This interview originally appeared in BusinessPundit.com.
Who’s putting the government and Wall Street to task for the financial crisis? Commentators? Nonprofits? Bloggers?
How about a Wall Street veteran with a $7 billion private equity portfolio? That’s probably the last person you’d expect to be an activist. But Lynn Tilton has built her career on the unexpected.
Tilton’s company, Patriarch Partners, brings distressed companies back from the brink. Her brands include Spiegel, Rand McNally, and MD Helicopters.
Tilton, whose heart is in keeping America successful, emphasizes that Patriarch “(saves) America one company at a time, one job at a time.” She writes columns, including a regular one at the Huffington Post, that offer solutions for saving American industry.
Her devotion to higher causes–and the dogged work ethic to realize them–make Tilton a true standout in elite finance.
In an unrelated twist, Tilton is most easily recognized by her diamonds-and-decolleté look.
Business Pundit caught up with this most unique of PE principals to learn more about her work with Patriarch, her recent initiatives, and how America can self-rescue.
DK: You operated relatively unseen until the 2008 financial crisis. What made you step out and go public with your ideas on saving the American economy?
My rise from under the radar screen is motivated by my deep concern for the future of our nation and for the plight of the American worker. My position allows me my thumb on the pulse of America in ways far distinct and far more broad than most leaders. I believe that most fail to see the disconnect between financial markets and the real economy. I believe we are on the precipice of a nation beyond repair and that if we do not rapidly take action to save and support American industry, we will soon be a populace of the permanently unemployed.
DK: Can you briefly sum up what those ideas are and why they’ll work? What can people do to help get those ideas implemented?
Government focus needs to center upon access to capital for small and mid-sized companies that employ 80% of America’s workforce. I have an SME rescue loan program that can help facilitate access to capital in the form of rescue loans.
In addition, we must be an economy that is built upon industry. This means we must understand why we cannot compete in the global markets. If truth is told, it is not because of labor, environmental or currency exchange rates. Rather other countries subsidize raw materials up to 30%. This does not constitute “free trade,” so actions to even the playing field must be taken to include tariffs where such actions are prevalent. Every great empire, in recent centuries, has been built upon a manufacturing economy. The fall of these great empires has been the failure to remember this one fundamental fact.
DK: Appearance-wise, you buck the classic Wall Street image of a guy in a suit. What business advantages has your appearance given you?
My “fashionista style,” over my career, has cut both ways. But with wisdom and position, I believe my style gives me the advantage of capturing attention to allow my voice to be heard and my message received.
DK: What are some of the most important things you do when you fix a company?
Driving a company from loss to profitability and from dark to light requires both rationalization and innovation.
I say often, the path to recovery is the confluence of cash and creativity. The first step is the cutting of expenses to stop the losses.
Step two involves breathing new life into a company through innovation of products and processes.
DK: How do you decide whether a company is worth saving?
The qualities that predict success for deeply distressed businesses include a recognized brand name, products desired by market and a talented management team.
DK: What’s the hardest part of rebuilding a company?
Rebuilding a company is walking in the darkness, one foot in front of the other, every day until you see the glimmer of light. It takes vision, passion, perseverance and the ultimate certainty the light will come.
Lynn Tilton serves as Chief Executive Officer and sole Principal of Patriarch Partners, LLC and its affiliated entities (“Patriarch”), a distressed private equity firm managing $7 billion in assets and a portfolio of over 70 companies that range from helicopters to cosmetics. An advocate and a voice for small and middle-market enterprises, Ms. Tilton is well recognized by TV and print media alike for her modern day industrialist efforts to rebuild America one company at a time, one job at a time. Find Lynn on Facebook and Twitter: @LynnTilton.