As ACG NJ celebrates its 15th year anniversary in 2018, we are compiling the memories of our founders as they share their insights into the launch of the chapter and their long commitment to its continued success. During these interviews, we have focused on two key questions. The first thing we ask is how they each first became involved in launching the chapter and the second question is why they remain actively involved 15 years later.
The forming of the New Jersey chapter was the result of the hard work of a dedicated board. This was successful because it was a strong group effort, but it would not have happened without the tenacity of Founding Chair, Mark Kuehn.
How did you first become involved?
Mark had become familiar with ACG after he sold his office products and printing business and founded an investment banking boutique in New York in 1993. When he learned of the ACG NY chapter, he began attending meetings and joined the chapter as a consistent participant for the next four and a half years.
In 2002, when he returned to the practice of law in New Jersey, he thought about the role that ACG had played in his previous career and determined that it could equally be an excellent business catalyst for his new journey. He wrote a letter to the Executive Director of ACG Global and offered to start a New Jersey chapter, recognizing that New York, Connecticut and Philadelphia had their markets well covered, leaving New Jersey without a similar resource. After several phone calls, the ACG national/global board gave Mark the green light to move forward.
At the time, they suggested he contact Allen Kohan, a long-time ACG NY member and Global Director, who himself had initial thoughts about forming a NJ chapter. Mark reached out to Allen, who also made his own suggestions, recommending he contact Terry Bentley at ADP. Their paths crossed serendipitously when Mark was campaigning in Westfield and ended up at Terry’s home. From there, ACG Global offered additional insights, suggesting Mark seek out an international and regional CPA firm as well as private equity firms, banks and corporate leaders to join him on the inaugural board. Having a colleague who was a partner at the Big Four firm, E&Y, who served with him on a nonprofit board, gave Mark a start. From there he contacted Lynn Lagomarsino, a partner at the regional certified public accounting firm JH Cohn (now CohnResnick), Mary Klein (E&Y), Peggy Murphy who was at Fleet (the predecessor to Bank of America), Dennis Ciemniecki (Elizabethtown Water), Terence Bentley (ADP), Henry Sacco, Jr. (Brother International Corp), Joe Dunning (JM Huber Corp), Matt Finlay (MidMark Capital), Steven Hardek (WR Huff Asset Management), Kenneth Kovalcik (KJK Associates) and ACG Connecticut Chapter’s founder and 1st President, Kevin Fiala (Bywater Corporate Development Services). Karen Stone served as the organization’s first administrator.
Backed up by an incredible and energetic board, support from the business community and a $5,000 start-up investment from ACG Global, ACG NJ took off.
As soon as they began soliciting membership, 30-40 people signed up. With a solid following, the board hosted its first meeting on April 22, 2003 featuring a panel of three: Steve Galatis, Jay Goldman and Paul Papayoanou addressing the theme, “A Beautiful Mind Comes to Life: Shaping Winning M&A Strategies with Strategic Gaming” with future meetings for May and June on the calendar as well.
Why do you stay involved?
Mark joined Gibbons Law Firm a few months later, in June 2003. For the next 15 years, his Gibbons professional and ACG volunteer efforts have run on parallel paths, as they continue to do so today and into the future. His unique combination of experience in the three cornerstones of ACG, business, law and finance, made Mark the right person to launch, and more importantly, sustain, the fledgling chapter.
As anyone involved in a business organization knows, for volunteers to become and remain engaged, there must be a business benefit. Every volunteer has to gain value from their investment of time and finances – and Mark is no exception. In fulfilling his business development responsibilities for Gibbons, Mark is able to blend his personal satisfaction in the success of ACG NJ along with his firm’s corporate goals. His unflagging support of ACG NJ for a decade and a half has propelled it to become a well-regarded statewide leader in the business community.
John has been involved with the New Jersey chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth since its inception, joining the board in 2007. One of the factors that spurred John’s commitment to the newly forming organization was its strong focus on merger and acquisition engagements, which aligned perfectly with his own practice area as a lawyer working on M&A deals in the metropolitan area.
But his commitment was influenced by other key factors as well. John sums it up best: “I wanted to be a part of ACG NJ because I saw the opportunity to regularly interact with thought leaders in my community, to be in a business group where I could continue to my own professional growth and where I would be exposed to interesting companies and their leaders.” As a partner in his firm, it was important to John that he help to expand their geographic footprint and develop a presence across the state. Through ACG NJ he could accomplish this by penetrating the central-to-north counties along with the mid-to-south counties including Red Bank where their office is located. Through his connections at ACG NJ and the relationships he has built as a result of its’ extended reach, John has been able to help grow Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla’s brand identity across a wider market.
