After executives of American Capital Strategies (ACS) visited the Easley, S.C., headquarters of Confluence Holdings the second week in June, it became clear they would consider making changes at the top level, according to insiders who spoke with SNEWS®. That change came about on June 14 when Bob Sharp was removed from his position as acting CEO of Confluence, and it was announced that Tom Nathanson, head of the ACS industrial group (which specializes in company operations), would step in to oversee Confluence.
Nathanson, who seems refreshingly candid and honest in tone, told SNEWS® that while he wasn't jumping up and down asking for the job, he was eager to accept the challenge of restoring Confluence's reputation.
"I was asked if I would personally take the job, and I immediately agreed," said Nathanson, who spoke with SNEWS® shortly after arriving in Easley. "I am happy to be here, and, from my initial observations, I am very encouraged. I think the biggest and most important thing we need to do is step back and catch our breath a bit."
Citing his immediate concern for the well being of both the Confluence employees and customers, Nathanson told us that he is not coming in to immediately focus only on the bottom line. "We have to first take care of our employees and our customers. I am having employee meetings with all shifts starting tomorrow, and I will share with them what they can expect from me and what we need to do to make sure we are a good performing company. I will also be at Summer Market to meet personally with as many of our customers as possible."
Starting immediately, and under Nathanson's direction, Confluence is beginning a process to hire more employees and key staff to rectify the well-documented failures in customer service, accounting and shipping.
Nathanson realizes that his honeymoon period will likely be very short (with some retailers, there won't be one at all), and he's fine with that, he told SNEWS®. "There is no sugar coating our performance -- it has been embarrassing,” he said. “I do think this company appears to have been an excellent supplier in the past, and there is nothing I see that tells me we can't be an excellent supplier again."
Though he currently holds the title of acting CEO of Confluence, Nathanson told us he doesn't want that job for long.
"One of my top priorities is to fill the long-vacant CEO position. Ideally, I would like to be able to name a new CEO in the next 90 days, and we do have some very serious and excellent candidates already in consideration," Nathanson said, while also noting that, sometimes, things do take a bit longer than hoped for.
Still, he said that this hire is key.
"When we talk about employees and customers and meeting their needs, they need the kind of leadership (that comes from) a CEO who is dedicated to the company from an executive standpoint," said Nathanson.
He emphasized again that one of the reasons he was not going to be managing Confluence from the bottom line is that he feels he has been given an opportunity to learn about a business environment that he has not really encountered before -- where being an enthusiast really matters.
"I have an interesting job with American Capital," Nathanson told SNEWS®. "I go into companies and, each time, basically have folks tell me that they are different than anyone else for one reason or another. But really, the issues are the same -- you have people, product and customers. At least that is what I thought. But this truly is the first company where there is something different that I can see and feel, so I may have to eat my words a little bit here.
"It is clear to me, unless I am proved wrong, that in this business, it is the enthusiast that runs it, not the financial people, if you are going to be successful," added Nathanson. "If you want the numbers to come, you have to make a commitment to the culture. This will be different, and a bit of a challenge as this is not the way I would normally manage."
Though he is not making any promises yet -- noting he's only been on the job a little over a week -- Nathanson did allow that he sees great potential and opportunity to fix the problems…maybe not overnight, but soon. "I do think we have a great core group of people, and we need more. I am not a boater, but from what I can see, the brands look to be solid. The products are great. All the things that are currently wrong are very embarrassing to us, obviously, and they are basic things…fixable things. It may not be great for a little while yet, but we understand the goal."
SNEWS® View: For more than three years, Confluence has existed behind a Berlin Wall of non-communication and somewhat dictatorial rule that’s not at all well suited to engendering good will and high morale amongst employees and retail customers. ACS finally tore down the wall that Bob Sharp built. Nathanson acknowledged that ACS realized change was needed. And what a change it is. Indeed, in our 30 minutes of conversing with Nathanson, we were not only pleasantly impressed -- we were downright thrilled. ACS has invested $64 million in Confluence to date. They will now, likely, invest more. And with Nathanson at the helm, it will be money well spent we suspect. Nathanson told us that his basic tenets for operating a business were respect, fairness and honesty, and that is refreshing. Not only did he answer our questions directly, but he also took notes, and asked questions of his own. This is a man who listens, observes, sees what needs to be done, puts the right people in place to get it done, and then empowers them with the needed tools to actually do it. Nathanson is acutely aware that this is Confluence's final chance with many retailers, and he accepts that. Based on our first interaction, we are sufficiently impressed to suggest that retailers give Confluence a bit more time to right the ship. We suspect that the company finally has a skipper who knows how to sail. Oh, and for the record, he told us he's going to start paddling a little bit to better understand the company -- how's that for character!