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Client Q&A

Q&A with Ted Kramer, President & CEO, HKW

I believe that public relations and content marketing support brand awareness. As the number of PE firms has grown exponentially over the past few years, the need to proactively differentiate oneself within a crowded marketplace I feel is more critical than ever.

HKW was founded in 1903 as a merchant bank and has been a buyout private equity investor since 1982. How has this history helped HKW succeed?

We believe our long history supports that our culture and processes are effective, resilient, and continually evolving to keep pace with this ever-changing industry. Over the last 117 years, the world has changed, markets have been good and bad, HKW employees have joined and retired, but the firm’s vision of aligning ourselves with all our stakeholders has remained constant. This vision we feel has been a key to our success. I am the sixth CEO at HKW, and my core philosophies mirror those of our Founders.

We believe our long operating history has allowed HKW to build a strong reputation, including a tremendous deal sourcing network. We have relationships founded on decades of interactions, which has helped HKW find investment opportunities.

HKW is one of the few private equity firms based in Indianapolis. Is this a positive differentiator for the firm?

Our perception is that for the most part, yes, especially to our platform partners. Indiana has a reputation for honesty, integrity, humility, and hard work, which we believe are hallmark traits for HKW. We find that our culture is very appealing to sellers who are facing a significant decision in choosing a financial partner. By striving to be a partner who is capable, trustworthy, and dependable, HKW continues to establish valuable long-term relationships.

The firm recently underwent a comprehensive rebranding effort. Can you discuss the objectives behind the initiative, what the new HKW brand stands for, and any lessons that came out of the process?

When HKW’s current leadership took the reins, it was essential for us to honor the vision of HKW’s founders while illustrating the evolution and direction of the firm today. The result: a message that highlights the processes HKW has developed to source, close, grow, and exit our portfolio companies through our Four Pillar investment strategy. We believe the rebranding initiative reinforces our collaborative culture.

There were a lot of lessons that came out of the rebranding process, and we appreciate the feedback we have received from our constituents. For HKW, we felt that finding the right partners, who could understand our history and vision for the future, was key to a successful launch, sounds simple enough, but this did take a fair amount of time. We are thankful for the partnership with Monogram Group and BackBay Communications.

Why is it important for private equity firms to create strong brand awareness?

I believe people associate themselves with what they know, understand, and believe. Consider brands like Apple, Coca-Cola, or McDonald’s; they are recognizable, but more than that, you can, in some way, identify with the company. Establishing brand awareness is valuable in providing a connection to each company’s unique characteristics. When stakeholders are comparing competing companies, these connections power decisions, and in a competitive industry like PE, brand awareness can provide the benefit of the doubt for opportunities regarding capital, companies, or talent.

HKW was one of the early adopters in private equity to build out and develop a sourcing and business development function. At a time when proprietary deals seemingly no longer exist, why is this such an area of emphasis for your firm?

Yes, HKW was one of the early adopters to develop and implement the sourcing function. We believe in building genuine, authentic relationships through personal interaction and mutual respect. While we feel that the vast majority of deals today are not conducted on a proprietary basis, we believe that our dedicated sourcing team is essential in many competitive situations. I think that more and more firms realize that the sourcing function is a valuable resource by creating sincere relationships, improved access to decision-makers, and uncovering opportunities in competitive processes.

How do you view the role of public relations and content marketing in conveying HKW’s story to an external audience?

I believe that public relations and content marketing support brand awareness. As the number of PE firms has grown exponentially over the past few years, the need to proactively differentiate oneself within a crowded marketplace I feel is more critical than ever. Whether it’s through the media, delivering timely and thoughtful industry insights, or finding the right speaking opportunities, sharing our approach, and demonstrating our strengths is crucial for ones success.

Before your career in private equity, you played professional hockey. How has this shaped your approach to business?

My experience playing hockey has definitely helped me succeed in private equity. My attitude around the office is similar; team alignment, continually working towards the next goal, and you are only as good as your last shift on the ice.

But even more important than my hockey achievements are what I have learned from mistakes and disappointments. In business, we must not be afraid of making mistakes but instead rise above and make improvements. I stress to our team the importance of making decisions, driving forward, and learning to adapt to the various headwinds. Yes, we will have missteps, but in the end, the result is always progress.

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