The Deal Maker

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm

After more than 20 years in the business world, Joe Sweeney has come full circle. Sweeney began his career with the intention of buying and selling companies, then took a detour into the sports marketing world and now works in investment banking, helping others buy and sell their companies.

Sweeney is a managing director at Corporate Financial Advisors LLC, a Milwaukee- based investment banking firm.

His career started while he was earning his master’s degree in business administration at the University of Notre Dame in 1984.

Sweeney’s goal was to be the owner of a privately held manufacturing company. Although he was a mere MBA student, the flamboyant Sweeney set out to find an executive who was looking to retire in a few years and would be interested in hiring Sweeney to be his successor.

"I wanted to find a guy that was 60 to 65 years old, phasing into retirement, who wanted to bring in a young guy with a lot of energy," Sweeney said.

The personal computer revolution had not yet happened, so Sweeney manually compiled a list of about 1,300 companies between Chicago and Minneapolis that matched his target profile. Over the next year, he sent a letter of inquiry to each of them.

He received about 80 responses. He still has those responses, which he keeps at his home.

One of those letters turned into Sweeney’s first job at Pipkorn Steel, a steel fabrication firm in Waukesha. When he was hired at age 26, Sweeney crafted a letter of intent to purchase the company from its owner, Art Meyer. Meyer received an offer from another party a short time later that was too good to turn away, but he later helped Sweeney purchase Arkay Corp., a photographic equipment manufacturer.

After owning Arkay for about two years, Sweeney sold his interest to a partner. He bought several other manufacturing companies. In his early 30s, Sweeney helped start the Wisconsin Sports Authority, a nonprofit agency dedicated to promoting the state through sports events.

The Wisconsin Sports Authority merged with the Wisconsin Amateur Sports Corp. in 1999 and is now called the Wisconsin Sports Development Corp.

Sweeney said his involvement in sports, as a board member for the Greater Milwaukee Open and Badger State Games, led to his involvement in the sports authority.

"It didn’t pay much, but I had a really good time there," Sweeney said. "I had four little kids at home, and I wasn’t on a plane all the time."

Through the Wisconsin Sports Authority, Sweeney met Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. A short time later, Sweeney started SMG, a sports management firm that helps coaches and players secure contracts and marketing offers. Favre was Sweeney’s first client.

"When I met him, he didn’t have anyone to do his marketing," Sweeney said. "One thing led to another, and he asked me to help him with some deals."

At its peak, SMG had as many as 28 clients. The company was founded to help professional athletes who were nearing the end of their careers find possible business ventures, Sweeney said.

"The whole time, what I was really looking after is what do clients like Robin Yount do after they retire?" he said. "A lot of them don’t need money, but they need a purpose in life."

Sweeney still owns a share of SMG but is not involved in its day-to-day operations. Again, contacts he made while working as president of SMG helped him decide where he’d like to go next.

"I networked with lots of investment banking companies, and I had a chance to buy into a firm," he said. "I liked doing deals more than owning the companies. I liked the transaction part of it, and I realized that I’m more of a deal guy. I saw it as having the last 30 years of my life to help others do what I have done. I get more of a charge out of it."

Clay Brock

Title: Managing director at Corporate Financial Advisers LLC

Education: Bachelor of arts degree in English from Gettysburg College; master’s degree in business administration with concentration on finance and accounting from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Previous experience: Financial consulting in damage-related work with Peterson Consulting.

M&A outlook for 2006: "I’m optimistic about that market. There’s a lot of money in the system, both in equity and debt. Interest rates are still low, relative to historic averages. And earnings are up across the spectrum."

Joe Froehlich

Title: Managing director at Corporate Financial Advisers LLC

Education: Bachelor of science degree in Electrical Engineering, Cum Laude, Stanford University; master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School

Previous experience: Managed divisions of Intel, Sony and Raychem in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. In 1989, he joined Lubar & Co., identifying, making and managing investments for both the Wisconsin Venture Capital Fund and Lubar’s investments. He worked six years with Resource Financial in Chicago.

M&A outlook for 2006: "I think the M&A market we deal with, the small to mid-market, will be very robust for the balance of the year. Banks are continuing to be aggressive. I see interest rates remaining to be modest with no substantial increases. There is a tremendous amount of capital in the financial markets in the hands of buyers looking for investments. And I see a continued interest on the part of strategic buyers interested in growing through acquisition."

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