By Ryan Caldbeck, Contributor
Earlier this year, we put together a list of the 25 most innovative consumer and retail companies —the CircleUp 25. Today we are releasing the CircleUp Kingmakers—25 of the most influential “kingmakers” in consumer and retail. They are men and women whose names repeatedly arise in conversations with industry experts and consumer companies large and small. In researching this article, I talked with consumer and retail entrepreneurs, public consumer and retail companies, private equity firms, angel investors, and service providers including distributors, marketing firms and consumer focused consulting firms. And they are those men and women who in our opinion at CircleUp deserve to be included among the inaugural CircleUp Kingmakers.
Tech has its own lists of influential power players. Until now, there has not been an equivalent list in consumer and retail. We are including more than investors alone in the CircleUp Kingmakers, however, because in our industry kingmakers are more than just investors. They are connectors, brilliant thinkers, visionaries and retailers and investors-extraordinaire. And each of these traits plays into the ability to lead a brand to success. Every person on this list excels in one or more of these categories. Undoubtedly, there are countless others who excel similarly in these areas and who deserve to be mentioned in a list of this sort. Unfortunately, we have chosen to limit those honored to 25.
Disclosure: Some of the members of the Kingmakers list may be connected to CircleUp, as investors in CircleUp, partners of CircleUp or investors on CircleUp.
These are the 25, listed in no particular order.
1. Janica Lane, Partner, Partnership Growth Capital
Janica is a partner at Partnership Growth Capital, a leading investment bank focused exclusively on consumer-oriented markets across health/wellness, active lifestyles, and sustainable products and services. If you read her job description, Janica is primarily responsible for leading transaction processes and sourcing opportunities with new partner companies. What she does, quite simply, is help entrepreneurs—and she is extraordinarily good at it. Janica has a passion for helping businesses in a number of different categories including healthy food; direct-to-consumer; vitamin, mineral & supplement; and personal care/beauty categories. This passion has made her one of the most prominent advisors for companies seeking to raise value-added capital. If you have been fortunate enough to have had a conversation with Janica, it’s likely that she followed that conversation with five helpful ideas and ten introductions. One of her colleagues, Brian Smith (also a Partner at PCG), said it well: “Janica is a cornerstone of PCG. Results-oriented, with deep industry knowledge and extensive relationships, she executes PCG’s value-in-values approach flawlessly. Her process is uniquely her own, resulting in tremendous value-creation for clients and [she is] is a major reason why PCG is viewed as the leading advisory firm to the growing Health and Active Living industry.” Janica has helped lead several M&A transactions including the acquisition of BluePrint Cleanse by the Hain Celestrial Group and investments in Paula’s Choice, Sahale Snacks, Drybar and others. In addition she represented Ecover in the acquisition of Method.
2. Mickey Drexler, Chairman and CEO, J. Crew Group
Former CEO of the GAP board member of Apple since 1999, Mickey has the golden touch when it comes to consumer and retail. Warby Parker agrees and recently added him to their board. Some analysts are already wondering if Mickey can be the secret sauce that helps Warby Parker’s brick and mortar stores reach Apple-like performance levels. Lofty goals. When we recently asked a well-respected consumer and retail investor who he believed was the most influential person in retail and apparel, his answer was Mickey Drexler. When we asked him for more names, he said Mickey Drexler. Most consumer entrepreneurs would agree.
3. Josh Goldin, Partner, Alliance Consumer Growth
Josh and his partners founded Alliance Consumer Growth—a New York-based private equity fund—as a result of their passion for helping entrepreneurial companies reach their full potential. ACG has developed a stellar reputation for identifying rising star brands early on, providing minority growth capital, and using its strong industry network and brand-building expertise to help partner companies grow and thrive. ACG’s investments include Shake Shack, Krave Jerky, Evol Foods, BabyGanics and Kriser’s Pets. Josh also serves as a board member of several of ACG’s partner companies.
4. David Jacquin, Founder & Managing Director, North Point Advisors
David Jacquin, a former lawyer at Cravath Swaine & Moore, founded North Point Advisors in 2004. Under David’s leadership and vision, his team at North Point has developed a leadership position in consumer investment banking having completed over 90 deals in 9 years’ worth over $12.5 billion in aggregate value. North Point has a reputation for advising leading restaurant, retail and consumer brands for premium multiples including closed transactions involving: Landry’s, Jimmy John’s, Teavana, Paper Source, Edible Arrangements, Massage Envy and Papa Murphy’s.
