What I say to people is that we're committed to our companies. Every single business we invest in gets senior attention. I believe we are true partners with these businesses. We'll tell managers what we think, and we'll stand by that. I think that's critically important. I don't see it happening all too often.
Brooke Ablon is one of the co-founders of Fort Point Capital. As Partner, he is responsible for all aspects of the firm’s activities.
Prior to founding Fort Point Capital in 2010, Brooke was a Founding Partner of Fidelity Equity Partners, a $500 million growth buyout fund sponsored by Fidelity Investments. At Fidelity Equity Partners, Brooke was responsible for the fund’s North American operations, was a member of its investment committee and Chairman of the Board for two portfolio companies. During his tenure co-leading Fidelity Equity Partners, the firm was created, successfully launched in the marketplace, and completed four acquisitions and one exit.
Before Fidelity, Brooke was a Partner at The Riverside Company in New York. While at Riverside, Brooke sponsored 20 acquisitions, was a member of its investment committee and was Chairman of the Board for 11 portfolio companies. Brooke’s primary investment activities focused on healthcare, business services and consumer services. Previously, Brooke was a founder of ARI Group, a broker-dealer and opportunity fund focused on distressed debt and underperforming businesses, and earlier was an officer at Bank of Boston.
Brooke received a B.A. in history and psychology from Amherst College. He lives in Boston and is an avid sports fan.
Why did you decide to start Fort Point Capital?
In the early ’90s, I was at Bank of Boston working on the sell side, which is when and how I eventually realized that being on the buy side was much more interesting to me. So I left to set up my own company called ARI Group. It was my first truly entrepreneurial endeavor.
From ARI, I joined The Riverside Company to help grow what was, at that time, a relatively small business investing out of a $107 million fund. While I was there, we grew the staff by nearly tenfold, and I was eventually investing out of a $750 million fund.
What I enjoyed most was the entrepreneurial aspect... the expectation that you're willing and able to do your own thing. That's why I joined Riverside. Ultimately, however, it's also why I left.
From very early on, I saw Fort Point Capital as a fundamentally entrepreneurial opportunity for me and for us—one in which we'd be able to put our fingerprints on the fund's DNA. Where we could focus on investing where we think there's opportunity, but also in places we personally enjoy working in. Where we'd be able to define and create the culture and principles of the firm. Ultimately, I saw it as a place where we'd be free to focus on what we love doing. That was all it took for me; I was in. Fort Point Capital was born.
What are the biggest or the common challenges facing your portfolio companies?
We invest in successful small businesses that're already doing great things for their constituents. And we're asking—and working with them—to double or triple in size in most cases. That's a challenge for any company. One of the biggest challenges is simply managing the change itself. This requires professionalizing the company's approach and, of course, flawless execution.
This is typically something these companies haven't done before. Very few have, in fact. But our management teams invariably meet the challenge head-on. Even though it means change in how they do business and potentially to the infrastructure of the company itself—these actions improve their ability to execute against what are some pretty lofty goals.
In general, we're adding people. We're adding processes and procedures. And in a lot of cases, we're adding to the company's growth, not incrementally, but impactfully by penetrating new markets or adding new services. We tend to help them do big, high-impact things. Much more so than just slashing every conceivable operating cost.
It's a lot and it's a challenge, but it's also incredibly exciting.
How do you know when you’ve found a company that’s a good fit?
Good question. We're very selective. One thing that’s critical is alignment with the owners of the business and the management team. Is there agreement on where we want to take the business and do we feel like we can be good partners? Is there somebody we can work with and who wants to work with us? Do we have a shared vision for the company and the shared desire to execute it?
Second, we look for companies that are growing. Companies that have a strong value proposition in their service offering and high margins, which we believe translate into their value proposition to their constituencies. Companies that have strong management teams and are favorably positioned within their market.
Third, do we believe that we can add real value to this company? Value that will accelerate its growth? Based on our experience and our ecosystem, where can we make a real difference? I think what's interesting about the lower middle market is that these companies, by virtue of the fact that they're smaller, tend to have more growth opportunities.
How is partnering with Fort Point Capital different from partnering with other private equity firms?
What I convey to people is that we're committed to our companies. Every single business we invest in receives senior attention. I believe we are true partners with these businesses. We'll tell managers what we think, and we'll stand by that. This is critically important and I don't see it happening all that often.
When you're not at the office, what are you usually doing?
Spending time with my kids. I try to just hang out with them as much as I possibly can before one of them gets a driver's license. We also ski quite a bit up in New Hampshire, which is just an awesome thing to do as a family. Lots of fun, lots of memories up there.
What's your most memorable investment?
They're all special - really they are. But one does stand out. Right after I joined Riverside, this was 1998, we're closing our first deal and I'm signing the papers to complete the legal acquisition of this company from the hospital as my son Charlie is being born. That particular business was originally named Hudson Sharp, and, for a brief moment or two there, I know we were both thinking, "You know ... 'Hudson' might make one heck of a middle name." But the moment passed.