Brand Velocity Group is on a mission to disrupt the private equity landscape in a way that benefits all stakeholders.
Historically the PE model has been both ill-equipped, or better said, unwilling to provide the resources necessary to supercharge portfolio company growth. In forming BVG, we recognized a unique white space opportunity, leading to our thesis that by marrying best-in-class, in-house marketing resources with deep relationships across all sectors and industries – while also infusing a bit of “heart” into all that we do – we would put ourselves in a position to drive innovation, create immense brand value, and change the game.
Steve is a Founding Partner and the Managing Partner of BVG. Steve combines financial expertise with a disruptive approach to value-add strategies in private equity. Previously, Steve was a Co-Founder and a Managing Partner of a lower-middle market private equity fund focused on the consumer sectors.
Steve was previously a corporate lawyer at Kirkland and Ellis, and Cahill Gordon & Reindel. Steve received his BA in East Asian Studies with honors from Harvard College in 1992 and his JD from Harvard Law School in 1995. He was the New York State High School Chess Champion in 1988.
Steve is married to his wife, Gretchen, and has three boys, Andrew, Joshua and Matthew. In addition to spending time with his family, Steve is passionate about traveling, classic rock music, Disney and the Buffalo Bills.
As a Founding Partner of BVG, Drew has more than 20 years of leadership experience developing innovative, successful revenue programs and new business ventures to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in the entertainment/sports and media industries.
Previously, Drew was Senior Vice President of Brand Ventures at WME-IMG, Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer for the Breeders’ Cup, President of Simon Brand Ventures, and VP Business Development for Madison Square Garden, The Coca-Cola Company, the Baltimore Orioles, and the New York Mets. Drew’s franchises broke attendance and revenue records and achieved industry recognition for innovation.
His noted groundbreaking accomplishments include establishing a new profit center revenue model for the commercial real estate industry and a new model for athletes becoming business owners, and the creation of sports as entertainment business ventures (e.g., MTV Rock n’ Jock, and the entertainment/sports industry’s first-ever interactive FanFest for Major League Baseball and The Coca-Cola Company). He has been featured in media including CNN, CNBC, ABC News, New York Times, NY Post, Business Week, Sports Illustrated, Sports Business Journal, and Boston Globe.
Drew lives in Miami and loves spending time with his family. An outdoorsman, he enjoys time at the beach and playing tennis. Always incessantly curious, Drew takes great joy in learning and experiencing new things. He is a passionate sports fan with the Giants and Mets as his favorite teams.
Austin is a Founding Partner of BVG with a focus on building sustainable, scalable businesses through an operationally focused, hands-on approach to value-added private equity. Austin comes from a third-generation family business and founded RunCap Partners, the lower-middle market investment arm of an affiliated family office.
Previously, Austin served as CEO of Omniboard, a technology and services provider offering three tools – data-extraction hardware, enterprise platform software, and a 24/7/365 call center – and an electrical contractor installation service that together allow building managers to remotely monitor and control their major electricity-consuming devices (e.g., HVAC, lighting).
Prior to Omniboard, Austin worked as an Associate directly with BVG Managing Partner Steve Lebowitz at the private equity firm Steve co-founded. Before that firm, Austin was an Analyst at private equity firm Fundamental Capital. Austin graduated from UCLA with a focus on Economics and Political Science. He is a former four-time All-American long-distance runner, UCLA record holder (3000m), and Adidas-sponsored professional athlete.
Austin and his wife, Kate, have two young boys, Miles and Graham. In addition to spending time with his family, Austin loves to play sports (any sport) as well as play the acoustic guitar.
Eli Manning joined the BVG team as a Partner in 2021. A proven leader on the field and a savvy investor and brand-builder off it, Eli is involved in all aspects of the firm, including supporting its growth, sourcing new investment opportunities, and enhancing the value of its portfolio companies.
Throughout his 16-year career with the New York Giants, Eli was regarded as one of the NFL’s most elite quarterbacks. Known for his incredible work ethic, iron-man mentality and natural leadership skills – he led his team to Super Bowl wins in both 2008 and 2012, earning Super Bowl MVP honors each time.
The former number one selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, Eli’s accomplishments extend well beyond the field, as he was recognized as the co-recipient of the 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his work in the community. He lends his time to numerous charitable efforts, including Tackle Kids Cancer with the Hackensack University Medical Center, March of Dimes, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and the American Red Cross. He also has raised millions for The Eli and Abby Manning Children’s Clinics and the Manning Family Fund – launched in partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Eli attended the University of Mississippi, where he received numerous academic and athletic honors and graduated with a degree in Marketing. He and his wife Abby reside in New Jersey with their four young children. In addition to serving as a coach for many of their youth sports ventures, Eli also has become an expert on the state’s Sloppy Joes and is working on his paddle tennis game.