5. Tony Olson, Chairman & CEO, SPINS
Tech companies are respected for utilizing data thoughtfully. In consumer, the most under-utilized source of helpful data is retail-level sales. SPINS is the leader in providing that data for the Health and Wellness industry—data that is critical to understanding how you’re performing at the store level and consumer level. SPINS had the foresight and commitment to pioneer a new category of data and approach to the market, focusing on manufacturers and retailers who are committed to the better health and wellness of their customers. They continue to innovate and pioneer this space. Over the past decade, Tony has built the most relevant view of “underserved retailers” and their manufacturer partners in the Natural Products and Specialty Gourmet industry. If you are looking for insight into natural and organic products, there is no better source.
6. Bill Weiland, President & CEO, Presence Marketing
If you own a consumer product company, you want your product on the shelf. Sales brokerage companies are often the reason your product has made the shelf. And if you’re a client of Presence Marketing chances are you are twice lucky: First, they accept only about five percent of applicants, and secondly, your product will be on the shelf. Bill Weiland’s career in the Natural Products Industry began at 16 when he started working at a natural foods store. After more than a dozen years of working in various industry roles, he launched Presence Marketing in January, 1990. Today, Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence remains the only independently-owned national natural products brokerage in the United States. Through partnerships with natural and conventional grocery chains, Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence plays a critical role in helping companies get national shelf presence and, more importantly, in getting their products off the shelves and into the hands of consumers.
7. Jay Novak, Managing Director, Houlihan Lokey
Jay Novak is a Managing Director and Head of Houlihan Lokey’s Consumer, Food & Retail Group. Since joining the firm in 1996, he has closed over 100 corporate finance transactions for food, consumer products, and retail companies. There are few bankers, if any, who have worked with more large food brands than Jay Novak. Some of his recent transactions include the sales of YoCrunch to Danone, Plum Inc. to Campbell Soup Company; TrueNorth brand of DeMet’s Candy Company to B&G Foods, Inc.; Pretzel Crisps® to Snyder’s-Lance, Inc. and Balance Bar Co. to NBTY, Inc. Before joining Houlihan Lokey, Jay spent six years in international investment banking, serving highly leveraged middle-market and Fortune 500 multinational corporate clients, primarily in consumer-branded goods at RBC, ING Bank and Kidder Peabody.
8. Andy Whitman, Managing Partner, 2x Consumer Product Growth Partners
2x Consumer Product Growth Partners helps emerging, branded consumer product companies achieve their potential by bringing deep industry expertise and a capital infusion. Andy and team focus on food, beverage, personal care, home care and pet care companies generally with $2-25 million in revenue in the organic/natural, specialty/gourmet and ethnic sectors. 2x Partners has played a critical role in developing companies like Beanitos healthy chips, MegaFood whole food supplements, Orabrush tongue cleaners, Tasty Bite Indian foods and gDiapers eco-friendly diapers. Andy founded 2x Partners following his career with General Foods and Kraft Foods. At Kraft, he demonstrated his talent for growing the smaller brands that had not grown or been run profitably previously. Before raising the 2x Partners growth capital fund, he co-invested with Catterton Partners and helped grow Wellness pet food and Old Mother Hubbard pet treats into one of the largest CPG exits in the last decade.
9. Kara Cissell-Roell, Managing Director, VMG Partners
Kara Cissell-Roell is a Co-founder, Managing Director, and Partner at VMG Partners, a San Francisco-based Private Equity firm. VMG Partners works closely with entrepreneurs and management teams of branded consumer companies to provide resources and strategic guidance to accelerate growth and raise brand awareness. Kara currently focuses on all aspects of the Fund’s investment strategy, execution and portfolio company management. She has over 14 years of experience in consumer private equity. Before founding VMG, she was a Vice President at TSG Consumer Partners. Her consumer products knowledge spans multiple consumer segments, including food, beverage, health & beauty, pet care and household products. She serves on the boards of KIND Snacks, Waggin’ Train, Pretzel Crisps, Speck Products, Kernel Season’s, Snack Factory, and Pirate Brands.
