An interview with The Halifax Group’s Scott Plumridge

As American companies fight to recover from COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn, the private equity industry has stepped in to provide capital, expertise, and many other forms of assistance. But how, exactly, are PE firms approaching such an unprecedented situation? What lessons can they teach other companies, including those that aren’t PE-backed? What does the future of the industry look like? Scott Plumridge is a Managing Partner at The Halifax Group, and he recently took some time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions and offer other insights on the state of the PE industry.  

Sean Mooney: What industries and companies do you primarily invest in? 

Scott Plumridge: We invest in healthcare and pharma services, business services, and franchising companies. Examples of our prior and current portfolio companies include Caring Brands International (the leading international franchisor of homecare), StrataTech Education Group (a major welding and training school for HVAC and industrial trades), AAMP (a provider of aftermarket parts for vehicles), and many others.

SM: What kind of strategies have you implemented and what investments have you made during the economic contraction and why? 

SP: The pandemic has been a great time to highlight the value of functioning PE relationships for a lot of small to medium-sized businesses. Many were dealing with supply chain issues, closed facilities, or COVID breakouts with staff. We helped to plug the financial hole – non-PE-backed companies don’t have our financial resources. But we were also able to give our portcos “CliffsNotes” versions of best practices and considerations.   

For example, we started a weekly newsletter and webinars that ran over the course of eight weeks, which discussed issues such as furloughing employees, safety, how to bring teams back, unique forecasts for each company, cash flow, and contingency plans. We wanted to make sure companies had capital to weather a storm, fund new models, and meet new requirements (masks, shields, and so on). It’s essential for PE firms to provide emotional, technical, tactical, and financial support to keep businesses on track. We’ve got ten portcos, and we’re consolidating best practices and using them with all our companies. 

SM: What general advice would you offer other companies trying to get through a period of economic uncertainty?  

SP: The hardest discipline we offer in the middle of an environment like this is: don’t forget about your growth plan. Look for opportunities to offer new services or products. We had multiple companies launch new services or complete acquisitions during this period.  

SM: What role does data play in your decision-making, as well as portcos’ ability to be agile and quickly make decisions?  

SP: One of the biggest things is data transparency. Our companies need help organizing and understanding datasets. We help them set goals against data and the overall business environment, then we use that data to enhance offerings compared to competitors. Figuring out how to channel and productize data can be an alternative business model. 

SM: What can non-PE-backed businesses learn from the way PE-backed companies approach growth and value creation? 

SP: Two things came to mind. First, I would tell any independent business: don’t try to do it all by yourself. Seek out experts and build a diverse team. We come in and work with our management team, then we bring in a bespoke set of directors to identify gaps and fill them, and selectively use third parties (which BluWave helps us with). Have a good group of advisors who will hold you accountable and who have a stake in your success. 

Second, constantly be looking for undiscovered opportunities for reinvestments. Every company we’ve ever worked with has had fabulous reinvestment opportunities that were unrealized when we came aboard. Most people have either become set in their ways with a narrow vision of what their business is, or they’re scared to reach into their wallets and fund themselves. We can unlock new opportunities. The highest return dollars come from reinvestments we do after the initial investment. 

SM: What trends are you seeing over the next six to twelve months? 

SP: The role of PE will only become more vital. There are tough times ahead, but as other sources of capital shrivel up, PE will step in to keep companies moving forward and fill the void.

How Pandemic-Era Managers Can Level Up By Using Collaboration Tools


Effective managers are capable of articulating their company’s values and a clear set of concrete goals, while also maintaining a commitment to diversity and open communication. These principles will help companies move from a rigidly hierarchical dynamic in which workers feel disconnected from their jobs to one in which they feel like stakeholders and partners whose opinions are valued.  

As someone working in the area of third-party resources, it’s evident that managers of today are connecting the dots between the agile workforce, remote workers, and full-time employees. This is no simple task, but with a few basic shifts in thinking it’s entirely possible and produces desirable results. 

As we enter a new era of remote work, managers will be under increasing pressure to improve communication and collaboration among diverse teams (no matter where they are in the world) and provide employees with a common goal to rally around. 