Jack joined BVG in 2020 and is a Vice President on the team. Jack brings an established track record in consumer & retail and M&A and a strong background in finance and accounting.
Previously, Jack was a Vice President at Threadstone Advisors, a boutique middle-market investment bank focused exclusively on the consumer & retail sectors. At Threadstone, Jack closed a variety of transactions across apparel, specialty retail, food & beverage, beauty & personal care and more. Before Threadstone, Jack was a Senior Associate in Deloitte’s Business Valuation & Financial Modeling Practice.
Jack received his BA in Economics from Vanderbilt University and a Master’s in Accountancy from Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Jack is also a CFA Charterholder. Jack lives in Brooklyn and enjoys spending his time seeing live music, hiking in the Hudson Valley, and relaxing in Northern Michigan with his family.
Russell is the Director of Brand Development at BVG. Russell works to drive and accelerate both brand and business growth for BVG portfolio companies.
A seasoned marketer, Russell joined the BVG team in 2020. Previously, Russell worked at Endeavor where he supported prominent consumer brands, teams/leagues, properties, and talent in order to develop new partnership models, creative campaigns, digital content/distribution strategies, experiential programs, and PR/social communications plans.
Russell graduated from The George Washington University and began his career with the New York Mets. He later joined Turner Broadcasting within its Entertainment Ad Sales division.
Russell lives in Brooklyn Heights with his wife, Aliza, and daughter Rylie. An avid sports fan, he supports the Knicks, Jets, and Yankees. Russell is also a self proclaimed “foodie” who enjoys trying new restaurants and testing his culinary limits at home.
Eric is an Associate on the team, having joined in 2023.
Previously, Eric was a Senior Associate at Alpaca VC, an early-stage venture capital firm where he focused on consumer technology and marketplace businesses. At Alpaca, Eric sourced multiple deals, developed investment theses, and assisted with fundraising and back office initiatives. Prior to Alpaca, Eric worked for Company Ventures where he primarily supported the firm’s early-stage investments. Eric began his career in investment banking at Lazard in the firm’s M&A practice. During his tenure, Eric closed multiple transactions across the industrials and healthcare sectors.
Eric holds a BA in History & Legal Studies from Northwestern University, where he graduated with honors. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and endlessly-spoiled dog. Outside of work, Eric is an active soccer player, die hard Manchester United supporter and aspiring home chef.
BRAND VELOCITY GROUP SPORTS
Applying our decades-refined operating playbook to drive top-line growth across the evolving sports ecosystem.
Brand Velocity Group Sports (“BVG Sports” or “BVGS”) is BVG’s sports investment platform and comprises an elite group of individuals who bring decades of operating experience in the most important areas of the sports business. All have championed innovation while driving significant economic impact during their storied careers. BVGS targets companies in sports and sports-adjacent categories, including legacy and emerging sub-verticals, in order to accelerate brand growth, provide financial flexibility, and drive economic impact.
Charles Baker is a partner and co-chairs Sidley’s Entertainment, Sports and Media industry group. Chuck represents investors in professional sports businesses and teams and advises on sports and entertainment transactions. With decades of experience in the sports industry, Chuck has represented sports franchise purchases across multiple leagues, including the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), Liga MX, and multiple European football leagues. Recently he represented Genius Sports in its multiyear strategic partnerships with the NFL and the Canadian Football League (CFL), and represented fuboTV in its acquisition of France’s number-one live TV streaming company, Molotov SAS. Chuck also represented the owners of the Angel City FC and KC Current soccer franchises in their expansion into the NWSL. He also recently advised on the acquisition of a minority interest in the Los Angeles Lakers and the US$2.275B purchase of the Carolina Panthers — the largest transaction for an NFL team to date.
Gerry Byrne is the Vice Chairman of Penske Media Corp (“PMC”). PMC owns leading entertainment, fashion, art and digital media brands including Rolling Stone, Billboard, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Vibe, Deadline Hollywood, IndieWire, TVLine, WWD, She Knows Media, The Robb Report and Art in America. Mr. Byrne’s decades of accomplishments as a media executive, entrepreneur and community leader are highlighted by a long run as publisher of Variety where he dramatically transformed that business into a powerful, diversified, global media brand. The start-up publisher of both Electronic Media and Crain’s New York Business, Mr. Byrne also successfully created The Quill Awards for NBC before he led a division of Nielsen that included The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard. Adweek and Backstage.