10. Kevin Murphy, Director, Encore Capital Partners
In 2005, Kevin joined Encore Consumer Capital, an innovative private equity firm built specifically to help consumer products companies grow. At Encore, he is responsible for deal origination and execution as well as portfolio company oversight. He currently serves as a director of Atlantic Aqua Farms, MyChelle, Tarte and Thunderworks. He also served as a director of Juice Tyme, a leading manufacturer and marketer of shelf-stable, bag-in-box juice and beverage concentrates, which Encore recently sold to Highlander Partners, L.P. Juice Tyme CEO Philip Scott praised Kevin and the Encore team for “always encouraging our management team to make the right long term decision for Juice Tyme and our customers.” Kevin joined Encore from Genstar Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity firm, after beginning his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Said Bill Shen, a Vice President at Encore, “What I, and other colleagues, admire about Kevin, is his balance of discipline, creativity, and intellect. I can trust that he’s always looking at a deal from all perspectives. The result is a better investor and a better partner for entrepreneurs.”
11. John Hansen, Managing Partner, JH Partners
John Hansen is the managing partner of JH Partners. JH Partners invests growth capital in consumer companies. His experience combines a background as a private equity investor with 11 years in senior management roles in the consumer and retail sector. He has built businesses ranging in size from $10 million to $200 million. John currently serves as Chairman of the boards of directors of Frette, La Perla, NapaStyle, and Neutral Duty Free Shops. He is also a director of Contenix. Between 1998 and 2004, John was President of Jesse.Hansen & Co, Inc. Before 1998, he was President and CEO of ThermoLase (AMEX: TLZ). His operating experience also includes service as President of Bare Escentuals, and VP, Retail of Performance Bicycle Shop, which at the time was the nation’s largest independent retailer and direct marketer of cycling products.
12. Shari Wynne, Founder + Mentor, Incubation Station
Incubators have long been a staple of the tech scene, – helping to educate and support startup tech companies. Until relatively recently, incubators and accelerators have been less prominent in consumer and retail. In Austin, TX, Shari is helping to change that with Incubation Station. The accelerator helps to educate consumer product companies in how to manufacture, distribute and market their products. Shari, and her team of mentors at Incubation Station, which includes Clayton Christopher (Sweet Leaf Tea, Deep Eddy Vodka) and Scott Jensen (Rhythm Superfoods, Stubbs Bar-B-Q) , get rave reviews from entrepreneurs who travel to Austin to be a part of Incubation Station. Incubation Station’s companies include Raven & Lilly, Goodspeed Burger, World Peas, and Verb.
13. Marc Brush, Editor in Chief, Nutrition Business Journal
Marc is the editor in chief of Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), the premier executive newsletter for decision-makers in the natural products, nutrition and integrative medicine industries. NBJ’s exclusive research and editorial’s focus on the strategic issues facing the nutrition industry has made it a leading business intelligence resource for subscribers since 1996. NBJ also hosts the NBJ Summit, the annual invitation-only retreat for C-level executives, investors and thought leaders in the nutrition industry. The Summit attracts over 300 of the nutrition industry’s brightest minds and most influential power brokers for unparalleled education, strategic thinking and discussion on the progress, opportunities and challenges facing the industry. Marc brings more than 10 years of professional experience in editing, business analytics and strategic insights to NBJ. He is also affiliated with such leading industry organizations as FoodCorps, a national nonprofit that builds school gardens and educates children about the power of real food, and the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute, a think tank charged with restarting healthcare in better synch with personalized and lifestyle-based therapeutics.
14. Ken Sadowsky, Senior Beverages Advisor, Verlinvest
Ken serves as the Senior Beverages Advisor in the US for Verlinvest, the Brussels-based family-owned, consumer-focused investment holding company that is part of the Anheuser Busch-InBev control group. He plays a critical role in identifying promising trends and early concepts in the US beverages market, as well as supporting the growth of Verlinvest’s portfolio companies. Previously, Ken built and oversaw the non-alcoholic beverage division at Atlas Distributing Inc. He was also director of Energy Brands, Inc. (Glaceau), makers of Glaceau Vitaminwater, smartwater, and fruitwater from 2000 to 2006 when the company sold a minority interest to The Tata Group. The company eventually sold to Coca Cola for over $4.1 billion. He also does marketing consulting work in the beverage industry for Fusion5 Marketing Innovations and nowinc.net. He currently sits on the Boards of Hint Water, Vita Coco and Millennium Technologie and is the Executive Director of NIDA, a group of independent beverage distributors.
