TMA Member Profile Featuring Ulos Anderson
Date December 2013
Featured in The Journal of Corporate Renewal
Ulos Anderson is a managing director with Gordon Brothers Group and is responsible for management of the wholesale business with daily interaction with clients and customers. He first became associated with Gordon Brothers Group in 2001 and joined as a full-time employee in 2002, bringing 26 years of management experience.
Anderson held a variety of senior-level positions at Dollar General Corporation, a national 8,000-store chain; was a divisional vice president at Service Merchandise Corporation, where he supervised the teams responsible for its electronics, housewares, and appliances divisions; and held positions at McCrory Stores Corporation and TG&Y Stores. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Jackson State University in Jackson.
Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround and restructuring work?
Anderson: After college I went to work for a retail chain based in Oklahoma City called TG&Y Stores. After a few other positions in this field, I joined Service Merchandise in Nashville in 1993. At the time, it was the largest jewelry retailer in the nation. But in my nine years there, we faced increased competition from big box retailers and a lack of funds to keep our store fresh. We subsequently went into bankruptcy in 1999.
In my position as assistant vice president of merchandising, I had a front row seat as we worked to turn around the company. We were beginning to see light as the business improved in the fall of 2001. Then September 11 happened. After that, our sales and profits dropped to the point that the decision was made to liquidate the company.
The next day I met a group of people from Gordon Brothers Group. I’d never heard of the company before, and they asked me to stay with the company through the wind down. I kind of felt that if the company was going out of business, we really shouldn’t have much to do. But I found out there was a lot to do in winding down the company. That’s how I got my first exposure to the whole restructuring and turnaround business.
Q: How long was it before you joined up with Gordon Brothers after that?
Anderson: I started my own business for a few months. Then I’d say 90 days after we ended the Service Merchandise project, I started working for the company in what was called at that time the Gordon Brothers Wholesale Division. Now it’s called Commercial and Industrial.
Q: Were you doing the same types of things as in the Service Merchandise wind down? Did you find this kind of work more interesting than typical retail work?
Anderson: I had been in the buying, merchandising, and retailing side for over 20 years, and my experience with the wind down was a new experience. I was using some of the same skill sets, but it was a totally different experience. You could say I saw where this side of the business could help companies during difficult time s or, if needed, maximize the value of the assets. After my experience with the Gordon Brothers team at Service Merchandise, I was hooked. I got to the point where I was ready to do something different. I had been in a company that was in trouble for quite awhile, and if I had gone back to another retailer, it would have been a lot of the same things over and over again. This was really a chance for new experiences.
I was with Gordon Brothers for two years to begin with. Then I was recruited away to work for another retail chain here in Nashville called Dollar General Corporations. I was with Gordon Brothers from 2002 to 2004, with Dollar General from 2004 to 2007, and from 2007 to present with Gordon Brothers again. So I’ve had two tours, as we say. It’s not uncommon for our business.
Q: What have been some of your most gratifying, favorite, or important engagements?
Anderson: The first one is a Chicago-based company called F&F Foods. You may remember the Smith Brothers brand of cough drops. They have that brand, along with Sen Sen and Foxes. It’s a candy company on the South Side of Chicago.
We were brought in by the senior lender basically to leverage the assets, to determine what kind of recovery we could get from the assets. We did our analysis and determined that we felt that it had enterprise value. The brand had value. The company was not just a distributor. They made the product on the premises, with all the equipment there. We bought the senior debt from the current lender and put the company into an assignment for the benefit of the creditors.
The long and short of it is that we were able to get the company turned around. Not only were we able to prevent mass layoffs, but we actually hired additional employees because the business grew after we were able to fund it and get it back on its feet, get their orders flowing through the system. They were a co-packer for Hershey, which was able to give them more business because they had the funds to produce the product. In this case, we were able to get the company back on its feet in a year’s time, so that was really a good engagement.
The next one is a company called International Legwear Group (ILG). This is a company that was basically a sock company in North Carolina. Gordon Brothers’ Appraisal & Valuation Division went in and did an appraisal. As a result of the appraisal, the lender wanted us to monetize the assets. We went to the company, took a look at it, and determined that we could do a better job by figuring out a way for the company to survive.
We purchased all of the assets of the company and found a strategic company that wanted to be in that business for the long term. We sold that portion of the business to the strategic buyer and then liquidated all the non-go-forward assets. That company is still running today. It’s still fulfilling orders. It’s still a sock company. It’s still actually operating out of the same building that we still own right now.
Q: As you’ve gone through your career, who’s inspired you along the way, either personally or professionally?
