This year Exit Planning Institute is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Excellence in Exit Planning Awards. Over the course of the past ten years, we have awarded 30 professional advisors in three categories: Member of the Year, Leader of the Year, and Peter Christman Exit Planner of the Year.
This year, we have nine outstanding advisors who have been nominated by their peers for these prestigious awards. Learn more about each of our nominees below.
Member of the Year Award
The Member of the Year Award is presented to a CEPA who contributes significantly to the EPI community of advisors and the overall exit planning profession. They act as a key leader and expert in their local or regional marketplace and lead exit planning education while driving market awareness.
Greg Merrill is a partner of the Shantz Mantione Group at UBS Financial Services, Inc. Greg and his team utilize a disciplined discovery and planning process that helps identify what is most important to clients, their family, and their businesses, ultimately helping them reach their goals. In doing so, he strives to “deliver the firm” and provides them with access to the full suite of global resources, opportunities, and thought leadership of the world’s largest wealth manager.
His experience of collaboratively working with entrepreneurs and business owners in addressing their unique needs before, during, and after a transition has led Greg to become the founder and President of the EPI Southeast Michigan Chapter. Greg has seen great success in his chapter by hosting peer shares, and the first Business Owners Forum event in March of 2022.
We spoke with Greg about how it feels to be nominated for this prestigious award. He shares, “Being nominated makes me proud of the exit planning community in Southeast Michigan. Without everyone that’s interacted with our Southeast Michigan Chapter, this wouldn’t be possible. It makes me even more excited and motivated that my decision to get the CEPA and launch the Chapter is at least starting to make progress towards my goal of helping business owners across the country (with a focus on the community I grew up in) change the horrible statistics we hear about of unsuccessful transitions of businesses.”
Shina Culberson brings over two decades of financial and valuation experience to her leadership and guidance of Quist Valuation, a 35-year-old business valuation firm. Known for her direct style and laser focus, Shina specializes in business and securities valuation engagements for corporate finance, financial reporting, and tax purposes.
Shina is the Vice President of the EPI Rocky Mountain Chapter, a new CEPA Faculty member, a contributor to EPI content, and is the committee chair for partner relations for the Colorado State of Owner Readiness research.
We asked Shina what she believes makes for a successful advisor in the exit planning field. She shares, “Having a well thought out process to gather and analyze information, and deliver solutions and recommendations is essential. I am a very process-oriented thinker and I believe execution – delivering on time and as promised – is essential for building trust with clients. Business owners are extremely busy wearing multiple hats and juggling a number of initiatives so it’s important as exit planning advisors that we can not only communicate but also deliver our value proposition.”
Joe Seetoo is a Partner & Sr VP. with 23 years of experience in providing wealth management for affluent business owners and high-net-worth families. Prior to joining Morton Capital Management in August 2007, he served as the Director of Investment Research for Georgina Asset Management, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor located in Santa Monica, CA from September 2003 until July 2007, and as the Director of Operations from May 2000 until September 2003. Joe Seetoo began his investment career with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., Inc. in 1998. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst, and a member of the CFA Institute and the Los Angeles Society of Financial Analysts.
Joe is President of the Conejo Valley chapter of the Exit Planning Institute, the first entirely virtual EPI Chapter Launch. He shares, “The Chapter continues to thrive as a virtual group. We have created a formal directory and typically have 9-10 meetings per year. We often have 30-40 attendees. It will be interesting to see how the chapter adapts to more in-person meetings as we look to “open” up in the coming months.”
Joe suggested that CEPAs who are looking to be more involved in the CEPA network share their knowledge. He continues, “Share your expertise in your field whether it is on social media or through a whitepaper. Demonstrate to the CEPA community that you have knowledge in an area that affects business owners and other CEPAs will notice.”
Thought Leader of the Year Award
The Leader of the Year Award is presented to a CEPA who has successfully trail blazed a first-of-its-kind project, initiative, or practice which has made a significant contribution to the exit planning profession and the overall community. This advisor is also a thought leader; someone who has taken a position and become a regarded expert/specialist in a specific niche area, a person who tasks, innovates, and influences, and above all, showcases characteristics of collaboration.
Gus Spaulding is Managing Director, and Wealth Advisor with Cresset’s Denver office. At Cresset, Gus works with clients to help them identify and reach their wealth goals. He provides advice on multi-generational wealth transfer, financial planning, philanthropic endeavors, banking, and credit needs. For clients with investment management needs, Gus and his partners’ design customized solutions in both public and private markets.