Here are my top four suggestions for building and maintaining high performing teams that will remain loyal long after the dust settles: 

#1 – Motivate Your Employees by Sharing Your Values and Goals 

#2 – Recognize That Diversity Is an Engine of Innovation 

#3 – Keep the Lines of Communication Open 

#4 – Build Greater Participation 


For more insights, and details on the “how”, please check out my full article, published in Toolbox HR. And as always, if you have questions or need anything from BluWave please reach out! 




An interview with the American Investment Council’s Drew Maloney

At a time when companies are in desperate need of capital (and every other form of support they can get), the private equity industry has assumed a larger role in the U.S. economy. That’s why now is a good time to take a closer look at private equity – how it functions, the ways in which it’s misunderstood, and how it can help companies get through one of the most difficult economic downturns in decades. Drew Maloney is the President and CEO of the American Investment Council (AIC), and we’re delighted that he was willing to speak with us about how his industry works, how PE firms are responding to COVID-19, and what other companies can learn from private equity.  

Sean Mooney: What role does PE play in the U.S. economy?  

Drew Maloney: Private equity plays a significant role in the economy – the industry invests in more than 30,000 companies in every state and district, directly employs 8 million workers, and provides capital, expertise, and supply chains to help companies grow and restructure. PE investments also provide significant returns to retirees throughout the country, making retirements more secure.  

During economic distress like this one, flexible and patient capital is more important than ever for businesses to stay open and continue to employ their workers.  

SM: What are the biggest misconceptions about the industry?   

DM: At AIC, our primary mission is to educate policymakers about success stories. In the news cycle, conflict sells. But the majority of PE deals are successful. The fact is that private equity investors are deeply committed to the success of their portfolio companies. In addition to the reputational risk of failed investments, they’re required to have “skin of the game” and invest in the funds that they manage. 

PE firms invest in businesses of all sizes, but particularly in the middle market. Many of these businesses don’t get the attention of the big splashy public companies, so the public doesn’t necessarily hear about the value that private equity is able to create in their portfolio companies. It’s incumbent on the industry to explain how we’re helping companies get through COVID-19 and making the economy stronger. We have to define ourselves or others will define us. 

SMHow did the private equity industry perform during the Great Recession? 

DM: PE-backed companies are better positioned to ride out a downturn – during the last recession, for example, they generated returns well above 10 percent per year. For one thing, they’re much more nimble, agile, and can move faster. For another, they have operational expertise, access to capital, and extensive networks, which eases the burden on managers and allows them to take the time to create lasting value. This is what I describe as long-term, patient capital. 

SMHow is the PE industry responding to COVID-19?   

DM: PE managers are working to save and strengthen the businesses in their portfolio. As liquidity dried up earlier this year, private equity managers made PIPE deals with public companies, invested in debt instruments in dislocated markets, and made equity investments in businesses that needed capital to ride out the pandemic. They also contributed to their communities, donating hospital beds, spearheading back to school initiatives, and providing resources to teachers and parents 

For example, we recently launched a new Back to School initiative because we know so many families are trying to navigate this unprecedented school year. If you visit our website, you can learn how private equity-backed companies are helping make school safer and more accessible for students, teachers, and parents.   

SMWhat can non-PE backed companies learn from the PE industry, particularly during COVID-19?  

DMFirst of all, they need to have the flexibility to react to a rapidly changing marketplace. They should always think ten years out and try to make decisions over the long term. It’s also important to avoid panicking – tap into your networks, develop a plan, and be prepared for an environment of uncertainty for the foreseeable future.

How We Did it: Private Equity Associate Case Study

With our extensive private equity knowledge, we use time-tested frameworks to assess PE-grade investment professionals for interim work opportunities with our clients. This means when clients have a need, we can move swiftly to connect them with viable, third-party resources. When a private equity fund in our network unexpectedly lost two mid-level investment team members within a few weeks of each other, they needed to quickly find a short-term resource who could meet its team standards and bridge the gap while it searched for a full-time hire. 

For the full story, read the case study here. 