Anderson: I can’t say I ever had a mentor who sat me down and said, “This is what you should do.” I’m probably one of those who watched and just worked with different people. I would say the first one was my father, an electrician by trade. He worked a regular job, but he always had his own small business on the side. So after school, I would get to work with him. That’s where my work ethic came from.
Another gentleman who was instrumental was Barry Gouge. I started in retail store management. He was one of the people who gave me an opportunity to move from the stores into the corporate office, into the buying area. So that was a major step. He still lives here in Nashville, so we get to see each other every now and then. He was an inspiration, just in seeing in me more than I guess I saw at the time and giving me an opportunity to move from being a store manager into the buying division and getting me to this point.
Then the third person I’m going to mention—it may sound self-serving, but it’s true—is Michael Frieze, the CEO and chairman of Gordon Brothers. When I started with the firm, I got a chance to meet him personally and sit down and talk to him about the business and get some history behind it. He’s third generation of the firm—his grandfather started the firm. He’s a very smart business man. At the same time, he’s a people person and charitable and the type of person that you can learn a lot from.
He’s the chairman of the company, but he shows up every day. It shows you that he has a very strong work ethic. So just watching him, I think, is inspiring. It’s a family business, but he’s been able to take it to the point that his son is the president, so it’s a fourth-generation business. It’s a unique feat to keep a firm going into the fourth generation. We know this because we do turnarounds.
Q: If you could start your career over, what would you do anything differently?
Anderson: I actually wouldn’t change anything because what’s happened with me is because of all my previous experiences, starting in the retail business and then moving to the restructuring side. All of the experiences that I had earlier actually are benefiting me now in the restructuring side of it, even to the point that, when I’m in a restructuring situation, I can walk into the building and tell those people I know what they’re going through. I really do know what they’re going through because I was a part of that process.
Q: What role has your TMA membership played in your career?
Anderson: When I signed on with Gordon Brothers, they said, “You need to join the local TMA chapter.” So I did, and I was able to go in and meet a lot of the people who knew their way around.
In particular, there was Kevin Crumbo of Kraft CPAs, who was the TMA Tennessee Chapter president at the time. I connected with him, let him know where I was. He was very generous. He showed me around, introduced me to the other members of the group, and really just made it an easy entry for me. Another person in the group, Kimberly Stagg, who’s an attorney with Dickinson Wright PLLC and is a chapter board member, has been very supportive. She keeps me up to date on networking activities in this market. Basically, TMA allowed me to enter into a new area that I was not familiar with, meet a lot of the people in short order, and develop relationships, so it’s actually been very good for me.
Q: What advice would you have for someone who was thinking of coming into the industry or was new to the industry?
Anderson: I’ve heard someone say, “You have two ears and one mouth. You should listen twice as much as you talk.” In this business, you have to come into a situation and assess what’s really going on. Because you show up and you’re usually there on behalf of the bank or the court or whomever, people will say what they think you want to hear. So you have to have good listening skills if you’re going to enter this business.
The one thing that is unique is that our days are not filled with the same thing every day. It’s going to be something different. You can bet on it. You’ve got to be versatile. You’ve got to also be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
The other thing is to make sure you’re surrounded with some good people who will share with you. I said a lot of these things about my favorite projects that we did, but it’s never been a single person doing it. It’s always a group, at least the way we work. You just kind of get the best of all worlds when you put a team together, and that’s what’s worked for us.
Q: What might people who know you only professionally be most surprised to learn about you?
Anderson: I play the trumpet. I played it when I was in high school and college. I’m the caretaker of our family farm. We have a 50-acre farm in Mississippi that I manage.
Q: What does caretaking for a 50-acre farm involve?
Anderson: It involves paying all the bills, taking care of the house, paying the taxes and insurance. We’re not planting any food; it’s just alfalfa grass for hay. You grow the hay, get it cut and baled, and you sell it. It’s not a day-to-day job, but it’s something you’ve got to keep on your radar. It is a part of my parents’ estate.
Q: What are you passionate about outside the office?
Anderson: My wife and I have no children of our own, but we have a host of nieces and nephews—20-plus. We enjoy spending time with them and getting involved in their lives. In some cases, we feel like we’re grandparents, not just uncles and aunts.
We also volunteer at our local church. We help out primarily in the Sunday school department. When we have the time, we like to travel. It’s been a few years, but we’ve traveled to Egypt and Israel and Greece, and we plan to do some more international travel. I’d like to make sure I travel to all seven continents. I’ve been to most, but I have not been to Australia or Antarctica. Those are two that are on my list.
Q: Beyond travel, what else is on your bucket list?
Anderson: I really would like to write a self-help book and to establish a scholarship in my parents’ name. I’d like to have a scholarship for kids coming out of high school who are less fortunate, who may have the smarts but not the money. I would probably do it at my alma mater, Jackson State University.