Joe Cohen has served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of West Ridge Associates, a sports and media consulting firm, since 2013. West Ridge’s clients include Platinum Equities, the Cleveland Guardians (Indians) and Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball, and The Switch, a broadcast transmission facilities provider. Mr. Cohen has served as an independent consultant of The Switch since May 2020 and previously served as President of Sports at The Switch from 2013 to 2018 and from 2018 through May 2020 (as an independent consultant). He was the Chief Executive Officer and Principal Owner of The Switch predecessor companies Hughes Television Network (1985-1989) and HTN Communications, LLC (2003-2013). Joe also held various senior executive roles with Madison Square Garden and was President of MSG Networks (1977-1985), while also serving as a member of the NBA and NHL television committees. He returned as Executive Vice President of MSG Media & Development from (1995-2002). Mr. Cohen was Chairman of the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL (1993-1995), serving on the NHL Board of Governors. He was President of Spectacor West and Chief Executive Officer of Spectacor Films (1991-1993), serving on the board of Allied Communications, Inc., an independent film distribution company. He also served as co-founder and a director of USA Network (1977-1981), and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of MSG Sports since June 2020.
Richard is part of the third generation of family leadership at ADVANCE, one of the largest media groups in the United States. ADVANCE’S portfolio of exceptional companies includes Condé Nast brands such as Vogue, The New Yorker, GQ and Vanity Fair, as well as local news media companies producing 30 newspapers and 12 websites in nine different metro areas. As leader of Headline Studio at ADVANCE, Richard has more than 30 years of experience in digital and print media. He began his career at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans in 1990, learning the business by gaining hands-on experience across the entire organization. In his current role as an executive at ADVANCE, Richard works with Advance’s local media groups across the country. He takes great pride in carrying on a family tradition of working closely with our best partners to help to grow their businesses.
Don currently serves as ICR’s President and co-runs the firm. Since 2001, he has worked to build ICR’s industry teams and corporate culture, driving the firm’s rapid global growth. Don is a leading expert on IPOs, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) and other complex corporate transactions. Don has led teams that have advised hundreds of companies on IPOs, mergers, acquisitions and other complex corporate transactions. Prior to ICR, Don spent over a decade as a portfolio manager and research analyst specializing in public and private investments in the consumer and technology industries. Prior to joining ICR, Don co-founded the asset management firm Meyer, Duffy & Associates and Meyer Duffy Ventures.
Shelley Finkel is a leading producer of live events, media and entertainment content. Previously, Finkel was Chairman and CEO of Sagebrush Gold Ltd. and its wholly owned subsidiary, Empire Sports & Entertainment Holdings Co., an entertainment company that promoted and produced live music and entertainment shows, and sporting events around the world.
Widely known as a boxing and music manager and promoter, Finkel managed and promoted boxing fighters from 1980 until 2010. He was selected by the Boxing Writers Association of America as manager of the year in 1990 and 1993. In June 2010, he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. From 2006 to 2010, Finkel was the President of Shelly Finkel Management Inc., a business specializing in the management of professional fighters, including world-class boxers such as Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao, Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Michael Moorer, Mike McCallum, and many, many more. In addition, he handled a number of business ventures for boxing heavyweight fighters Vitali and Wladmir Klitschko.
Prior to his career in boxing, Finkel was a music manager, producing the Watkins Glen Summer Jam concert, which featured the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and the Band.
Carl S. Hirsh is Managing Partner of Stafford Sports, LLC, one of the nation’s leading advisory firms for the development, planning and operations of sports and entertainment facilities and properties. For more than 35 years, Hirsh has served both the private and the public sectors. At Stafford Sports, Hirsh is currently responsible for all phases of development for a variety of high-profile facility projects including:
- Iowa River Landing Fieldhouse (Amateur and Scholastic Sports, Sports Tourism)
- Iowa River Landing Arena (University of Iowa)
- University of Texas New Arena
- Seattle New NHL/NBA Arena
Hirsh has led all aspects of the facility development process including financing strategies, business plans, operational planning and design, project budget oversight, contract negotiations, organizational and operating structures and overall project management. Under Hirsh’s guidance, the staff at Stafford Sports counsels clients in the areas of strategic planning for new multipurpose facility projects including facility operations, revenue growth initiatives and short and long-term growth strategies.
Bruce Lefkowitz is a veteran of over 30 years in Advertising Sales and Sales Management. He started his career at Turner in 1987 selling advertising for TBS and TNT and rose through the ranks culminating with a position at Vice President of International Ad Sales in London. He was responsible for the launch and implementation of the Turner Entertainment Ad Sales team. Lefkowitz next stop was a highly successful tenure at Discovery Communications where as a Senior Vice President he was responsible for the sale of advertising time on more than 10 Discovery owned networks including Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, And Travel Channel. His tenure saw revenue grow from $350 million to $750 million. Recruited to join Fox in 2002, Bruce was named the Executive Vice President for the Fox Cable Ad Sales Team responsible for the sale of FX and National Geographic Channels and later on FXX and NG Wild with revenue exceeding $900 million by 2014. In 2015, Lefkowitz was tapped to manage the consolidated sales efforts for all Fox national networks. Adding Fox Broadcasting, Fox Sports, FS1, and all digital advertising sales to his cable responsibilities. The group represented some of the most high-profile properties in all of television including the NFL, Super Bowl, Major League Baseball and it’s All Star and World Series franchises, the 2018 World Cup, American Idol, Empire, The Simpsons and countless other entertainment assets. Lefkowitz later founded Six Pack Media LLC in 2019, which offers a variety of competencies and services including: consulting, strategic advisory, fund raising and board participation.
