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Global Expert: Marc Beilinson, Investor & Senior Executive

Marc Beilinson is an experienced investor and business executive who is known for his expertise in working with billion-dollar companies. With over 30 years of experience, Marc has been instrumental in assisting companies to overcome financial and legal challenges, resulting in successful turnarounds. He currently serves on the boards of directors of Apollo Global, Athene and other public companies.  He is also the managing director of Beilinson Advisory Group and has previously served on the boards of dozens of public and private companies. His insights are based on years of experience, research, and working with hundreds of businesses.

I’m thrilled to have Marc as a guest in our Global Expert Interview Series, where he’s sharing his valuable insights and experiences working with some of the world’s leading businesses. He has a wealth of knowledge and a track record of success in the financial and operational restructuring of consumer, retail, and industrial companies.

In this interview, Marc shares his tips on how to make the most of connections, how to evolve through failures, and he offers advice on how to grow a business. Here at Jus Agency, we will continue to explore the intersection of growth marketing and brand building in our Global Expert Interview Series. Follow us on Instagram @jusagency where we’ll share more from established global founders, industry leaders and investors.

Julia Ager

Founder, Jus Agency

Hello Marc! Thank you for joining us. Tell us a little bit about you and your background.

I grew up 30 miles east of Los Angeles.  My family was in the lower economic class although I didn’t realize it as a child.  It was an insular community – to make it you had to choose to get out of the area and expand your horizons.

People who chose to get out, did so through education.  The cheapest local college then was UCLA, where anyone in my high school could get in. At that time, public education was easily accessible and affordable; now it’s much more problematic.

How did you get to the career path that you’re on now?

Part of it was making a decision once I was at UCLA about what I wanted to do in the future, but I had no real passion or direction.  I knew I wanted to go to the next level:  it was either go to business school or law school. Law school was for three years and it would keep me out of the real world longer than business school. So, I chose law. I never intended to practice law for my entire career, and I didn’t. Instead I used it as a stepping stone to learn, meet people, build friendships and make a determination later on as to what my next step would be.

Law was never an end in itself, but the beginning of a journey. A lot of it had to do with people I met along the way, opportunities that presented themselves, and having the confidence and maturity level to accept the responsibility and the challenges when they presented themselves.

I later stepped away at the age of 47 from the practice of law, after being one of the lead attorneys of a successful 100-person law firm.  I left because I wanted to do something different in the distressed-business community. I had a lot of opportunities to be the Chief Restructuring Officer (CRO)/ CEO of troubled companies, sitting on boards of the companies, buying them, or being in private equity. At various points in time, I had different opportunities which I chose to pursue. In many ways, my career happened to me, rather than my actively choosing what the next steps would be.

Would you also say that your network was the most valuable thing that you got from those times?

Contacts are vital.  The relationships you build over time will give you opportunities that you might not otherwise have outside of your chosen profession, where you have some experience and knowledge base. New and interesting opportunities almost always come from the relationships developed, often from the early stages of  your career.

What are the key things you’ve learned when you were transitioning from law?

After leaving law, I decided to take a year off and just decide what I wanted to do. I started getting offers from private equity firms to run multibillion dollar troubled companies to either keep them out of bankruptcy or transition them through a bankruptcy process over a two to four year period of time.  My first project was a hotel company that had about 1.5 billion dollars of debt with 73 hotels and over 15,000 rooms. At the time my knowledge of the hotel industry was limited.  The reality is, once you’re in the position of CRO in a situation like that, it’s a trial by fire.

During the first three-month period of any new assignment you’re frightened every morning and you go to bed every night realizing how much you’ve learned and how much you’re capable of doing. After that transition, it becomes easier.  After the hotel company I moved on to Fisker Automotive where all of a sudden, others considered me an expert in the electric automobile industry. Later I oversaw the restructuring of Westinghouse, which is the largest nuclear energy company in the world. I wasn’t an expert in the hotel industry, electric car industry, or nuclear industry. But you learn, you figure out what you need to do to make those companies successful and you drive the result.

Once you go through those three months of fear the first time, you realize that you are capable of doing the job. You learn and figure out what the next moves should be in every situation, regardless of what industry it is or what type of job you happen to have. It’s the same skill set. It’s frightening, although it does become less so over time.