REDIRECTED Part Two: How To Avoid Hiring the Wrong Person When You are Growing Fast

Last week, I wrote about the fact that when you’re poised for growth and moving fast, putting the right people in place is just as important as developing a business strategy. However, you’d be surprised how many leaders underestimate the importance of finding the right fit. In addition the first common mistake I see— treating talent acquisition as tactical and reactive versus strategic and proactive—the second common mistake I witness time and time again is overlooking the cultural fit. 

In a commoditized world, a company’s culture stands out as the most powerful and sustainable opportunity to create a competitive organizationAs we look to recruit the “best athletes” we often hire based on experience and overlook cultural fit. The culture in which people operate has a direct bearing on their performance; and the performance and retention of the people they manage. In fact, the number one reason a person leaves a company is because of their manager or boss.  

One of the best ways to avoid these obstacles is to develop a standardized interview process. According to a 2015 talent acquisition study by Glassdoor, organizations that lack a standardized interview process are five times more likely to make a bad hire. Managers must be given the tools to formulate good questions and evaluate candidates. Behavioral interviews can determine if the candidate would fit well into the company cultureIt also provides insight into a candidate’s past experiences, skills and abilities that relate to the position for which they’re interviewing. Here are some examples of behavioral-based interview questions and what you’ll learn from the candidates answers:   

What attributes do you look for in a company when applying for a position?
You will be able to see if a candidate’s values and aspirations align with those of the business.

What are your pet peeves?
You will discover what irritates, agitates and infuriates a candidate; if those things exist in your environment move on to the next candidate. 

Have you ever found an error in your own work? How did it happen, and what did you do about it?
You will determine whether a candidate can admit and learn from their mistakes, or if they prefer to shift blame and render themselves blameless. 

What types of decisions are easiest for you to make and which ones do you find most difficult?
Probing in this area will enable you to assess whether thcandidate is inclined to fully buy-in to their job responsibilities and make decisions that are in the best interest of the company.  

How do you accommodate last-minute changes?
Some people become very stressed in an environment of constant change. You will want to assess this when interviewing for management positions. 

Give an example of a time when you faced an ethical dilemma at work. How did you deal with it?
This exposes a candidate’s personal belief system and what they hold dear. Their answer will tell you if they’re a good fit for your company culture. 

Tell me about a time you set challenging goals. What did you do to achieve them? 
You’ll learn how a candidate approaches setting goals for themselves, and if achieving a successful outcome matters to them. 

Tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision. What did you do?
By evaluating the candidate’s response, you should be able to tell if the candidate views differing opinions as constructive, as conflict or as an insult. Their reaction can also give insight into passive-aggressive or openly aggressive tendencies, which are undesirable in any environment. 

For more information about resources pertaining to talent planning and talent acquisition processes, please contact BluWave. We have experts who can help you win!

REDIRECTED Part One: How To Avoid Hiring the Wrong Person When You are Growing Fast

When you’re poised for growth and moving fast, putting the right people in place is just as important as developing a business strategy. But hiring the wrong person or third-party resource can be more detrimental than leaving the seat open. HR agencies estimate the cost of a bad hire can range from 40% of salary for entry level people to 400% of salary for executives. More importantly these costs can extend beyond monetary value due to the impact on productivity, employee morale, company culture and reputation.

As someone who has advised many companies during high-growth phases, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to get the right people in place. When coaching a CEO, one of the first questions I ask is: “What’s your talent acquisition process?”

If the answer to the question is “we don’t have oneor posting openings on LinkedIn, then I have a fairly good idea of where to take the conversation. One common mistake I see, as newly funded companies strive to hire the best talent, is treating talent acquisition as tactical and reactive versus strategic and proactive.

Companies often rush to fill a position and end up hiring someone who does not meet the needs of the job. This sense of urgency usually happens when an attractive candidate is identified but not properly vetted. The sudden need generally arises due to the departure of a key employee; or when a number of people have to be hired to meet the staffing needs in a given area. A well–conceived talent acquisition process will eliminate these issues.

