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Mark Sheffert: Proactive
From Twin Cities Business Monthly, June 2001

As a president at First Bank Systems (now U.S. Bancorp), Mark Sheffert oversaw 7,500 employees in 154 locations representing three-fourths of the company’s operations. "Much of my experience at First Bank was in fixing and renewing troubled areas," recalls Sheffert of his tenure, which lasted for most of the ‘80s. "When I started there, their insurance operations was losing about $1.3 million; three years later, we were making $18.8 million." There were similarly impressive increases in loans, and in the brokerage and trust operations. The experience of turning things around was the
impetus for a new career, Sheffert says: "I thought I might as well make a living at that."

He founded Manchester Companies, a private investment-banking and management advisory firm, in 1989. One of the nation’s leading business recovery and renewal firms, it just logged its third consecutive year of 100-percent growth. Based in downtown Minneapolis, Sheffert’s firm has helped more than 300 private, public and non-profit organizations-most of them in the $10- to $200-million range – improve their financial condition. In 1999, Manchester received the Turnaround of the Year award from the national Turnaround Management Association.

Manchester’s initial focus- merchant banking- involved acquiring companies, turning them around, then selling them. "That whole process was just too slow," says Sheffert. "Also, I felt we were conflicted because a company’s board of directors was never sure if we were the fox or the shepherd."

In 1995, Sheffert shifted his company’s principal efforts to turnaround management. "To be on the turnaround side," he says, "I believe you really need to be adept at the investment banking side as well, which includes M&A, financing, and refinancing. One of the first things that happens when you go into a turnaround is that the bank says, ‘We want off the loan.’ So you need to find new financing or new equity for the company. Or you get into a company and find out that it has several tentacles hanging off that need to be sold or divested."

In January, Sheffert decided to change things up again. "I was really happy with our results in 2000, but I also realized my limitations," he says. "I had taken the company as far as I could take it and still enjoy some semblance of a normal life. So I’m in the process of bringing in some pretty high-powered partners with complementary
skill sets."

And now that he’s spread the leadership responsibility around, Sheffert can devote more time to the educational program he started six years ago. "I decided to be really proactive," he explains. "Rather than wait for companies to get into trouble, I wanted to move farther up the food chain. So I went out and gave presentations about early warning signs of trouble to banks, groups of investors, and chamber of commerce meetings. I’m trying to help people get out in front of these kinds of problems instead of waiting for them to turn into a crisis."

Sheffert, who also writes for various magazines and industry newsletters, says he’s not afraid of giving away his trade secrets. "What we do is really an art, not a science," he says. "The art comes only with experience."

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