ACG NJ became quickly known for the high quality of its members and for the resources and industry information, including marketplace trends that define it. He is impressed with what he calls members who are “contagiously enthusiastic” and whose passion motivates others.
Fifteen years later, John remains an integral member of the ACG NJ board of directors, offering his wise counsel and guidance across a vast number of issues faced by the chapter as it has evolved. He has built a well-regarded role for himself as he has focused on establishing and reinforcing ACG NJ’s legacy.
John continues to enjoy the benefits that engaged him over a decade and a half ago – and everyone serving on the board today sincerely hopes that he will remain as a motivator and influencer for many years ahead!
As we interview the founders and earliest members of the Association for Corporate Growth – New Jersey, we have noticed a common theme that connects these visionaries. They all had a shared mission for establishing a local business group that would bring together corporate leaders and professional service providers, such as attorneys, CPAs, bankers, private equity professionals, investment bankers and other consultants, in order to add value for each other.
Tom Basilo is no exception. Having met Mark Kuehn through local networking opportunities, he knew he needed to become involved and help Mark fulfill his desire to build a local presence for ACG NJ. Tom had the advantage of working closely with CEOs through his role as one of the people directing the highly regarded E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) program. Because of his deep ties to the business community, Tom was able to help Mark and other founders introduce the newly forming chapter to owners and “C” suite executives. His ability to draw on his connections was pivotal in the early days for ACG NJ as the board worked to gain market share and generate momentum.
Tom was instrumental from the beginning, bringing an enthusiastic attitude and encouraging other to understand the importance of meeting new, dynamic people, even competing firms, and to start friendships that have lasted over the years.
Today he remains an avid fan, attending meetings and gaining from the interesting topics and experienced presenters – even when that means getting up at 5:00 am for a 7:00 am meeting start! The value of membership in ACG NJ has deepened over the years as has Tom’s involvement.
“This is a critical group for me for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it aligns so well with all of the activities I pursue in my professional role at Withum. It is extremely valuable for me and my firm to have a strong presence at ACG NJ.”
In the mid to late 1990s Joel was first introduced to the Association for Corporate Growth when one of the executives he worked with asked if he could join the local chapter in the Boston area. Joel agreed and over the next few years whenever he inquired as to how the group was doing, his colleague would point out that they were getting good value for their investment. Although Joel never attended one of the Boston programs, he developed an appreciation for the ACG value and brand.
So when he heard that a chapter might be forming in New Jersey, he wanted to get involved. He had already been exposed to the organization’s networking and learning opportunities and he wanted to leverage the chance to build meaningful relationships in his own state.
Joel had met Mark Kuehn who shared that a strong group of business professionals, senior executives and especially founders had begun networking in NJ where no other really prominent business group yet existed. The speakers, the excellent networking and the professional level of individuals comprised the membership, then and now, made it the right place to be as far as Joel was concerned.
From there the two of them along with a strong group of founders began the process of launching the chapter. As a board member and a founder, Joel also took great pride in helping to build special interest groups that would serve key targets, such as CEOs, CFOs, CDs, In-House Counsel and angel investors by providing forums where they could meet each other, exchange experiences and share best practices. These forums have continued to flourish over the years under Joel and Mark’s guidance, with new forums being added, including one that addresses the challenges of Human Resource professionals.
Joel offered his insights into the value of ACG NJ, saying, “I am glad to have helped to launch, nurture and ensure the sustainability, of a unique business group that is specifically for high quality, successful business leaders who live and work in New Jersey.”
Matt Finlay was one of the first people that Mark Kuehn reached out to right after he got the green light from Association for Corporate Growth - Global to launch a New Jersey chapter. The global team advised Mark that to enjoy a successful start and build momentum quickly he needed to seek out specific business entities, including a PE firm, to assist with the launch. Since Matt and Mark had interacted occasionally in New York, he was the right choice for helping Mark with the start-up in New Jersey.
Matt, like Mark, had been active in the New York chapter for quite some time. Starting in 1996 he was aware that ACG stood alone as the premier industry association both locally and nationally for the private equity sector. So when the opportunity arose to host a New Jersey group, Matt knew it was a natural fit for him and his firm. ACG NJ would represent a great opportunity to generate deal flow for NJ based companies. He accepted Mark’s request and became a member of the first ACG NJ Board.
Matt always new that having local relationships was the key to success for him as private equity professional in New Jersey. With a firm that focused on the low end to mid-market deals, he was confident that he could build a powerful brand and extend the firm’s reputation as a leader in the New Jersey space through ACG NJ. With thousands of service providers located in the central and northern counties in the state, Matt was well positioned as a founder of the group to leverage opportunities for referrals by enriching his relationships with local service providers.
