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Accelerators

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.

Ben Hasan

Senior Vice President and Chief Global Culture, Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Walmart Inc.
Ben Hasan
Ben Hasan

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.

Betsy Tilkemeier

Managing Partner of North Line Partners
Betsy Tilkemeier
Betsy Tilkemeier

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.  ​

Bob Wann

CEO of PlayMonster, Chairman Emeritus of Toy Industry Association
Bob Wann
Bob Wann

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.

Cooper Manning

Principal at AJ Capital Partners, Media Personality
Cooper Manning
Cooper Manning

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.

Craig Dubitsky

Founder & CCO of hello; Chief Innovation Strategist Colgate-Palmolive
Craig Dubitsky
Craig Dubitsky

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.

Diane Pearse

President and CEO of Hickory Farms
Diane Pearse
Diane Pearse

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.

Donna Hicks

Associate, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
Donna Hicks
Donna Hicks

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.

Ed Tonkon

President of Zebra Retail Solutions
Ed Tonkon
Ed Tonkon

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.

Edwin Wong

SVP Insights & Innovation Vox Media
Edwin Wong
Edwin Wong

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).

Frank Longobardi

Former CEO of CohnReznick
Frank Longobardi
Frank Longobardi

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.

Fred Diaz

Former President, CEO, and Chairman for Mitsubishi Motors NA
Fred Diaz
Fred Diaz

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.

Gary Wassner

CEO, Hilldun Corporation
Gary Wassner
Gary Wassner

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.

Gerry Byrne

Vice Chairman of Penske Media Corp
Gerry Byrne
Gerry Byrne

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.

Huey Long

CEO, Autocado
Huey Long
Huey Long

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.

Ian Schafer

Co-founder & CEO, Kindred
Ian Schafer
Ian Schafer

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.

John Wu

President and COO of Tommy John
John Wu
John Wu

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.

LaDainian Tomlinson

NFL Hall of Fame Running Back, Media Personality
LaDainian Tomlinson
LaDainian Tomlinson

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.

Michael Faber

CEO of NextPoint Management
Michael Faber
Michael Faber

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.

Rebecca Messina

Former CMO of Uber
Rebecca Messina
Rebecca Messina

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.

Sanjay Sood

Professor & Faculty Chair, UCLA Anderson
Sanjay Sood
Sanjay Sood

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.

Steve Vargas

ESG Advisor at NASDAQ
Steve Vargas
Steve Vargas

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.

Todd Benson

Managing Partner/CEO of Herington, Former Head of Citi Private Equity
Todd Benson
Todd Benson

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.

Tracy Deforge

Founder of The Players’ Impact
Tracy Deforge
Tracy Deforge

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.

Warren Chaiken

President and CEO, Almo Corporation
Warren Chaiken
Warren Chaiken

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.

Whitney Johnson

Business Author, LinkedIn Influencer Top Voice
Whitney Johnson
Whitney Johnson

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.

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