Such a process should include:

  • Assessing your needs: Why does the need exist and what is the ideal candidate profile?
  • Presenting your brand: What is the message and value–proposition communicated to candidates, and does it reflect your culture?
  • Generating leads: Postings on job boards, recruiting, professional networking and employee referrals.
  • Screening candidates: A thorough screening process will produce more consistent high–quality outcomes and eliminate bias.
  • Interviewing candidates: Everyone involved in the interview process should be trained in behavioral-based interviewing.
  • Onboarding new hires: A strong onboarding process will improve new-hire retention.
Stay tuned for part two, where I’ll talk about the best interview questions to ask in order to get the right people in place.

How We Did It: Interim CFO Case Study

Leveraging our founder’s 20 years in private equity, we have extensive frameworks for assessing PE-grade interim CFOs. So, when a private equity firm purchased multiple I.T. managed services provider companies with the intention of integrating them into one streamlined platform, they turned to us for their immediate need: finding the perfect fit, interim CFO. Crucially, the candidate they were looking for both understood the I.T. MSP environment and had a proven track record of successful financial integrations.   

For the full story, read the case study here. 

BluWave Insights: How the Agile Workforce is Impacting the Economy

Many hiring managers report that they face a talent shortage, which is why the agile workforce – independent professionals hired on a project-by-project basis – is only going to become more critical in the coming years. In my first article for Toolbox HR, a new platform for executives to learn about everything from cybersecurity trends to the nuances of “people and talent,” I explore topics related to this workforce evolution. 

What is the agile workforce?
Simply put, it’s flexible, filled with experts, and moves quickly to help companies address a wide range of talent issues. Companies can access industry- and project-specific expertise with the flexibility to quickly and efficiently adapt to rapidly changing economic circumstances – crystalized in the massive economic fallout of COVID-19. Agile workers are becoming more important all the time.  

In the article, I address the following: 

  1. Finding Professionals With the Right Skills 
  2. Why Agile Workforce Isn’t the Gig Economy 
  3. Making the Most of the Agile Workforce 

Click here to read the full article, and please feel free to share/amplify to spread the word!  

How We Did It: Cost Reduction Case Study 

PE funds across a broad spectrum of industries often approach us with specific, episodic needs. Our first step for matching them with best-in-class, third party resources is to understand the nuances and unique challenges they face. When a private equity firm acquired a leading plastics company that designed and manufactured innovative plastic-injection-molded products, the firm believed there was room for improvement and cost reductions in the company’s supply contracts. We quickly matched these criteria to the pre-vetted candidates from our invitation-only network, rooted in our founder’s 20 years of PE industry experience.

For the full story, read the case study here.

State of PE: An Interview with Huron Capital’s Gretchen Perkins

Private equity is a widely misunderstood industry – from the common belief that Private Equity firms snatch up companies just to strip them down and sell them to the lack of awareness about the pivotal role PE plays in the modern economy. Gretchen Perkins is a partner who focuses on business development at Huron Capital, and there’s nobody better to correct the mistaken assumptions about her industry and give us a glimpse into the current state of PE. Gretchen was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the state of her industry, the effects of COVID-19 on her firm, and what she envisions for the future. 

Sean Mooney: Tell me a bit about Huron Capital’s investment focus. 

Gretchen PerkinsWe’re a middle market PE firm that implements a buy and build strategy to grow businesses. We focus on business services, consumer goods, and specialized industrial companies in the United States and Canada. We have both a control buyout strategy and a non-control equity strategy.  

SM: What are a few of the biggest myths about the PE industry? 

GP: The single biggest myth about PE firms is that we buy companies and sell them in pieces to make our money. The PE industry is a significant job creator across the U.S. – over the past ten years, PE-backed businesses created more jobs and secured more sales than other companies. There’s a reason college endowments, pension funds, insurance companies, foundations, and nonprofits invest in PE – it has been the single leading asset class over the past 20 years. There are billions of dollars flowing into PE because of the returns and the fact that the industry creates more value and is less volatile than other investment vehicles. 

Despite the perception that PE firms always take over and try to sell companies quickly, the PE industry plays a long-term game. Firms generally want business owners to stay and maintain equity in the business – they don’t just take over.   We want to make the companies substantially better over time because it’s the best interest of both our firm and our stakeholders. 

SM: What was your firm’s initial response to COVID-19? 