15. Brad Barnhorn, Industry Advisor, Silverwood Partners
Brad Barnhorn was an early pioneer in the healthy beverage space as Founder and CEO of the Fantasia Fresh Juice Company, one of the companies that built and defined the fresh juice and smoothie category. Said Mike Burgmaier, Managing Director at Silverwood Partners (a consumer focused investment bank): “Brad Barnhorn’s contacts and strategic insights make him a valuable and highly-respected member for Silverwood Partner’s banking team.” Brad sold Fantasia to North Castle Partners in late 2000 concurrent with a merger with Naked Juice, which was subsequently acquired by Pepsi in 2006. He now dedicates himself to developing the next generation of great consumer companies and CEO’s through his board of directors work with leading consumer growth companies including Krave Jerky, KeVita and Zola. In addition, he serves in an advisory capacity with premier consumer-focused private equity funds and investment banks including Encore Consumer Capital, Winona Capital and Silverwood Partners. With a unique background powerfully combining experience and success as entrepreneur, CEO, board member, strategy consultant and investor, Brad is in a unique position to identify and guide high potential consumer companies through the broad array of company building challenges on the journey from great idea to great company.
16. Liz Myslik, CEO, Fresca Brands and VP, Fresca Foods
Liz has cultivated a career of building healthy products and companies. She helped launch new businesses for large CPGs such as General Mills, Johnson & Johnson and Georgia Pacific. She has held leadership positions in high growth companies; Director of Marketing for Gaiam, which grew from $50MM to over $200MM during her tenure, and CEO of Embodi Beverages, funded by Sandbox Industries and acquired by Brands Within Reach. Currently, she is an owner and executive at Fresca Foods, which is an operating and financing partner to a portfolio of disruptive natural food brands. Over the years, she has become a “go to” person in the natural products industry, helping numerous companies to innovate and grow. She was recently named one of New Hope Media’s “9 Wonder Women of the Natural Foods Industry”.
17. John Foraker, CEO, Annie’s Homegrown
John Foraker serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Annie’s, Inc., a role he has held since 2004. In 1999, John led an investment of growth capital into the company and began serving as Chairman when it was a small $7 million natural mac & cheese business., Over these years John helped build the company, known for its unique mission and culture, into a leading provider of natural and organic foods with revenues in excess of $175 million. The company completed a successful IPO in 2012. Before Annie’s, he co-founded Napa Valley Kitchens and Stonehouse Olive Oil Company, both specialty food companies, and served as a corporate lender for Bank of America.
18. Shaun Westfall, Principal: Consumer Investment Banking, Piper Jaffray
Shaun Westfall heads up the investment banking efforts in consumer products at Piper Jaffray where he helps companies raise capital and provides mergers and acquisitions advice. Shaun primarily works with growing companies that benefit from either a strong brand equity or a unique consumer awareness in the personal care, outdoor and active lifestyle categories. At Piper Jaffray, Shaun has worked on more than two dozen capital raising and advisory-based transactions, including beauty companies such as Coty, Urban Decay, tarte, Bare Escentuals and Ulta. In addition, he has worked with outdoor lifestyle brands such as Burton, Black Diamond and Fox Factory.
19. Betsy Foster, Global VP, Business Development, Whole Foods
There are few retailers that are as innovative as Whole Foods Market (WFM). WFM just tends to be able to spot trends—and “the next brand”—before anyone else. While that responsibility largely depends on their legion of regional and national buyers, Betsy helps lead the charge in the development of their strategy, partnerships and longer-term trends. She is in fact one of the most innovative players at one of the most innovative retailers. She finds ways to help WFM take advantage of the next major trends, and she provides value to both the brands in WFM and the consumers who shop there.