Dan Porter is the CEO and co-founder of Overtime, building a global sports network for the digital generation. Overtime, with over 25 shows on 7 platforms, generates a billion video views a month and is backed by VC’s like Andreessen Horowitz and Spark, and Kevin Durant and former NBA commissioner David Stern. Previously Porter was the head of digital at Endeavor (WME). Porter also led and sold the gaming company OMGPOP for $200mm and ticketing company TicketWeb for $40mm. Porter was the creator of the Draw Something mobile game which was downloaded 250 million times. Earlier in his career Porter led development for Richard Branson and the Virgin Group, worked twice in the music business, was a public-school teacher in Brooklyn and was on the founding team and eventually the President of Teach For America, the national education non-profit.
Michele Roberts is an American attorney and former executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. As the first woman to head a major professional sports union in North America, Ms. Roberts served as the primary advocate for all players, ensuring the protection of the organization and its membership, as well as serving as the lead negotiator in all collective bargaining activities. Previously, Ms. Roberts was a renowned trial lawyer, focusing on complex civil and white-collar criminal litigation before state and federal courts and in administrative proceedings. She has been called the “finest pure trial lawyer in Washington, D.C.” and has received numerous accolades, including being recognized on rankings for Top Lawyers and Most Powerful Women. Ms. Roberts served for eight years in the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where she was Chief of the Trial Division. She is a frequent lecturer and presenter to both the bench and bar on a variety of topics and served as an adjunct member of the faculty at Harvard Law School.
Tom is a founder and CEO of ICR. Since 1998, he and his team have built the company into one of the largest, independent strategic communications and advisory consultancies in the world by combining senior-level capital markets experience and deep sector knowledge with traditional corporate communications expertise. The Company, which has grown its revenues more than ten-fold over the last ten years, has offices in New York, CT, Boston, Baltimore, and Beijing – with approximately 400 team members and 1000+ corporate clients. Throughout his career, Tom has analyzed companies from the perspective of communications advisor and Wall Street Journal ranked sell-side analyst, and these perspectives bring a unique dimension to his counsel, which is currently focused on IPO, SPAC and other transactions communications, activist & short-seller defense, and ongoing communications advisory. Prior to founding ICR, Tom served as a Managing Director in the equity research department of BT Alex. Brown (Deutsche Bank). He has extensive domestic and international business relationships and has been quoted and/or featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg Television. Tom has guest lectured at Harvard Business School, is the author of “Using Investor Relations to Maximize Equity Value” published by Wiley Finance in 2005, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Chad Jacobs Memorial Foundation and The John Patrick Flanagan Memorial Foundation.
For more than 20 years, Jim has represented professional athletes in a range of matters – from player contract negotiations to advertising and marketing contracts. He is certified as an agent by both the National Basketball Players Association and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association. Tandem’s roster of clients includes Ja Morant, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, Jarrett Allen, Desmond Bane, Cam Thomas, Thaddeus Young, Justin Jackson, Marvin Williams, Luke Kornet, Raymond Felton, Dominique Wilkins, Alana Beard and Tamika Catchings. Marketing and public relations clients include World Series champion pitcher Chris Young and first baseman Mike Ford. Tandem also provides communications services for authors including Andrea Chamblee (“The Capital of Basketball”) and sports documentaries including “A Most Beautiful Thing.” Recognized several times in Washingtonians list of “Top Lawyers” for media and sports law, Jim has also been selected twice by Sports Illustrated as one of the “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports.” In addition to professional athletes, Jim also represents a number of broadcasters and professional and college coaches in employment contract negotiations. He was a Morehead-Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received his BA in 1990, going on to earn his JD from the University of Chicago.
We are steadfast in our belief that, with the right partners in our ecosystem, we have the opportunity to amplify our impact in a way that drives brand and business growth, and reinvents private equity along the way.
To advance our mission, we’ve established the BVG Accelerator program, which comprises a select group of leaders who both understand the need for change and appreciate the platform for change afforded by a private equity “challenger brand.” Each Accelerator delivers a unique perspective and brings a wide array of expertise and experience to BVG and our portfolio companies.