GP: We acted several weeks before everything started shutting down to increase support for our portfolio companies. For example, we developed a Rapid Response Playbook focused on the implementation of safety protocols and developing guidelines for remote work. There are 7,000 employees at our portfolio companies, and their safety is our top priority.  

SM: How do the prospects for recovery look?  

GP: When the crisis hit, we immediately started doing 13-week cash flow forecasts, and we’ve discovered that things aren’t as bad as we initially thought it could have been. Now we’re focused on implementing our Restart Playbook, which is designed to take a close look at business operations across our portfolio and help companies emerge from the crisis even stronger and more adaptable. We’re doing everything we can to help our portfolio companies navigate COVID-19 and the economic aftermath, but our management teams are rising to the occasion. This should serve as a reminder that in the current state of PE, firms are more interested in finding effective partners they can work with to build great companies over the long run than ineffectively micromanaging the companies in their portfolios.  

SM: What types of businesses are you focused on investing in and growing now?  

GPWe’re looking at add-on acquisitions to companies that can thrive during the crisis – insurance companies, for instance. We are also looking into food and beverage businesses that have proven to be COVID-19 resistant. But what we’re most interested in are companies that have solid leadership teams and growth potential – these are the partners that will help us move into the post-COVID-19 era in a stronger position than ever.

Industry Insights: An Interview with ParkerGale’s Devin Mathews

This is an unprecedented time for private equity firms and their portfolio companies. As the economy begins to show signs of a tenuous post-COVID-19 recovery, there is no telling how the business landscape will be impacted. But one thing is clear: PE will be a major factor in the recovery. Devin Mathews is a partner at ParkerGale, and he generously took the time to discuss his firm, perceptions of the PE industry, and what investment trends we should be keeping an eye on right now. 

Sean Mooney: Tell me about ParkerGale’s history and investment philosophy. 

Devin Mathews: ParkerGale was founded in 2014, though the founding team worked together running the technology group at another private equity firm. We only do tech buyouts (not venture capital or growth equity) and always take a majority control position. We only buy in two ways: directly from bootstrapped founders or as carve out divisions from larger companies. Both of these strategies have similar dynamics – good businesses that need some care and attention. We focus on owners who are at an inflection point with all their wealth tied up in the business – we help them greatly reduce their personal financial risk and take their businesses to the next level. 

SM: Why would an owner want to partner with ParkerGale?  

DM: Quality, not quantity, is our ambition. At the end of the day, founders bring us in because they believe we’re going to respect the businesses they’ve built. We’ll change things, but the employees will still feel like it’s a great place to work. We place a heavy emphasis on culture and developing people at our portfolio companies, and even though our expectations are high, we recognize that we have to provide the necessary resources to meet those expectations. 

SM: What are a few of the biggest myths about PE? 

DM: For starters, not all PE firms are created equal. There are different types of PE firms out there: some are more transactional, while others are more hands-on and operational to help companies build long-term success.  

Also, it’s important to recognize that private equity is the economy – it’s not a niche asset class anymore. There are twice as many private equity-backed companies as public companies. This is all the more reason why PE firms have to focus on improving the image of the industry and showing others that our success as an industry is determined by the long term success of the companies we own. This industry cannot thrive if our companies fail.  

As an industry, our reputation isn’t great. People sometimes expect all of us to be MBA jerks, with low EQ and high intensity. While much of that is well-deserved, we try to show people we’re human, empathic, and prepared to listen. At ParkerGale, we talk a lot about vulnerability, transparency, and trust. That’s really the only way to get results in our experience. 

SM: How has COVID-19 impacted your firm?  

DM: We are all getting older around here and have invested during booms and busts before. We all subscribe to the great Howard Marks quote that “you can’t predict – you can only prepare.” So we don’t make predictions. We just get up every day and execute alongside our management teams.   

SM: What types of businesses are you focused on investing in now?  

DM: We look for software companies that are hard to hurt – that means they have sticky products, no customer concentration, no vendor concentration, and good profit margins. They’re also in segments of the market where VCs aren’t pointing their money cannons, which usually ends up poorly. When we get involved, the companies are customer-centric and profitable, but may not necessarily be doing the things they need to do to secure long-term viability. There are tens of thousands of companies in North America that fit our criteria, and we need to invest in one or two per year. We operate at the small end of the market – we’re providing the first institutional capital that any of these companies have had.  