Gus is the President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter. Through this chapter, he has been instrumental in the launch of the Colorado State of Owner Readiness Research. This report marks the first time a large government body has been a part of this research. Gus says, “I am fortunate that the Office of Economic Development, everyone on Nikki Maloney’s team, has a shared interest in helpful data. Colorado as a state has grown dramatically over the last two, five, and 10+ years and it is important for us to create a baseline of information about the owners in our community. It is our hope that this is just the first of many surveys going forward.”
We asked Gus how he would define a successful leader and exit planning advisor. He shares, “For me, a leader is not always the most vocal person, but rather the person who strives to set a great example with his or her actions. A successful exit planning advisor has a passion for helping and an ability to keep a strong network of advisors in all the various practice areas that surround a business owner.”
Rich is a CPA who has been helping business owners succeed for over 25 years. With a background in tax, experience in accounting, and a focus on early-stage exit planning, Rich is a forward-thinking advisor who helps business owners with thoughtful advice that goes far beyond accounting.
Rich has written countless articles and whitepapers on exit planning for both owners and advisors. This year marks three years since the launch of his Business Owners Special Series or the BOSS series. In addition, he has released the first of three e-books on Value-Focused Exit Planning this year. He is extremely active in the exit planning community and shares engaging content across multiple platforms.
We asked Rich how the CEPA has improved his practice. He shares, “It’s always been my professional goal as a CPA to help business owners succeed. Being a CEPA has empowered me to help business owners succeed to a far greater extent. My focus has shifted from being purely a CPA and tax advisor to being a business advisor, bringing far greater value to my clients with exit planning advice as a CEPA. As a CPA and a CEPA, I bring far greater value to my clients.”
Julie Keyes is the founder and owner of KeyeStrategies, LLC and has been an entrepreneur for the majority of her life. As the founder and operator of several companies, she understands what keeps an owner up at night and the balancing act required to work both ‘in’ and ‘on’ the business. Having outside perspective and mentoring made all the difference for her, as she spent years growing and improving her companies before selling and becoming a business advisor in 2011.
She works with business owners who seek to understand and maximize their exit and critical transition options. She is the President Emeritus of the Exit Planning Institute Twin Cities Metro Area Chapter (2016-2020) and a faculty member for the CEPA Program. Additionally, Julie is a published author and a successful podcast host of Poised for Exit. Her speaking engagements bring her across the country delivering her exit planning expertise to owner and advisor groups alike.
We asked Julie what she would suggest to CEPAs looking to be more involved in the exit planning community. She shares, “Come to the Summit and meet your colleagues! If you really want to meet more CEPAs, this is the best place to make that happen. It’s worth every dollar and every minute you invest. You should also become a member of your local Chapter! We live in a virtual world now, so if there’s no Chapter in your area, join one online. It’s a great place to learn more about exit planning and expand your network. Take advantage of the EPI Member Center and EPI Webinars for additional learning opportunities.”
Peter Christman Exit Planner of the Year Award
Named after the co-founder of EPI, the Peter Christman Exit Planner of the Year Award is the highest honor offered in the exit planning industry. It is awarded to a CEPA who either practices exit planning, manages exit planning engagements, educates business owners and advisors, or provides industry-changing exit planning solutions or tools that can be directly tied to changing outcomes for business owners and leading advisors. This advisor makes significant contributions to the industry and exemplifies the core values and characteristics of EPI and the CEPA credential while making a uniquely significant impact on the larger exit planning profession on a local, regional, national, and/or international scale.
Over Sean Hutchinson’s 30 plus years in business, the most valuable lessons he has learned have been from business owners who generously shares their stories of success and struggle. They have allowed him to offer insights and guidance based on first-hand experiences.
Sean has founded more than half a dozen companies, all of them with partners, some more successful than others. At the age of 34, Sean led a fast-growing global company and was responsible for making big decisions with big implications on a daily basis. Despite having been very green, he was hard-working and quick-learning and the firm became the largest of its kind in the world. Sean is proud to call himself the third-generation heir to his family’s 64-year-old custom millwork manufacturing business.
Sean is a founding partner in RFN Global, an interconnected, collection of solutions for transitioning business owners, their communities, and the professionals who advise them. He shares, “We have three interconnected RFN businesses, and we have now successfully launched all three and are already experiencing the synergies we expected. It’s deeply gratifying when the fruits of labor pay off. I would add that we have an amazing team at RFN – I am a small piece of our success.”