Todd E. Benson is an accomplished investor, business builder and trusted advisor with more than 30 years of experience in private equity, venture capital, asset management and investment banking. Since 2011, he has served as the Managing Partner & CEO of Herington LLC. Through Herington, he is an investor, advisor and / or board member of numerous private equity and venture capital stage companies, as well as various private capital funds and nonprofit boards. Prior to Herington, he was the Managing Partner and Co-Head of Citi Private Equity (CPE), a globally diversified private equity and mezzanine debt platform with assets under management (AUM) of $11 billion. Prior to CPE, Mr. Benson was a Managing Director in Salomon Smith Barney’s Investment Banking Division where he executed numerous strategic and financing transactions on behalf of companies in the media, communications and information services industries as well as for portfolio companies of leading private equity firms. He received an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School where he was elected a George F. Baker Scholar and graduated with High Distinction, and a B.S. in Business Administration and Accounting from the University of Kansas.
Jason Burnham is a purpose-driven innovation, communications, and transformation strategist who leverages his diverse skills and multi-disciplinary approach to help organizations ensure strategy realization, purpose activation, and continuous improvement. Jason has established a successful career building companies and providing innovative solutions to meet the needs and demands of both business and society. With over twenty years of experience as a global business strategist, innovator, and management consultant, Burnham has built and supported organizations including Mass Transit Interactive (which he co-founded and later sold to Horizon Media), Burnham Marketing, MindTime, Strativity Group, and currently, Culture Design. Culture Design was recently honored with HR Tech Outlook Magazine’s “2020 Top 10 Organizational Development Companies” award and Acquisition International Magazine’s “Most Outstanding Change Management Consultancy” Global Excellence Award.
Warren Chaiken has served as the President and CEO of Almo Corporation since 2014. Almo Corporation is the largest independent distributor of appliances, consumer electronics, professional Audio/Video equipment, furniture and housewares in the United States. The company has received 9 Top Workplace Awards since 2013. In December 2021, Warren and his team sold Almo to DCC PLC. The transaction represents DCC’s largest acquisition to date and materially expands DCC Technology’s successful and growing North American business.
Warren is also involved with many charitable organizations. Because of his personal affliction with Crohn’s Disease, Warren holds a seat on the Board of Directors of the Crohn’s and Coltis Foundation of America (CCFA) whose goal is to help eradicate and improve the quality of life for children and adults affected by these diseases. Together with his family, Warren actively supports Philabundance, a local hunger relief charity, by organizing an annual giving and food drive. They are also committed to supporting the important work of other organizations including Angel Flight East, Covenant House, and Hospice Life Care Center. Warren lives in Blue Bell, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia) with his wife, Diane, PsyD (doctorate degree in Psychology) and basset hound, Stella. Warren and Diane have 2 boys – Benjamin and Joshua.
Tracy Deforge is a founder of The Players’ Impact, a venture platform for professional athletes, focused on the growth of early-stage companies, venture investment and pioneering business initiatives. An attorney by training, an entrepreneur in spirit, and an executive leader through her experience, Tracy’s career has focused for more than a decade on start-up companies and sports and media technology offerings. Tracy’s background provides management expertise, startup business initiatives, legal affairs experience and managing operations. Ms. Deforge has been starting, growing, and selling companies for over 17 years. Her roles and positions throughout her career saw her intimately involved in all aspects of entrepreneurship, from envisioning the concept, business planning, hiring, operations build out, fundraising, strategic partnerships, outsourcing, finances, marketing, and more.
Fred M. Diaz is an accomplished C-Suite executive leader who serves as an Independent Public Board Director for companies on both the NYSE and NASDAQ. Most recently, he was appointed to the Board of Archer Aviation in August of 2021 NYSE:ACHR, Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. NASDAQ:SWBI in May of 2021 and has served on the Board of SiteOne Landscape Supply Inc. NYSE:SITE (formerly John Deere Landscapes) since August of 2017. From April 2018 to April 2020, Mr. Diaz served as President & Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board for Mitsubishi Motors North America. Prior to that, he lived in Tokyo, Japan where he served as the General Manager of Global Performance Optimization at Mitsubishi’s Global Headquarters. Mr. Diaz also previously served in executive leadership roles as Division Vice President and General Manager of Nissan North America Trucks and Commercial Vehicles.
Craig Dubitsky is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of hello products and Chief Innovation Strategist of Colgate-Palmolive. hello, the world’s first naturally friendly oral care brand, was acquired by Colgate in January of 2020. hello has become the fastest-growing oral care brand in the United States, with its products now available in over 45,000 Food, Drug, and Mass retailers. In addition, Mr. Dubitsky was named to the Advertising Age Creativity 50, and by The Internationalist as one of the 100 Most Inspirational Marketers in the World.
Michael Faber is a corporate executive, family office advisor, and attorney with more than 25 years of experience investing in, operating and advising both large multi-national and emerging growth companies in a variety of industries. Since 1996, Mr. Faber has served as Chief Executive Officer of NextPoint Management Company, Inc., an investment and strategic advisory firm, advising family offices on a variety of issues including family office management, asset manager selection and oversight, direct investing and trust and estates. Mr. Faber has served as a director of more than 40 companies, and currently serves as a Director of CPI Aerostructures, Inc. (NYSE: CVU), a Director of Invesque, Inc. (TSX: IVQ.U), and as a Director or Senior Advisor to numerous private companies and asset management firms.