What growth advice would you give for a team that is building and creating a strong business culture?

When you walk into a distressed situation and you’re on top of the organization, everyone is fearful that you’re going to fire them. They are apprehensive of you and automatically assume you’ll be running the show however you want without any input.  

In distressed companies, and healthy ones, the biggest lesson is making everyone understand that you’re a team player:  you want them on your team. You want the best ideas and you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. If there are 10 people smarter than you in the room, everyone will be more successful.  You can’t have an ego or you need to learn to leave it at the door and you have to be open and accessible.  This isn’t always comfortable.

What do you wish that you knew or you’d done a little bit differently when you were starting out that would help you now?

Most of my best learning experiences came from failures rather than success. If you don’t look at your own failures, you’re not going to grow as a human being, and you’re not going to grow in business. That’s my advice for everybody. Go ahead and be harsh on yourself. But don’t beat yourself up over it. Everyone fails. It’s just part of the traditional learning process.

What I would do differently is that I would not be as harsh as I was early on in my career. I was too direct, lacking in emotion, rather than more understanding and focused on teamwork, which will always lead to greater success.

Presently, I’m on the board of directors of Apollo Global, which has a half trillion dollars of assets under management – not operating it on a daily basis, but overseeing it as a board member. We’ve done a lot of things which would never have been done in a company with 1000’s of direct employees. When you look at all the companies that we own, and that’s a half million employees in total, it’s all about building the right culture that matters regardless of the hierarchy.  One change was to put in a nice cafeteria, coffee rooms and gyms. We chose not to have big offices for the executives:  the executives’ offices are cubicles, too, and we encourage open door policies and casualness as part of culture and team building. You would never have seen that at a private equity firm five or ten years ago.  Most of this was driven by Apollo’s CEO, Marc Rowan.

What growth advice would you have for startups and businesses that are in the early stages?

You have to realize what your skills are and then evaluate them. Being a COO and growing the operations of a company wasn’t my skill set. For this reason, I would surround myself with people who have that ability. Putting yourself around people who have the qualities and the capabilities that you don’t comes from an honest self- assessment.  The conclusion is that you can’t do it all. There isn’t anybody I know who’s a great COO, who also happens to be a great salesman, or a great marketer, or a great tech person. We all have one or two skills that we’re good at. For other skills, we have to put the right people around us. My advice is to find and partner up with the right people.

What is some of the best advice that’s been given to you?

I’ve been given a lot of advice:  some of which were key to my career. The first and best advice is that you’ll either be successful when you try or you’re going to fail first in order to learn. At the beginning of my career I always thought, the minute you fail you are going to be judged on that for the rest of your career. The truth is if you take enough risk, you are going to fail; if you don’t take risks, you’re never going to succeed.

The second is pay your dues and create relationships. When you meet people in a business transaction, take the opportunity to call them; take them to lunch or dinner. Some of those people became my best friends. Those friends see what you’re capable of doing and later on, they will give you some of the best opportunities.

The third is related:  it’s getting to know people on the other side of the deal by. Twenty years ago, times were different:  deals might end up with me cursing at them and having the same response come back at me. Then we would realize that we liked each other and start doing things together rather than as adversaries. That happened three or four times in my career and created some of the best opportunities to come my way.

If you had $1,000, $10k or $150k to invest in your business what would you invest in?

It’s interesting that my answer will change every decade. Technology would be my answer right now. Technology can make a difference in your operations, in your margin, and the way you manage your business. Technology can be the biggest and best investment you can make, because it can drive your business in so many different ways.

A CRM like Salesforce is great as far as making sure that your clients and your customers are getting touched frequently by the right people in the right manner. Salesforce is a good tool to direct your people; to see what they’re doing and help them evolve into doing it better, or to inspire different people in different ways.

Any final thoughts that you think would be useful to startups and new businesses?

My final advice is that you have to market yourself and be in front of as many people as possible to succeed. Also crucial is determining who are the people who can best help you in your industry.  Try to have them on your team and don’t give up!

You can connect with Marc Beilinson via LinkedIn.

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