Sean undoubtedly continues to shape the way people think about exit planning and serves as a mentor to many CEPAs. When asked about the growth of the CEPA community, Sean says, “As a community grows, so will the innovation within it. One clear constant has been the willingness of CEPAs to help each other. If a fellow CEPA reaches out to me, I will take their call. I think most in the CEPA community embrace abundance rather than scarcity – we are all in a huge market with plenty of opportunities to go around. The incentives to share information and collaborate on opportunities are undeniable.”
In 2016, he launched Financially Simple™ – an educational portal featuring a financial blog, podcast, and video resources – to simplify the complexity of finance for small business owners. In addition, he has recently published his second book, “Your Baby’s Ugly,” teaching readers how to assess the sellable value of their company with the goal of growing its long-term value. His relatable and effective educational style has thrust him onto the national stage, garnering him multiple awards and accolades including inclusion on Investopedia’s list of Top 100 Financial Advisors four years in a row. In 2009, Justin founded the boutique financial planning firm, Heritage Investors, following years of working in a large wealth management firm. And now, Justin works with business owners at WealthSource Partners as their Chief Strategy Officer.
Justin truly thinks like a business owner as well as an advisor. As a published author and well-respected resource in financial planning and value growth, Justin built his brand into such a significant company, that it was recently acquired by a national organization. He shares about his business exit, “Business exits are tough. Over the past 5 or 6 years, I’ve studied this subject immensely. I’ve written books on it. But if I’m being honest, no amount of knowledge can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster that comes with exiting your business. While you can’t really prepare for the emotional side of it, knowledge can prepare you mentally.”
We asked Justin how he acts as a mentor to other advisors and business owners. He shares, “Through this transition, I’m building a financial firm specifically to integrate the CEPA body of knowledge to a national level. I’ve had so much fun doing CEPA work with clients. I’ve gotten to see clients go from broke to closing their wealth gap in the same timeframe that I’ve done so. Getting to be so impactful in their lives and their businesses has been so rewarding.”
Justin continues, “I used to see people who have reached a certain level in life make videos talking about various courses and programs. I’d see these videos and think, ‘That makes no sense. Why would someone who’s reached such a level, spend their time trying to educate so many?’ Now, I’m not saying I’ve arrived. I’m really not. But now it makes sense. You see, I have the opportunity to build a structure that can impact far more advisors and business owners than I ever could on my own, and in an evergreen format.”
Brian is the Managing Director of Interchange Capital Partners. In this role, he oversees strategic initiatives of the company with a specific focus on the Family Business and Entrepreneur client segment. His focus is on helping owners think through, build and execute a value acceleration and transition strategy for the shareholders. He believes that at its core exit planning combines the plan, concept, effort, and process into a clear, simple strategy to build a business that is transferable through strong human, structural, customer, and social capital. The future of each owner, their family, and their business are addressed by exit planning through creating value today.
Brian is also the President of the Pittsburgh Exit Planning Chapter, which he helped found in 2019. The chapter’s mission is to give business owners a forum to get educated on true exit planning – how to build a valuable and transferable business through a proven process. He discusses the importance of the Chapter saying, “We have a core group that attends on a regular basis but have been focused on getting more end user’s in the room and that has increased our attendance significantly. At the end of the day, the business owners need to know that we are 100% focused on this process and that they have resources available to them.”
Brian acts as a leader in the chapter and in his new M&A Advisory business, Defiant Interchange Advisors. He says that a strong leader is someone, “who takes the people around them to new heights that no one thought possible before. They build people up and help them to unlock their potential.”
We asked Brian how it feels to be nominated for the Exit Planner of the Year Award this year. He shares, “I was not expecting this, so it feels good. I don’t like self-nominating myself for anything and the fact that my peers have recognized the work I have been doing is a great feeling.”
Excellence in Exit Planning Award Ceremony
We will announce the Excellence in Exit Planning Award winners at our 2022 Exit Planning Summit on May 3, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The Exit Planning Summit is the coming together of the CEPA Community. The best CEPAs from around the world collaborate with their supporting partners and colleagues that are all helping business owners to create more significant companies. CEPAs will develop new or further current relationships, learn best practices, and advance themselves as advisors. Advisors will leave the Exit Planning Summit not only galvanized to accelerate their practice but with the tools and connections to do so.
Learn more about the Exit Planning Summit and register to reserve your spot today!
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