public business and helped increase
its equity value by billions of dollars.
He has also used working capital
initiatives to help fund operational
restructurings. Esko has been part of
a number of successful turnaround
situations, some involving cost cutting
and balance sheet restructurings,
and others focused on driving top
line sales growth through revamped
marketing and product offerings.
experiencing challenges—or you could
say, opportunities—whether those are
growth roadblocks, merger integrations,
or pressure to beat record earnings.
Q Who inspires you professionally and/or personally?
Although the companies are in very
different industries, they have many
similarities. They both have great
products and great people. Usually with
that type of combination, you have a lot
of tailwind to make a difference—and
can have a lot of fun along the way.
Before joining Sun Capital, Esko was
with AlixPartners. He holds a bachelor’s
degree in finance from the University of
Illinois and has completed the Executive
Scholar Program in General Management
from the Kellogg School of Management
of Northwestern University. He is also
the CEO and chairman of Together
Giving Smiles (Juntos Regalando
Sonrisas), a charity that helps children
in Latin America and South Florida.
There are so many amazing
talents in the world, both in business and
in other areas like music and athletics
that are sources of inspiration. For me it’s
the underdogs that really inspire me—the
ones that have overcome some crazy
challenge to get where they are today.
Whenever I read about someone like
this, I always think I should be doing
more and better.
Since I loved the products of both
brands, it was easy to become
completely immersed with the
businesses. When I worked with Smokey
Bones, either I was eating at Smokey
Bones, eating at the competition, or
eating both for the same meal. With
that kind of business research, getting
in a heavy workout each day was key.
Q You’re originally from Chicago and went to school at the University of
Illinois and Northwestern. How did you
end up in Florida?
Q How did you gravitate into turnaround/restructuring work?
I feel like I’ve lived around the
world, but my home base was in Chicago
until about eight years ago, and then I
made my home base Miami.
At Kellwood, most of the brands
targeted women, but one of the major
brands not only had amazing women’s
clothes, but they also had a men’s line.
I probably wore the clothes six or seven
days a week, and I realized why the
brand had so many loyal customers.
On both situations, the great teams
at the companies engaged TMA
professionals to help in areas like
operational excellence, real estate lease
reviews, legal, and investment banking.
I started my career as a
generalist at a big consulting firm with a
number of business lines. It always
seemed like the turnaround professionals
lived an exciting life of tight deadlines
and travel. At 22 years old, I thought, “I
am not exactly sure what they do, but I
want to be like them.”
At the time, I was working as part of
a management team of a company
in Europe, and I was flying back to
Chicago and getting snowed in for the
weekend. As I was traveling back and
forth, for a Christmas present one year,
I gave my little brother a trip to Florida.
Sometimes when you’re separated from
a situation, you can speak very rationally.
He was 14 years old, a freshman in
high school or something like that, and
he said, “Hey, I’d hate for you to leave
Chicago, but as long as you’re only
home on the weekend, why wouldn’t
you come home to this weather?”
Q What role has TMA membership layed in your career?
With that said, it was very difficult to
get staffed on a turnaround project as
a junior consultant because project
leaders wanted much more experienced
people on the projects. Then, I learned
that one of the turnaround teams had
a need for a certain type of analysis
involving a database program. I studied
the problem day and night—I practically
slept with the program manual—and
became somewhat of an expert.
This got my foot in the door with the
turnaround team and gave me the
chance to make a lasting impression.
Being a member of TMA
delivers three really great benefits:
learning, finding resources, and
networking with really smart people.
I started coming back for the weekend
to Miami, and I basically just stayed.
I really love the learning from the
panel discussions at TMA events.
Hearing about how people achieved
success in other businesses helps me
think differently about the challenges
that I’m currently facing, as well as
anticipate future situations. You have
to keep an open mind to new ideas.
Q What were your most gratifying/ favorite/important engagements?
Once I experienced a real turnaround
project, I knew I wanted to stay in that
business. I absolutely loved the energy,
the teamwork, and the call to action
that was involved with this type of
work. Most importantly, the satisfaction
of making a real, tangible difference
in a business was very rewarding.
In my current role, I am constantly
seeking out the best resources to
recommend to our portfolio companies.
The TMA network is large, and I can
find great resources for just about
any situation in the U.S. or Europe.
2013 Although I continue to work with
turnarounds when needed, I realized
years ago that the skills were also very
applicable for healthy companies
Although I have really enjoyed
a number of situations, two that are very
fresh in my mind are Kellwood, a fashion
apparel wholesaler and retailer that
designs, manufactures, and markets
brands such as VINCE, Rebecca Taylor,
David Meister, XOXO, and Jolt, as well
Smokey Bones, a restaurant chain. It
might sound funny, but these were two
of my favorite things: fashion and
comfort food. I was also a target
customer for both brands, which gave
me an advantage on perspective versus a
The networking aspect of TMA is really
important to me. As I said, new ideas
are what keep me energized about this
business, and you only get to those
by meeting and engaging with great
people. TMA brings together a group
of enthusiastic, smart people who are
always happy to share a story or two.