Growing Insight

"Birch Hill understands the human aspect of running the business and the need for leadership development. They're focused on the numbers as much as any private equity firm but they know it's not just about the numbers."

Vince De Palma

CEO

Shred-it

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CEO Insider: Vince De Palma, CEO, Shred-it International

Established in 1988, Shred-it is the world's leading Secure Information Destruction Company. It serves more than 150,000 clients around the world through 140 branches on five continents.

On Growing Together:

"Private equity firms have different personalities. I remember one where I thought, "All they care about are the numbers – EBITDA, cash flow, and turnover!" Those things are important but Birch Hill understands the human aspect of running the business and the need for leadership development. They're focused on the numbers as much as any private equity firm but they know it's not just about the numbers.

They fundamentally believe they will be a better institution themselves if they build great companies that survive well past their ownership. Recently, we made a decision to invest millions in a complete system overhaul. It would have been easy to say, "Do we really want to spend that money now?" But Birch Hill does what's right for the business.

What the employees are thrilled about is that there's stability. Very early on we set a clear direction: what we're focused on, what our strategy is, what businesses we're going to drive, where we're going to drive them, and what our five corporate objectives and must do's are. We stay relentlessly focused on executing against those."

On Working Together:

"Birch Hill helps challenge our thinking in very constructive ways. They're distant enough that they can ask provocative questions that cause us to think differently about how we're looking at the business and how we're measuring it.

They understand that you're not going to hit on all cylinders all the time. Of course they want to see progress and know what our plans are. But they allow us the liberty to make decisions. They walk the line well. They're not operating—we're operating. But they get into the substance of our biggest opportunities and challenges. We're all in this together."

Advice to CEOs

"Certain companies that have entrepreneurial roots and have experienced intensive growth will, at some point, hit a certain scale where the game changes. Then you need standardization of processes; you need deeper talent in your management team. Depending on the industry, they might hit that point at different sizes. But all of them hit it.

The most important thing a CEO should think about if you're going into this relationship, is that you've got to be an open book. Leverage the great talent at Birch Hill and the Boards they assemble. Ask for help. I went to them and said, "There are areas where you can add tremendous value." We had a good working session from that and agreed on two or three areas where they actually dedicated resources to help us think through some thorny business problems. That was tremendous value."