Recently, The Top 100 Magazine had the privilege of speaking with John Signa, a veteran of private equity and corporate leadership with more than 17 years of experience. He serves as managing partner and chief executive officer for Element 78 Partners, LLC (“E78”), a professional services firm headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois. During our discussion, John shared information about his company, his professional background, and his goals for the future.
Tell us about E78. What does the company do?
E78 provides accounting, finance and technology solutions to private equity firms and the portfolio companies they invest in. We serve our clients as trusted advisors and tailor our work to their specific situation. Whether you’re an emerging manager looking to launch a new fund, or a seasoned private equity group working through a transaction, management transition or business transformation, we have the aptitude and experience to drive successful outcomes for our clients.
Did you always know that you were going to be an entrepreneur?
The desire and ambition were always there for me, but it took me a while to finally pull the trigger. Throughout my career, I would work my “day job” and then “moonlight” on side projects. I attempted to start multiple business before E78. Some of my early ventures included a tax preparation service firm, house flipping business and modular construction contracting business. But when I started working in private equity, the real inspiration for me came from the entrepreneurs that started the private equity firm I used to work for, as well as the entrepreneurs they invested in.
When did you decide to start your own company?
I spent a decade working my way up in the private equity industry after spending the first several years of my career as a CPA in public accounting. I became the vice president of finance for a private equity firm in Chicago with several billions of assets under management. It was a great job and I learned so much from the incredibly smart people in my firm that I had the privilege to work with. But for me, there was nothing more rewarding about the job than the opportunity to learn about the entrepreneurs that my firm partnered with after investing in their companies. I loved learning about the founder who started his or her company from nothing and built it into an industry leader. I would think to myself, “wow, the guts these people – that’s what I want to do.” It was the hundreds of stories like this that inspired me and drove me toward becoming an entrepreneur. With the support of my wife, family and firm, I left a lucrative career in private equity and founded E78 in 2016.
How did you get started?
I started soul-searching. I was networking with other entrepreneurs, researching the competitive landscape for private equity services companies, and just started getting very serious about spinning out of my firm to embark on my entrepreneurial journey. With the support of my mentors at Sterling Partners, I transitioned (eventually, Sterling became a client and E78 continues to enjoy a client/service provider relationship with them today). Initially, my business partner and I would tag team engagements as interim CFO and interim controller. We’d partner with sponsors and portfolio company management teams to drive strategic initiatives and special projects (e.g., develop/automate KPI tracking or implement new accounting software) that would lead to value creation. Over the years, we’ve expanded our capabilities but in the early days, it was a lot of late nights – consultant by day, IT manager by night and administrative assistant by midnight.
What are Element 78’s niches or specialties?
Our target market is private equity, but we serve a number of industries that private equity firms invest in as well, including healthcare, business, commercial, and industrial services to name a few. Within healthcare, we have extensive experience serving physician practice management organizations (“PPM”), including dental, dermatology, ophthalmology/optometry, and orthopedic specialty service organizations. Our service offerings are tailored to each engagement but can be generally summarized as interim leadership, managed accounting services and fund administration, transaction advisory, technology consulting, and talent management.
What makes Element 78 unique from other companies in the industry?
We’re not a “pure play.” Across the spectrum of private equity services, you have firms that focus on either fund administration or advisory services – we don’t see why you have to be one or the other. While delivery models are quite different, we’ve been able to recruit some of the best and brightest industry specialists to lead each service line. It’s no different to me than a bank offering retail products and investment banking services or a CPA firm offering audit, tax and risk management services. Each service offering is unique and requires specialization. We seek to be our clients one-stop-shop for all things accounting, finance and technology as it relates to their fund and portfolio company management.
To what do you attribute your growth?
In 2019, we received national brand recognition; we were ranked #355 on Inc. 5000’s Fastest Growing Companies; and we were ranked the sixth fasting growing consulting firm in Consulting Magazine. Element 78 currently has employees in 9 states with offices in Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan. However, we have done no marketing in the four years we’ve been in business. So, our success can only be attributed to the work we’ve done and to our high-quality standards. We strive to meet expectations within the time frame agreed upon, and we are personally invested in our clients. At Element 78, we believe that trust, consistency, and quality are critical elements for growing any business.
John Signa is a certified public accountant (inactive) and certified valuation analyst. He received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a Master of Business Administration degree from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.
Private Equities CEO and Managing Partner
2211 York Road, Suite 200
Oak Brook, Illinois 60523
Download the magazine and see John's feature on page 10.