Fifteen years ago Matt was an energetic founder and he remains a board member and active participant still - because of the friendships and professional contacts he has made. He is always on the lookout for the small to middle market deal makers who will share referrals with him. And although his new responsibilities have expanded significantly, filling his schedule with international travel, he continues to attend meetings when he can, always ready to meet someone knew and to determine how to get engaged with the flow of deals across the state.
Matt is one of the true thought leaders of the chapter and his guidance and thoughtful advice has significantly contributed to the ACG NJ legacy.
When ACG NJ was in its earliest stages in 2003, one of the most important steps was to elect a board of directors that would nurture this new organization and enable it to move out of its infancy and begin to establish a leadership position in the business community.
During those formative months, George Hansen was invited to join the board. As George remarked in the interview, “we were a start-up, and very eager (and anxious) to make sure every program was great, attendance was high, and membership was growing”. Early on, George was asked to take on the role as VP Membership - a responsibility that he continues to assume today. His first step was to establish an active membership committee. They quickly built momentum and were gratified that during the first year and thereafter ACG NJ enjoyed steady growth.
George has stayed deeply engaged in ACG NJ over the last 15 years. “I feel very lucky to be involved in a business organization dedicated to promoting business growth and prosperity in New Jersey. ACG NJ has become a main hub of my relationship network. Also, the programming is consistently topical and entertaining. I have developed a great group of professional relationships and personal friendships, through ACG NJ.”
Like so many of the founders, as well as those who have joined more recently, George can provide many examples of how ACG NJ has helped him professionally. He can pick up the phone and get great advice on pretty much any business question or issue from someone who is an expert in that field. Also, George has made many new business referrals over the years and has received many as well. “I am in the M&A and financing business- and ACG NJ is a great fit with my professional focus”.
Nothing has changed the commitment George made to the organization in 2003. As George concluded “I continue to be awed by the commitment that so many of our members have to ACG NJ , especially those who invest their precious time serving on committees, the board, or assisting with our many programs and events.”
Allen Kohan had been active in ACG NY and ACG International and had a vision to start a program in New Jersey. Despite his intentions, not much happened until Mark Kuehn came along and reached out to him to talk about his ideas. Together, along with others who were dedicated to the idea of New Jersey having its own, distinctive group, they formed ACG NJ.
From the beginning Kohan understood the power of networking and the value of hosting excellent programs and speakers. As such, he contributed to the early success of ACG NJ, lending support and ideas to help the fledgling chapter gain momentum. His particular interest was in attracting corporate members to the chapter and, in one way, was helpful in establishing the highly respected CD Forum.
Today based on the unflagging support from Allen and others who were part of that “founders class” we have grown to be one of the most highly regarded business niche groups in the state.
Lou Monari was introduced to the Association for Corporate Growth as the idea to form a New Jersey chapter was beginning to gain some early momentum in 2003. Joel Cartun, one of the founders who was nurturing this idea was a client of Lou’s. When Joel began explaining the goals for launching this chapter, Lou quickly saw how important it would be for him to be a part of this organization, giving him the opportunity to interact with the state’s business community which would be particularly valuable given his business development responsibilities.
As Lou puts it, “Joel had me hooked in the first five minutes!” And quite frankly, Lou has been a major player since that first planning meeting. A founder, a member of the board and an active participant on the membership committee, Lou has invested 15 years in the Association for Corporate Growth, building a strong and sustainable NJ presence for himself and ACG NJ. Lou has demonstrated the benefits for a member like him who is willing to join committees, take on responsibilities and serve as a constant source of guidance and good judgement. In return for all he has given, Lou has also received much from the chapter.
While many members join and remain because they gain so much from building relationships with other business influencers and because they learn so much from the presenters, Lou takes that one step further. “I’ve been exposed to many different perspectives over the years, gaining a great education from interacting with smart people – both at the podium and in the seats,” he notes. But he is careful to emphasize that he enjoys the friendships, the fun, and the mentoring that has resulted from his dedication over the last 15 years.
When he reflects on the ACG NJ experience, Lou is quick to point out that, “I cannot match this unique population in any other business group. No matter where I participate, it is only ACG NJ that offers an opportunity to interact consistently with a distinctive audience comprised of corporate development/business owners, deal advisory/funding and service providers who assist deal-focused clients on growth. It is this combination that is at the heart of ACG NJ and it is the core differentiator for the group.
While Lou feels that his participation in ACG NJ has been greatly satisfying, both personally and professionally, it is ACG NJ that has been so fortunate to have him as an advocate and cheerleader!
Margaret (Peggy) Murphy first heard about the new chapter of ACG that was about to be launched when she connected with Mark Kuehn who was spearheading the effort. She also knew Matt Finlay who joined her in those first months as founders for the chapter. She was eager to be involved on behalf of her organization, a predecessor to Bank of America, recognizing the potential power that would result from networking with an elite group of business leaders. She was surprised that New Jersey did not have its own chapter and was glad when Mark gathered a group to rectify that situation.