Ben Hasan is the Senior Vice President and Chief Global Culture, Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Walmart Inc. In this role, Ben and his team are responsible for the activation and strategic evolution of Walmart’s culture; the development of behaviors that embrace diversity and inclusion at all levels; and the promotion of the company’s external reputation as a great place to work.
Prior to joining Walmart in 2008, Ben worked 11 years at Dell Inc. where he progressed through several leadership positions before serving as Vice President of Corporate & Product Group Information Technology.
Before beginning his career, Ben earned a Master of Business Administration from Amberton University in Dallas and a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a computer science concentration from Temple University in Philadelphia. Ben also completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. Ben is a board member for several national and local organizations, including the Walmart Foundation; Catalyst Board of Advisors; Ron Clark Academy (Atlanta); United Negro College Fund; and Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Dr. Donna Hicks is an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. She was previously the Deputy Director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR), and worked extensively on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and as a member of the third party in numerous unofficial diplomatic efforts. In addition to the Middle East, she has worked in Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, Colombia, Libya, and has conducted several US/Cuba dialogues. She is the Vice President of Ara Pacis, an Italian non-governmental conflict resolution organization that focuses on the human dimension of conflict. Dr. Hicks was a consultant to the BBC, where she co-facilitated encounters between victims and perpetrators of the Northern Irish conflict with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The encounters were made into 3 television programs , Facing the Truth, which were aired throughout the United Kingdom and on BBC World.
Dr. Hicks has taught courses in conflict resolution at Harvard, Clark, and Columbia Universities and conducts trainings and educational seminars in the US and abroad on the role dignity plays in healing and reconciling relationships in conflict. She conducts Dignity Leadership Trainings in corporations, schools, churches, and non-governmental organization. She is the author of the book, Dignity: It’s Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, published in 2011 by Yale University Press. Her second book, Leading with Dignity: How to Create a Culture That Brings Out the Best in People, was published by Yale University Press in 2018.
Whitney Johnson is the CEO of Disruption Advisors, a tech-enabled talent development company, and a 2020 Inc 5000 fastest growing company. She is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of Smart Growth: How to Grow Your People to Grow Your Company (Harvard Business Press); Publisher’s Weekly described as “cogent…insightful…practical…inspiring.” Whitney is one of the top #10 management thinkers in the world, according to Thinkers50, a 2020 Top Voice on LinkedIn with 1.8 million followers and hosts the popular Disrupt Yourself podcast.
A former award-winning Wall Street equity analyst, she co-founded the Disruptive Innovation Fund with the late Clayton Christensen and has coached alongside Marshall Goldsmith. Whitney understands how companies work, how investors think, and how the best coaches coach, all of which she brings to her work. She is married, has two children, lives in Lexington, VA, where they grow strawberries, blackberries and raspberries and enjoy making jam.
Huey has spent over 30 years as an executive leader in Retail Technology, Global Sourcing, Multi-Channel Retail, Marketing and Merchandising. Huey has led Multi-Billion-dollar businesses with the largest companies in the world in US, China, Japan, India, UK, Germany, Mexico and France. Currently, Huey serves as the CEO of Autocado Automotive parts and accessories. Huey lives in Florida and is married to Tonya Long with 4 children and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a United States Navy Veteran. Huey is an active private pilot and Avid sports fan.
Frank Longobardi, is a former executive partner and Chief Executive Officer of CohnReznick. As Chief Executive Officer, Frank led the organization with a strategic focus on driving profitable growth, delivering world-class client service, developing a one firm-first culture, emphasizing risk mitigation, and evolving future leaders. Currently Frank is serving on the Loan Committee of Newtek Business Services Corp., and is on several Advisory Board’s including that of SAPRO, a company dedicated to providing chartered accountants from South Africa to U.S. companies on a temporary or permanent basis, the Arthritis Foundation, and the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation.
Cooper Manning is currently a Principal at AJ Capital Partners, a vertically-integrated real estate development and investment firm. As the Senior Managing Director, Cooper focuses on business development and investor relations. In 2014, A.J. Capital launched the Graduate Hotels brand, a hand-crafted collection of hotels in university-anchored markets across the country that currently has 32 locations across the United States. Most recently, in April 2021, Cooper landed a new media gig and debuted his weekly sports podcast called “Soup with Coop”, as part of The Volume podcast network. He also hosts “The Manning Hour (Minus 58 Minutes)” on FOX Sports NFL Sunday, and is the cohost of “College Bowl” on NBC.