SM: What’s your take on the future of PE investment?  

DM: Within the next six months, will founders say “I’m too old for this sh*t” and want to sell even if it’s at a price less than the top of the market? Or will they wait for the market to come back enough to get them the price they need to walk away? Just imagine you’re a founder in your sixties and you’ve been through way too many ups and downs already. Do you have the stomach to hang on a few years or is it time to find the right partner that helps you walk away and enjoy retirement? My sense is that it will be a mix of the two, but as I said earlier, we don’t try to predict. So we’ll just prepare for whatever comes our way. 

How to find and leverage expertise

The COVID-19 pandemic won’t last forever, and companies need to be thinking about how to best position themselves to not only maintain their operations, but also seize upon opportunities and prepare for an uncertain future. This means they’ll have to be agile, getting the right people with the right skills at the right time.  

Our economy is more dependent on expertise than ever before – a fact that’s even clearer amid this crisis. A 2019 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 83 percent of hiring managers “had trouble recruiting suitable candidates,” 75 percent of whom attributed this problem to a skills shortage in the workforce.  

The recovery from COVID-19 is going to require a lot of innovative thinking, which means contributions from a broad range of experts in many different fields. But expertise is scarce – especially for companies with limited resources. Experts are always in high demand, even more so when companies begin rebuilding after a shock like COVID-19. Companies have little margin for error and they’re taking a hard look at their processes and personnel. That’s why we’ll soon see a spike in the need for on-demand expertise across a wide range of disciplines. 

Here are a few strategies for finding experts and making the most of their skills. 

Know what you’re looking for.
your business needs to take the time to thoughtfully define what it needs. For each role, systematically build scorecards outlining what expertise is required for each initiative. This scorecard should measure functional experience, industry experience, budget, values, and the ability to learn and change. For example, if a food manufacturing company is hiring an interim CFO, a candidate with years of manufacturing experience is not enough. The company should look for a candidate who has worked in the food industry, and who has a track record of successfully managing crises and other fluid situations.  

Know where to look.
To find experts like this, 
you could start by canvassing your personal and professional networks with a specific “ask,” and be specific about your key criteria, timeframe, and budget. These constraints and goals will guide which kind of expert you’re looking for. In some cases, you want someone who can mobilize teams rapidly or manage a fast-moving crisis. In others (some forms of product development, for instance), you want someone who’s more deliberate and meticulous.  

Use intelligent networks.
Intelligent expertise networks are only going to become more important in the coming years as the need for on-demand skills jumps, availability becomes scarce, and margins for error decline.
 Naturally, firm like BluWave with deep industry relationships, proprietary datasets, and pre-vetted networks of private equity-grade resources is going to yield faster, more optimal results.  

Explore the alternative workforce.
According to a
2019 report from Deloitte, companies are leveraging alternative workers to address their expertise needs across a wide array of positions. Traditionally, most companies use the alternative workforce for highly specialized technical needs like I.T. However, the employment of alternative workers is rapidly spreading to other areas like sales, marketing, finance, and operations.  

Focus on integrating alternative workers and developing their skills.
Despite the surging demand for alternative workers, only 8 percent of companies report that they have “established processes to manage and develop alternative workforce sources.” The alternative workforce offers access to a growing and sophisticated talent pool, but employers need to develop the resources necessary to successfully draw upon this pool.  

Companies need to think of the on-demand alternative workforce just like they think about their full-time workforce. Define what is necessary to perform well in each role. Recruit candidates who have the specific expertise you require. Hold alternative workers and their managers accountable for results. At the end of the contract, both the employer and the alternative worker should evaluate whether a longer term, full-time relationship would be mutually beneficial.  

The economy is only becoming more interconnected and complex, which makes expertise vital. That’s why companies have to understand what expertise means to them, where it can be found, and how to use their knowledge and talent as effectively as possible.  

A version of this post originally appeared as part of the Forbes Business Council.