The diversity of the new group and the board members was appealing to Peggy as it drew on a cross section that included both service providers and corporate decision makers. Early on she recalls that the board invested significant time into recruiting. They needed to quickly brand the organization and attract members to the programs. In order to build interest and momentum, she remembers making many calls to her own colleagues and clients, encouraging them to attend meetings and to find out the value of ACG in NJ. At the time they focused intently on attracting corporate leaders to the group but also appreciated the importance of the professional service providers and their influence in the community.
That was 15 years ago, and Peggy still remains a strong, consistent, loyal member. Throughout her career, different priorities came into play and at one point she briefly gave up her membership. But she returned when she recognized that she was losing out on so many opportunities to connect, and as importantly, to reconnect, with high level, high quality of people. Relationships help to drive her success as a banker – just as they do for all business professionals - and Peggy says there is no better place to attract and maintain great connections than at ACG NJ. The meeting topics have always been important, but it is the chance to make and reinforce her interactions with key contacts is at the core of Peggy’s continued support of and engagement in ACG NJ today.
We are glad to have Peggy as a Founder and we celebrate her dedication to ACG NJ!
When Al Sagarese, one of the founding members of the New Jersey Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, was recognized at the organization’s 15th year anniversary celebration, he commented that he has remained as a loyal member for over a decade and a half for a variety of reasons.
There is a commitment that charter members have when they have helped to launch a group, whether it is a business association, a trade council or a nonprofit organization. Al is no different. His ties to ACG NJ go all the way back to their first program in April 2003. From then on, the journey has proved to be a win-win situation.
ACG NJ benefits from dedicated business leaders who are will regarded in the community and who speak, as Al does, on behalf of the chapter. But Al also has much to gain in this mutually beneficial relationship.
As a strong advocate, he points to the people he has met and developed meaningful connections with, the relevant and timely topics he has been exposed to and the high quality of speakers, most often representatives of the “C” Suite or senior partners at professional service firms, who have engaged the members in lively dialogue that is essential to all members.
Just about two decades ago, when Heidi’s career took her daily to Manhattan, she joined the ACG NY chapter and immediately became an active participant. She volunteered for the women’s group and attended as many meetings as she could, recognizing the power of the networking opportunities provided by the chapter.
But eventually her professional life took a different trajectory and she found herself in New Jersey more often. This change took place just at the same time that Mark Kuehn was getting the ball rolling to launch a New Jersey chapter. They had met in New York, so when Heidi realized a NJ chapter was forming, she quickly volunteered to help build momentum. For about a year and a half Heidi maintained membership in both chapters before deciding that the NJ chapter was really much more aligned with her professional goals, her philosophy and her personal objectives.
Thing were beginning to percolate with the ACG NJ chapter and through her commitment and willingness to share ideas and resources she was recognized as a powerful force for the group, just as she remains today – 15 years later.
Her good experience at the NY chapter paved the way for her to become a dedicated ACG NJ member, and she continues in her leadership role in 2018 for all the same reasons she became connected more than 15 years ago in 2003.
Heidi is quick to remind everyone that, “ACG NJ has changed my life in so many aspects.” The tone of this local chapter is warm, welcoming and friendly, a reflection of the attitudes of the earliest members as well as of all the members who are currently engaged. It is inclusive and hospitable and as such everyone adds value and gains value from each other.
The early founders and board members focused on providing interesting and informative programs with excellent speakers on timely, important topics; on creating an atmosphere where networking and relationship building would flourish; and on ensuring a sustainable organization where members could regularly expect to be exposed to new ideas and trends.
Through her responsibilities on the Executive Board and specifically as the VP of Programming, Heidi has felt the challenge of upholding ACG NJ’s standard of excellence. She has done a remarkable job over the years, producing incredible events, driving attendance and membership month after month, while contributing to the legacy that now defines ACG NJ.
The ultimate test came when Heidi was in transition and proudly renewed her ACG NJ membership – paying her own way even when she was not employed! She made that choice because of the value that the organization had delivered for her. It is a considerably easier decision to make when the dues are paid as a corporate expense, but Heidi always understood that her participation in ACG NJ was an essential investment in herself.
Understanding the power of an organization like ACG NJ is a critical realization for us all to make – and we appreciate Heidi being a role model for us all!
ACG has been extremely valuable. Since joining, I have met many professionals that have introduced me to valuable opportunities, gotten me useful publicity and I've even hired someone I met through my involvement. In addition, two of my business partners, one in South Florida and one in New York City, joined their local groups and have had similar experiences.
Thank you for the work you and ACG do.
~ David Barnett, Chairman & COO, Corsis
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