Ken Sanginario has 30 years of experience providing executive leadership and strategic advisory services to private middle-market companies, developing and executing business improvement initiatives, turning around distressed operations, managing M&A transactions, valuing companies, and securing equity and debt growth capital.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in a small mill town in central Massachusetts, in a neighborhood of about 60+ kids, 29 of whom were my siblings and first cousins. It was like Mayberry RFD. I remember long summer days when we would run outside to play in the early morning and come back home for supper. In between, somebody’s mother would feed us lunch and I’m sure the mothers all knew where we were most of the time. It was a different world back then … much safer, much less complicated, and requiring much more imagination. There were no computers, no video games, no internet or online apps, no social media. We didn’t have sophisticated games to entertain us. We had to be creative. We played pickup wiffle ball in our backyards, kickball in the street, baseball, basketball, and football in the fields of our neighborhood. We went snow sliding in a big sandpit in our neighborhood and built campfires in the woods by the brook where we had weenie roasts. There was no danger anywhere and we trusted everyone we encountered. It was a magical childhood and I think that shaped my adult life by instilling an inherent sense of trust in people and by developing a deeply creative mind that has made me very versatile in my professional life.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Two things come to mind here. The first is that time speeds up faster and faster as we get older, and things we want to do “some-day” often become unrealistic because time goes by too fast, and we wait too long. Secondly, life is full of one-way paths. When we’re young, we tend to think that we can reverse course at will. When we get older, we realize that many of the paths we’ve followed are closed off to going back to the other side. If only we could go back to our 20’s and 30’s knowing what we learned in our 40’s and 50’s, but I guess that’s what life is all about a continuous learning process.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
What troubles me about the whole advisory industry is that business owners are constantly barraged by niche expert advisors, all attempting to sell the owner on the immediate need for their services. Owners don’t know who to believe or trust so they’re reluctant to engage anybody, and even more reluctant to implement any recommendations they receive. As an industry, we need to be more holistic and collaborative in our assessments of businesses’ needs, even if it means recommending a solution other than ourselves. If we would all adopt that approach, the advisory industry would be much more trusted by business owners and much more impactful on the businesses and clients we serve.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
When I was 31 years young, I was recruited into a public company as the number 2 financial executive, reporting to the CFO. It was a holding company with a portfolio of disparate operating companies. Shortly after joining, however, I realized that the company was in deep financial distress, which had not been disclosed to me.
The CFO resigned shortly thereafter, and I was thrust into the position of dealing with the pressures of a public company workout. Further complicating the situation was a suspicion by the outgoing CFO that some suppliers had defrauded the company, potentially with the help of some inside executives. My inclination was to turn and run for the hills, as I had only been there a couple of months, and this was not what was represented to me.
However, I decided to stay for the unique experience to see what I could learn. Part of the challenge was confronting the possibility that fraud had occurred and I had to pursue some avenues that not only made me unpopular but also could have put me in danger. It was a dark and intimidating period for me at the young age of 31.
What got me through it was swallowing my fear and taking on the challenge with a commitment to fairness, objectivity, and thoroughness. We got great legal guidance and were able to determine without question that no internal fraud had occurred, but there had been some supplier fraud. We then hired a workout advisor who worked with me for the next 2-1/2 years to restructure the whole company, liquidate several big assets, settle all debt, and return the company to stabilization.
Through that process, I learned the art of corporate restructuring and how to look at a company from perspectives that I would likely never have gained if I hadn’t stuck it out and persevered through the challenges. It was the hardest part of my whole career and also had the biggest impact on the direction of the rest of my career, as I spent the next 15 years turning around distressed companies before codifying all that knowledge into our VOP software and CVGA program.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Without a doubt, it’s my pursuit of continuous learning, whether through formal education, field experience, or collaborating with others. Constantly updating and expanding my knowledge bases has helped me develop a breadth of knowledge and versatility that have been the biggest contributors to my success.
What is your morning routine?
I’ve never been an extremist in any way, and my morning routine is not extreme. I know a variety of people who wake up at 4 am to work out, etc., but I need my 7 solid hours of sleep and don’t usually get to bed before 10:30 pm. So, I typically wake up at 6 am, immediately make coffee, and head to my home office desk by about 6:30. I like to attack the most challenging aspects of my day as early in the morning as possible, whether they are technical issues, client deliverables, creative writing, strategic planning, or any other challenge that requires high-level thinking. I can usually get that type of work done by mid-morning and use the rest of the day for other initiatives that require less brainpower. Then, mid-morning, I pause for breakfast, morning shower, getting dressed, and prepping for the rest of the day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I think my behavior of always staying grounded, in both my personal and professional lives and in the face of challenges or success, has allowed me to maintain a calm steadiness in my life that has served me well. We all know that life is never easy or simple and it can be overwhelming at times, but consciously remaining calm under stress allows us to think clearly about any challenges we’re facing and tends to keep others calm as well. That has helped me to persevere, especially through the early years of launching our VOP software platform and establishing its market credibility and viability in the face of almost certain failure. Only by thinking clearly about our challenges, and carefully navigating through them, were we able to reach sustainability.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I try to establish goals for each year, then plan each month the month before, plan each week the week before, and plan each day the night before. I also make sure to address the biggest challenges first and leave the smaller or less important tasks for later. Sometimes that means certain things fall behind, but I try to never let the most important things go unaddressed. I also try to keep in mind to not “sweat the small stuff” and to remember that “it’s mostly all small stuff”.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The books that have most influenced my life include a combination of technical books covering the knowledge bases of corporate finance, turnaround management, business valuation, and mergers & acquisitions, as well as some advisory practice books such as Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni and Start with Why by Simon Sinek. These books have collectively given me the knowledge, cultural perspectives, and versatility that have shaped my whole career. Without them, I would not have been equipped to create the Value Opportunity Profile (“VOP”) software that could help millions of companies to increase their business value and the Certified Value Growth Advisor (“CVGA”) training program that will help thousands of advisors to serve their clients more effectively.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Several quotes come to mind that all tie together. When I was a child, my father instilled the idea that all we leave this world with is our name, so we had better honor it while we’re here. He also used to often say that anything worth doing is worth doing right, and anything worth having is worth working hard for. Those were very formative quotes for me as I reached adulthood. Then, 20 years ago, I read a quote by Aristotle that further reinforced my father’s early teachings. Aristotle said “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Whether in the work we do each day, in the way we conduct ourselves, or in the way we treat others, these are powerful concepts that can be applied to all aspects of our lives.