Talking Turnaround & Restructuring: The Accordion Experience
Structuring The "Better Way to Work in Finance"
In 2021, Accordion acquired Mackinac: a financial advisory, restructuring, and operational turnaround firm. Not only was Mackinac the perfect fit for expanding Accordion’s service offerings into the Turnaround & Restructuring space, but the union was a seamless cultural fit, too. The Mackinac Team was more than familiar with the “work hard, play hard” mentality and ready to embrace Accordion’s commitment to the “better way to work in finance.”
While the acquisition bolstered Accordion’s capabilities (enabling us to better serve distressed companies), it also gave us 40 talented new Accordionites. Meet Adam Adelstein (Associate), Jenna Birkhold (Director), Jake Donnowitz (Vice President), and Adam Rhum (Vice President): four of our Mackinac-turned-Accordion teammates. They’ve been assets to the firm since day one — from the way they serve clients to the way they embrace Accordion’s culture, and everything in between.
Let’s hear what they had to say about their experience working in Accordion’s Turnaround & Restructuring Practice:
Q: Tell us about the integration of Mackinac into Accordion.
When Mackinac leadership first announced that we were being acquired, I'll admit I was apprehensive. I come from a Big Four background; I was there for two years, and it was great in many ways but just wasn’t my thing. So I was worried that I was getting into another Big Four-like situation with the acquisition, and that I was going to have to start looking for another job. But as soon as I met the Accordion folks — Nick (our CEO) and Atul (our President) flew into Chicago to meet us — my mind was totally changed. They were really down-to-earth, genuine guys. And it’s been a positive experience ever since. ”
The thing that stood out to me during the acquisition was Accordion’s leadership team. They’re smart, they’re personable, they’re relatable. And I noticed right away that not only did they make time for Mackinac’s executives, but they made time for the more junior staff members as well. When Mackinac was first acquired, we had this awesome dinner with the Accordion leadership team in Chicago. And there was a connection there immediately; you could feel that Accordion and Mackinac just clicked. Nick and Atul were just oozing excitement about Accordion’s value prop and growth, and how Mackinac was going to fit into that, and that excitement was palpable and contagious. ”
Q: Coming from Mackinac, how has Accordion’s focus on private equity changed your role?
There’s just so many more opportunities to make an impact in the PE space. In fact, there’s constant opportunity; there are more companies, more services, more industries, and just more available deals. And we get to be more creative about the solutions we provide. Accordion is also just very hands-on; you’re in the weeds, learning how the company and the business works. And you don’t have to be a senior-level person to get a seat at the table; even as an Associate or VP, you can start to build relationships with clients’ senior leadership and make a genuine impact on their business day-to-day. ”
Q: As you know, the acquisition of Mackinac is what solidified Accordion’s T&R Practice. What has it been like being part of an (almost) new practice area at the firm and helping it grow?
From an entrepreneurial perspective, I have the freedom to operate outside of my typical consulting role and flex my business development muscles: from helping spread the Accordion name in Chicago, to researching potential deals that make sense in alignment with the PE-backed business model, to building relationships with people in the industry and within the portfolio companies. And a big thing I was part of this past summer was Accordion’s internship program; many of our interns come from Matriculate, and they’re incredibly smart people and a huge asset to the firm. I carved out a lot of time to work with them, because when I was an Analyst, I had mentors that made time for me outside billable hours to show me the ropes. At a successful firm, you want the people coming in after you to be “smarter” than you and grow as quickly as possible. So having the opportunity to work with the internship program was really rewarding, and I’m already looking forward to next summer. ”
Q: We’ve heard that one of Accordion’s differentiators is that our work is heavily focused on the Debtor side as opposed to the Creditor side. Can you speak to this?
Working on the creditor side vs. the debtor side, it’s like night and day. My engagement right now is a perfect example. We’re working on the debtor side, and there’s another consulting firm working on the creditor side. The other firm can’t enact direct change; they can say something to the lenders that might trickle down to the management team, but that’s as far as they can go. For us, on the debtor side, we’re working hand-in-hand with the C-suite executives day in and day out, and at times we’re even a part of the C-suite executive team as CRO or other interim executive roles. We have a real say in what the company does. And at Accordion, our team is in the weeds together. We really are practitioners. I’m hands-on with the client, and so are the Senior Managing Directors. For this engagement, the SMD on my team is in there with me every day; we’re working together, hand-in-hand, to figure out what the future of the company looks like and how to present it to stakeholders. It’s a really cool approach. ”
Q: We’ve heard that another differentiator for candidates is the opportunity to work cross-functionally (alongside team members from Accordion’s other 7 practice areas). Can you speak to this?