Since late 2019, Rebecca Messina has been advising private clients and serving as a Senior Advisor with McKinsey & Co., as well as serving on boards and as an Executive in Residence with Emory University. Prior to advising, Messina most recently served as Global Chief Marketing Officer of Uber. As Uber’s first- ever CMO, Messina focused on standing up Uber’s first global marketing organization, building a world class E2E marketing network with the mission of helping the company define a strong brand in the hearts and minds of the consumers, drivers and communities it serves furthering a movement around the possibilities of “progress for all” in a shared economy. Prior to joining Uber, Messina was the Global Chief Marketing Officer of Beam Suntory and their world-class portfolio of brands – including Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Yamazaki Whisky, among others. Prior to joining Beam Suntory, Messina built a 22 years career at The Coca-Cola Company.
Diane Pearse is the Chief Executive Officer and President of Hickory Farms, LLC, a leading multi-channel retailer of food gifts and specialty foods. She assumed this role in March of 2016 and has been leading a transformation of the company to reinvent the brand and become the best retailer in the food gifting space. Over the last five years, she has driven the transformation through the introduction of hundreds of new products, completing a rebranding, successfully completing two acquisitions, aggressively growing the eCommerce business, increasing profitability, and building out a talented leadership team. From May of 2015 to March of 2016, Diane held the position of Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Finance for Garrett Brands, LLC, a privately held Chicago-based retailer of gourmet, handcrafted popcorn with over 40 locations globally. Immediately prior to joining Garrett, Diane spent four years as the Senior Vice President of Operations and Merchandising for Redbox Automated Retail, LLC. From 2001 to May of 2010, she served as the Chief Financial Officer of Crate and Barrel.
Since 2007, Kendra Reichenau has been leading businesses, building strong teams, and executing her strategic visions on her way towards driving top and bottom-line improvements across various businesses. Kendra has a genuine love of the customer, bringing a desire for quality products and a drive to deliver on a brand promise that maximizes potential. She has unique skills in identifying opportunities to engage, delight and retain both new and existing customers through key product innovations and a storytelling lens.
Kendra has worked with prestigious companies in the consumer space both small and large: Gap Inc, Kohler, Nordstrom, Luxottica and most recently Coolibar. Kendra has spent years in a variety of consulting roles with KPMG and Arthur Andersen as well as doing private advisory work in the PE space where she has worked as an Operating Partner and/or subject matter expert. Kendra is currently is the CEO of Heartland America a multi-channel seller of high quality, value driven products.
Kendra earned a degree in Political Science from Scripps College. She is married to her husband Ben, and lives in Minneapolis with their son who is now in college. She is passionate about education and mental health and believes that access to education and mental health support are needed to create true equality. As such, she is active on the board of the Twin Cities Cristo Rey School and now sits on the board of Washburn Center for Children as well as the Glen Nelson Foundation. Kendra was acknowledged for her personal and professional contribution to the Minneapolis community and was named as one of the 2019 Women in Business awardees by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.
One of the most influential voices in the industry, Ian has been at the forefront of media, content, advertising and marketing since 1997. Ian’s accolades include being named an Advertising Age Media Maven in 2007, included on the list of Adweek’s Young Ones in 2009 and recognized by the Shorty Awards as Best CEO with a Social Media Presence. Ian was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement in 2015 and named one of “100 People Who Make Advertising Great” by the 4A’s in 2017.
Sanjay is Faculty Chairman as well as Professor of Marketing and Behavioral Decision Making at the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management. His research expertise lies in the area of brand equity and behavioral economics. Sanjay has served as an associate editor at the Journal of Marketing and the Journal of Consumer Psychology. He has won several awards for excellence in teaching and student mentoring, including the Neidorf Decade Teaching Award at UCLA. Always innovating in the classroom, Sanjay has developed new courses co-taught with the CMO of Google, the former CMO of Procter and Gamble, and the former Chairman/CEO of MGM.
Sandy is the Vice President of Strategy, Analytics and Transformation at Alaska Airlines. With more than 30 years as Pacific Northwest aviation leader, she uses her experience in strategy, operations, technology, and culture to develop and deliver enterprise transformation. Sandy is a catalyst for change, and she build teams to drive execution and deliver results for guests, employees and the airline. She is passionate about growing capacity and capabilities for both individuals and teams through management control systems, critical-thinking, creativity, and collaboration. Sandy is an engineer with a track record of tackling some of the most complex problems facing organizations.
In her spare time, Sandy shares her skills, experience, and passion with two non-profit cultural organizations and her alma mater Lehigh University.
Betsy Tilkemeier is a Founder and Managing Partner of North Line Partners – a boutique executive search firm she co-founded in 2010. The mission of North Line Partners is to deliver fast, high-quality recruitment services through Partner involvement in all aspects of every engagement. With more than 20 years of experience in executive search, Betsy has expertise in consumer with a particular focus serving clients who go to market through multiple/alternative distribution channels including eCommerce and even direct selling. Since founding North Line Partners, she has successfully recruited many CEOs, Board Members, CMOs and Chief Commercial Officers for portfolio companies of LCatterton, NEA, Berkshire Hathaway Holdings, Simon Equity/San Francisco Equity Partners, FFL, ExploraMed and McCarthy Capital.
LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the most prolific running backs in NFL history. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017, he is the 5th leading rusher (13,684 career yards) and second-most prolific scorer (145 career rushing touchdowns) in NFL history. Notably, Mr. Tomlinson was named the Associated Press’ NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year in 2006, and his accolades extend beyond the football field as he was named the Walter Payton co-NFL Man of the Year in 2006. Mr. Tomlinson is currently an analyst on NFL Network, leads the Tomlinson Touching Lives Foundation, and serves as a special assistant to the Los Angeles Chargers ownership group, helping the organization to further develop fan engagement and expand its community outreach in Southern California.
Ed Tonkon is President of Zebra Retail Solutions, a subsidiary of Zebra Technologies, a $4B NASDAQ listed publicly traded technology company. Ed has over 25 years of senior executive leadership experience in the publicly traded and private equity corporate environments of retail and business-to-business outsourcing, with a substantial logistics component. Ed was formerly CEO of Hart Systems, LLC which was acquired in December, 2013 by Zebra. Previously, Ed was CEO of Noble Logistics a leading national provider of time critical logistics services to the wholesale automotive parts industry. From 1999 to 2005, Ed was CEO and member of the Board of Directors of WIS International, the world’s second largest physical inventory management and merchandising services business with over 14,000 employees.
Steve Vargas is a Lead Analyst on Nasdaq’s ESG advisory services team which advises corporate issuers on all ESG issues including disclosure, ratings agencies, frameworks (SASB, GRI, TCFD, UN SDG’s) and ESG investor engagement. Steve advises issuers on ESG ratings agency and disclosure evaluations to guidance on ESG investor outreach, planning and intelligence. Prior to Nasdaq, Steve spent time in financial data consulting with stints at Thomson Reuters’ Global Business Consulting practice and at Bloomberg in their data analytics division. Steve holds the SASB FSA credential, Certificate in ESG Investing from the CFA UK and has completed coursework from the GRI.
Bob Wann is the Chief Play Monster (CEO) of PlayMonster LLC, makers of top selling, award winning games and toys such as 5 Second Rule, Yeti in my Spaghetti, Spirograph, Colorforms & Koosh. Wann has over 40 years experience at both Fortune 500 and Entrepreneurial/Start-up companies in U.S and International markets. Through strategic brand and product development combined with creative marketing, Bob has overseen the development and growth of some of the most recognized brands in Toys and Consumer Packaged Goods, including M&M’s, Johnson & Johnson, Fisher Price and Playskool.
In the fashion industry, Gary Wassner, CEO of Hilldun Corporation, known as the company behind many of Seventh Avenue’s most prestigious fashion companies, has provided financing and factoring for many of America’s and the world’s most iconic designer labels. Willi Smith, Derek Lam, Jason Wu, Maria Cornejo, Yeohlee, C.C. Greene, Isabel Marant, Golden Goose, Rebecca Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger, Naeem Kahn, Jonathan Simkhai, Victor Glemaud, Vivienne Westwood, Sacai, John Elliot, Fear of God, Mara Hoffman, Thom Browne, Betsey Johnson and Marc Jacobs are only a few of fashion’s finest that have benefitted from his discerning eyes and business acumen.
Named one of Fashionista’s 50 Most Influential People in Fashion, Gary is also an advisory board member of Fordham Law School’s Fashion Law Institute, a board member of FGI, an instructor for the DENYC program, a board member of the High School of Fashion Industries, a member of FIT’s Social Justice Advisory Council, and a passionate supporter of all causes related to the Fashion Industry in NYC and globally.
In addition to being a force in the fashion industry, he is a well-respected fiction writer and children’s book author. Wassner resides in New York with his wife Cathy and his extended family.
Edwin leads research efforts to identify key trends in consumer behavior and help advertisers capitalize on these trends to effectively connect with their core audiences. Most recently as Head of Insights at Pinterest, Edwin has been studying digital consumer behavior for nearly 15 years. Prior to Pinterest, Edwin held numerous insight roles at Yahoo for over a decade. Edwin has been published in the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Magazine, Journal of Social Psychology, and Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).
John Wu is an experienced Fortune 100 and start-up executive with an extensive background in e-commerce, merchandising, supply chain and logistics. He brings over 30 years of experience and has worked for a wide variety of companies including UPS, Pepsi, Nabisco (Mondelez), Kozmo, Metro International, Partsearch Technologies, Partsimple.com, and Fab.com. Currently the President and Chief Operating Officer at comfort-focused lifestyle brand, Tommy John, John’s focus is on sustaining profitable omnichannel growth, operational excellence and best in class customer experience.