but since then has not been geographically limited.

Well, so much for history. Recently Primus raised its Fund 8, with $540 M.

  • When Primus was started, $30 M was considered a mid sized fund. Today, $540 M is considered a relatively small fund.
  • When Primus started, it invested about $1 M per company. Today, Primus will invest about $30 M, the size of all of Fund 1, per company.
  • When Primus started, it had a geographical focus, on Ohio for the first 18 months, but no longer.
  • When Primus started, they made early stage investments. But no longer, as today they make growth stage investments in more established companies poised for growth.

Primus is typically a controlling investor, in 2/3 of its investments, and a minority investor in the other third. Typically Primus will have two of its representatives on the board of a business in which it invests. Primus does have industry focuses, including health care (Steris was an early investment), and has offices in Cleveland and Atlanta.

The story of Primus is to some extent a story of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio and to some extent a story about venture capital and private equity investing and how it has changed over the past several decades. And change it has…

At Primus’ inception, venture and private investing were relatively new, investors were wary, investments modest in size, etc. Today, by contrast, venture capital and private equity investing is important. Pensions and other asset managers routinely allocate a portion of their capital to such investments, and investment funds are awash in vast amounts of uncommitted capital.

Windom Ratchford, Owner and Creative Director of Creative Gold Media, was kind enough to video tape this fascinating discussion, which you can see above. Don’t miss this exciting story!

Original Event Post:

A Discussion with Bill Mulligan of Primus Capital: From Venture Capital to Private Equity Investing

William “Bill” C. Mulligan joined Primus in 1985. He is one of the founders of Cleveland’s VC and Private Equity investment industry. Bill now focuses on the firm’s business services and healthcare investment activities. His historical investments include American Steel & Wire, Inc. (acquired by Birmingham Steel, Inc.), Bioanalytical Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:BASI), Golf Galaxy, Inc. (acquired by Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc., NYSE:DKS), InSiteOne, Inc. (acquired by Dell, Inc.), Installed Building Products, LLC, PartsSource, Inc. (acquired by Great Hill Partners), Petzazz, Inc. (acquired by PETsMART, Inc., NASDAQ:PETM), SPARTA Insurance Holdings, Inc., and Universal Electronics, Inc. (NASDAQ:UEIC).

Prior to joining Primus, Bill served in various management and operating roles at McKinsey & Company, Deere and Company and First Chicago Corporation. He earned a BA in Economics from Denison University and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Bill serves on the Board of Trustees of The Cleveland Clinic, Denison University and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.

Panelists will include:

Mike Trabert of Marcum (formerly Skoda Minotti)

Michael Trabert

Michael Trabert is a partner and a leader in the Value Acceleration/Exit Planning Services group and is also a leader in the Firm’s Transaction Advisory Services group. Mr. Trabert understands the diverse goals and objectives of privately held businesses owners and helps them build, develop, and eventually exit their businesses, and was recognized with the Exit Planner of the Year award from the Exit Planning Institute (2017). Mr. Trabert has worked extensively with clients ranging from startups to multinational organizations with over $1.5 billion in annual sales.

A few of Mike’s accolades include:

-2017 Exit Planner of the Year by the Exit Planning Institute
-National Register’s Who’s Who in Executives and Professionals
-Nominated for Leader of the Year by the Exit Planning Institute

As a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA), he understands the intrinsic value of the elements of a business and assists clients in maximizing their value. Mike regularly hosts Owners’ Roundtable workshops – a full-day, interactive workshop designed for business owners who want to maximize the value of their businesses and exit on their terms.

Mike received his Bachelor of Business Administration from our very own Kent State University.


Wayne Foley of Kyntronics (formerly President & CEO of Midwest Precision Holdings Inc)

Wayne Foley

Wayne Foley currently serves as President & CEO of Kyntronics Inc., a manufacturer of precision servo-controlled actuators used in automated production equipment. 

He has held leadership roles for over 25 years in middle market companies that provide engineered products to the industrial and aerospace markets. Wayne has extensive experience in General Management including building value through organic growth, acquisitions, integration, due diligence and exits.

Prior to Kyntronics, Wayne was CEO of Midwest Precision Holdings, a northeast Ohio-based precision machined components manufacturing company serving Aerospace, Defense, Energy, and Fluid Power markets.  Wayne has also served as Global President/CEO at both privately held and public corporations including nine years as President of Cleveland Motion Controls / ITT Corporation, and four years as President of Stanley Air Tools, a Division of Stanley/Black and Decker.

Wayne has been the “operational point-person” having done several acquisitions and divestitures with both public and privately-owned businesses and both strategic and Private Equity parties.


Brian Jeckering, former President and CEO at Polychem Corp.

Brian Jeckering

From 1998 Brian has been one of the  driving forces behind Polychem’s success.  From Management Training to Plant Management to VP of Operations, EVP, President and now CEO, Brian is uniquely positioned to contribute to this panel.

Some of Brian’s experience at Polychem that will contribute to the perspective he offers our the CFE audience include:

  • Defined and executed the strategy to reengineer Polychem’s value proposition from consumables-only to a full-service securement systems provider. 
  • Initiated and negotiated 9 separate, strategic transactions from preliminary agreement to close involving foreign investments, start-ups, various acquistions structures, and an acquisition from bankruptcy. 
  • Lead team through a strategic process which resulted in sale of Polychem Corporation in March, 2019 to The Sterling Group, a private equity firm in Houston, TX. 
  • Served on the board and acted as a strategic advisor to two companies in which Polychem invested in Italy. 
  • Start-Up Management: Oversaw the growth and development of strategy and practices which resulted in growing a series of start-up businesses by more than 500% since its inception.

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