20. David Sulteanu, CEO and President, Sephora
David has been the CEO of Sephora since he joined in 2000, having worked earlier as a Group President at Home Depot. Everyone in consumer has watched as Sephora has reinvented how women shop for personal care. Many could have argued that we should have included Sephora in the premiere CircleUp Top 25 (an annual list of the most disruptive companies in consumer/retail). By helping to support smaller brands, David helped to build national heavyweights like Smashbox, bareMinerals and Tarte. But David is on this list not only because he has built Sephora into what is arguably the most important retailer for prestige personal care, but because he, more than any other CEO of a retailer, takes a Steve Jobs-like interest in his product. There are no details that are too small when it comes to the brands that will sell in his store. We have spoken with dozens of brands that distribute through Sephora and whose Sephora-related revenues are most likely less than $1M, and yet each of them can call David personally. While some CEOs would shudder at the thought, it is remarkable how many brands feel indebted to David personally for advocating their acceptance and promotion at Sephora. That loyalty means a lot in any industry, especially the prestige personal care industry.
21. Nick Giannuzzi, Managing Partner, The Giannuzzi Group LLP
Attorneys are essential to the successful operation of a business. Competence is a given—Only the most competent should be considered. What sets an attorney apart, then, is an appreciation that he or she is a member of a team. Nick Giannuzzi is both a master and a teammate. He is well known not only for his thorough knowledge of the law but also for the zealousness with which he advocates for his clients. His client list includes vitaminater, VitaCoco, Siggi’s, Peeled Snacks, Happy Baby and more. For these clients, he has helped to arrange investments or acquisitions by larger companies. It is both a privilege and a pleasure to know Nick professionally and personally.
22. Jeffrey Klineman, Editor of BevNET
Smart investors and operators will tell you that there is probably no category in consumer or retail that has a higher failure rate than beverage. But there are also few categories in which $100M brands are built more quickly. Jeff has been at the forefront of identifying beverage trends first, and identifying the winners in those categories before they become winners. As a longtime investor in consumer and retail, BevNET is the de facto standard for beverage industry news, and it is extremely helpful in identifying the next winners.
23. Alissa Sears, Senior Strategist, Christie Communications
For most consumer and retail companies, their core asset is their brand. Formulas and recipes are important, but can often be copied. A
brand is trademarked and is often what a strategic is most excited about when considering an acquisition. Public relations (PR) is one way companies often build brands (just ask Popchips). The problem with highlighting a PR firm is that few successful companies ever want to share which PR firm they use . . . for fear competitors will try and snag their secret sauce. Christie Communications is one that we have consistently heard rave reviews about—with Alissa helping to lead the charge alongside Gillian Christie, the company’s Founder & CEO, and their talented team. Christie Communications is full service, handling everything from consumer, trade and investor PR to brand strategy, design to events management, social and environmental betterment programs and much more. As a result, its consumer clients are able to get results-driven PR that is consistent with the brand messages of their clients.
24. Meredith Schwarz, Manager, General Mills Ventures
Meredith Schwarz is the gatekeeper for General Mills’ Corporate Venture Fund. She is responsible for setting the direction of the fund, managing the portfolio of investments and developing the pipeline of new investment opportunities. She plays a critical role in identifying and developing early-stage companies into successful brands and contributes greatly to General Mills Corporate Venture Fund’s well-deserved reputation for excellence in value-added investments. Her effectiveness lies not only in the fact that her name opens doors, but because she puts in the effort to find specific, tangible ways she can help the Fund’s companies. It has been our experience at CircleUp that there is simply no one more well-connected at any corporate venture fund than Meredith Schwarz. They say it’s not what you know, but whom you know. In Meredith’s case, she knows everyone because of what she knows.
25. Mike Jones, CEO Science Inc.
Science Inc. does a lot of things really well. They are part investment firm, part accelerator, part operating team. What we know at CircleUp is that they make great investments, and after they invest they provide substantial help to grow the companies they’ve invested in. They work predominantly with consumer companies, but not exclusively. What they know particularly well is ecommerce. It is this knowledge that accounts for their success and enables them to grow their brands the way they have. Mike helped to lead the firm’s investments in Urban Remedy, Dollar Shave Club, and DogVacay. .
There are many influential Kingmakers in consumer and retail. CircleUp’s goal in creating this inaugural CircleUp Kingmakers list is to highlight those that we have consistently seen exercise tremendous influence over the world of consumer and retail. The tech world celebrates the achievements of its most successful. It is time that consumer and retail did the same. We have chosen to recognize and honor only 25. We welcome your comments as to those others whom you believe deserve recognition for their achievements in consumer and retail. They may make the list next year. In the meantime, we will continue to collect input through our online investing marketplace, CircleUp.