I could speak to Accordion’s cross-functional structure all day long; I’ve gotten to be really flexible working across deals. I’m typically on a handful of engagements at a time: some within the T&R space, some outside the T&R space. So I’ve gotten to focus on tangential fields, like Strategic Finance, IPO Readiness, and CFO Technology. And there are some deals that fall in between service offerings — they’re not just FAAS (Financial Accounting Advisory Services) or they’re not just T&R — but because of Accordion’s broad focus, we’re able to tackle them. It’s been really exciting to work with people across practice areas to develop playbooks and processes for unique cross-functional deals like that. In fact, I was part of an engagement where we helped the sponsor do the buy-side diligence to buy a company, and we did the sell-side diligence to raise capital for the deal. And then we did the operational improvement and strategic value growth plan for helping scale the company post-acquisitions. All that to say: I basically got to touch every part of finance in one deal, which was really cool. You would never get to do something like that at a company only focused on T&R, because it wasn’t strictly a turnaround project. ”
I’ve worked on so many cross-functional projects throughout my time at Accordion, which has been a really unique experience. For example, a recent client was an auto tool distributor with liquidity issues. We brought on a Strategic Finance person, a Transformation person, and then a couple of T&R people. First, we (T&R) came in and built them a liquidity model and cash flow forecast — they had some past-due payables they needed to address. And then in the other workstream, Strategic Finance and Transformation worked on inventory management and process improvement. The whole project was a (very successful!) cross-functional undertaking; you start with T&R, and then bring in Strategic Finance and Transformation to set the client up for long-term success. ”
Q: If you were talking to your ideal candidate and trying to recruit them, what would you want them to know about Accordion’s T&R Practice?
Not only are our cross-functional capabilities a huge differentiator, but most T&R firms only work with lenders and attorneys; that’s how Mackinac was set up. Clients would come to us when they were totally out of money, at a point of no return. With Accordion, we can get into those companies early — at the first warning signs — and actually have a direct beneficial impact on their future. But overall, Accordion is just better. Our culture, our leadership, our talent… I would honestly put Accordion in front of any other consulting firm, any other accounting firm, and guarantee that as a team, we would be better. ”
The big sell for Accordion comes in three parts. The first one is culture. Every single company claims to have a good culture, but Accordion has a truly fantastic one; you feel like you’re part of a family more than you’re part of a firm. The second one is the opportunity to work directly with management at all levels; Analysts and Associates work hand-in-hand with Managing Directors and have direct conversations with clients’ management teams. And the third big differentiator is the ability to work on deals outside of the T&R space. You get to be part of deals at all stages of the financial life cycle, and because of that, you come to understand the steps that follow a T&R engagement. We can turn a company around, and then work with someone from Strategic Finance to help them get from yellow to green in a way that’s sustainable. Working on projects outside of T&R improves your ability to create lasting results for clients.”
Something I love about the Accordion T&R Practice – and Accordion in general – is that we’re industry agnostic, which means we’re always learning and becoming subject matter experts in different industries. And at Accordion, we really are doers; we’re not just consultants — we’re helping solve real-world business problems instead of merely performing academic finance gymnastics. If you join the firm, you’ll be interacting directly with clients’ employees, and you’ll be making a real impact on clients’ business. A lot of times, our work determines whether our clients have a working business — and whether their employees have jobs tomorrow. When you zoom out and look at our work in the grand scheme of things, you realize just how meaningful it is. ”
Q: Describe Accordion in one word.
Supportive — both internally and externally. Internally, everyone wants to help you meet your career goals. When I first came to Accordion, I talked with my managers and said, ‘I really enjoy doing all the modeling and analysis, but I also would love to get more facetime with clients and grow my soft skills.’ And they’ve been super supportive of me doing that from the get-go, which has had a huge impact on my career success. Externally, Accordion is supportive of clients at times when companies are under high levels of stress. And for many of our clients’ CFOs and CEOs, it’s their first time struggling in that way. So they’re really grateful that they have us to guide them, understand them, and show them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re all rallying around a common goal, and it’s a really rewarding process. ”
Q: Which of Accordion’s core values resonates with you most?
“Pivot and persevere” and “Think like an owner” come to mind first, because they encompass the nature of T&R work at Accordion. With T&R, there’s no playbook; every situation is different, every team is different, every client is different. You have to be comfortable going with the flow and rolling with the punches while delivering for a client: pivoting and persevering. And working at Accordion, you “think like an owner” every day. With the growing nature of the firm, there really is a genuine entrepreneurial spirit; everyone wants to make a positive impact on the company’s culture and watch Accordion succeed. It’s a powerful thing.”
Q: How would you describe the relationship dynamic between senior leaders and other members of the firm?
I’m based in Boston, and we have three fabulous Senior Managing Directors here. I’ve worked with all of them, and they push me to be better and sharper in different ways. One of them is laser-focused on providing the client with sharp deliverables. The other is more concerned with client relationship dynamics. And the third forces you to bring your A-game to the table when it comes to technical skills. But they’re all just really supportive of my professional development. And the good news is that most client teams aren’t just an SMD and a junior employee, as it is at some boutique firms. Our teams are large enough that the workload is manageable, but small enough that everyone’s voice is heard. We’re always bouncing ideas off and learning from one another, regardless of position level. ”
Q: Tell us about one of your proudest contributions or achievements at Accordion.
At the offsite each year, leadership gives out “Core Value Awards” to people who they feel embody Accordion’s core values. In Scottsdale, AZ last year, I was really proud to win the “Partner with Authenticity” award. I was nominated for interactions that I had with a client; I was comfortable and confident in my relationship with the client’s executive team — I got to know them, I joked around with them — which laid the foundation for a successful engagement. Of course the award itself felt really meaningful, but it also reminded me of the importance of having those “soft” skills in addition to the technical skills when you’re working within a company. And it means a lot that Accordion consistently acknowledges and validates that. ”
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