Pay it Forward. It is the fundamental ideal that has governed Mark Roman’s personal life and the foundation of his stellar career as both a financial leader and an award-winning author.
To summarize Mark’s business acumen is to do him a great disservice. Whether he is taking companies from launch to exit, helping capital markets investors understand the risks and operational health of their investment targets, or performing any of the numerous responsibilities required of him as a founding partner of Denovo Advisors LLC, Mark personifies the ideology, “Our Experience is your Advantage.”
Spend any length of time with Mark and you’re likely to hear the words, "Business moves at the speed of trust." It is the underlying principle for his commitment to remain honest and transparent, and it’s built into everything he does. The results of his integrity speak for themselves. Mark can count among his clients, private equity firms, venture capitalists, and family offices of the ultrawealthy. His experience encompasses not a single industry, but several. He is well-versed in the areas of healthcare, manufacturing, operations management and organizational behavior, business development, project administration, and customer relations, among others. He has more than ten thousand LinkedIn connections and he knows each and every one of them, a true testament of a man known for his authenticity and his genuine affinity for people. He is not, as he distinguishes, “a LION” (LinkedIn Open Networker) and makes connections with the sole purpose of effecting mutual value.
Driven by his lifelong philosophy, “I don’t get mad, I don’t get even—I get ahead,” Mark prides himself on focusing his energy toward bettering himself and supporting those he works with. It is the quintessential employment of his “pay it forward” way of life, and based on the sheer number of organizations that Mark and his business partner, Greg, have launched, it’s a highly successful model. We sat down with Mark to learn more about his philosophy, his work, and his upcoming new book, Financing for Founders and Entrepreneurs - What They Don’t Teach You in B-School about Securing Funding for Your Business.
Tell us about your philosophy of “pay it forward.”
The “pay it forward” principle started before I went to college. My cousin encouraged me to apply to a private school, even paying my admission fee for the application. He then encouraged me to interview for scholarships. He drove 50 miles one way to the school and waited while I had my interviews. About three weeks later, I got an envelope in the mail—I had been accepted. With the scholarships and work-study program I received, it was less expensive to attend Case-Western Reserve than a state university. I was so thankful for that opportunity and that instigated a desire to help others.
I’ve always been good at recognizing value in others, even if they don’t see in themselves. I guess you could say I’m a go-giver not just a go-getter. I recently received a thank you package from a woman who worked for me 25 years ago. She was celebrating the 20th anniversary of her own consulting company. She included a letter saying that I saw capabilities in her that she didn’t know she had. Getting that letter was so rewarding and so fulfilling. In another instance, back when I was president of global healthcare at HP Enterprise Services, I took a salesperson under my wing because he was going to be fired. I asked my boss, who was head of all industries, to postpone the termination for 6 months because I knew I could coach him. We devised a plan in which he could demonstrate his capabilities, close some business, and keep his job. Before those six months passed, he had signed one hundred million dollars in new business. I knew he had it in him. I’ve always believed that there are two ways to get ahead in life—one way is to ascend by pulling others down. The other is to surround yourself with smart people who can elevate you. I prefer to surround myself with people who are authentic, have heart, and are intelligent, and my business partner, Greg, has the same philosophy. He and I have been very successful professionally and personally. Our “pay it forward” philosophy is targeted at helping venture capital, private equity, and other investors make the most of their investment dollars—we want to see as many entrepreneurs as possible enjoy the type of success we’ve had. We are very flexible in our fees and many times, take equity in a new company instead of cash, which fulfills our aspiration to foster growth. We both find it very rewarding to see others thrive and know that we played a part in their journeys. You just never know how a little act of kindness can impact someone. For instance, I was boarding a flight and there was a lady in her 80’s trying to get her suitcase into the overhead bin. The passenger in front of me told her rudely, “Come on lady, we want to get there some day.” I asked the man to step aside, and I stowed her bag. In tears, she told me that she was going to California to see her new grandson. Later, when the stewardess came with the beverage cart, she asked for a glass of wine but when the airline declined to accept cash, I bought her a small bottle and said, “you need a little drink to celebrate.” As we deplaned, I retrieved her suitcase and wished her luck. When I reached the baggage claim, she was waiting for me with her daughter and son-in-law. The daughter thanked me and said, “mom told us what you did for her—thank you.” I responded that I would hope someone would do the same for my mom. She offered me cash, but I politely declined, saying no thanks, just pay it forward.
What led you to start the firm focused specifically on healthcare and manufacturing?
We started the company with that same ideal—to pay it forward. My partner and I have been successful in starting and growing businesses, and we wanted to use our expertise to help others obtain the funding that they need, so we match them with potential funding sources. I had been in the healthcare industry within the technology and services sectors for 35 years and my partner had similar experience in the manufacturing industry. Our combined network in these areas, complemented by our individual strengths, gives us a distinct advantage that benefits our entrepreneurs and investors. I started off on a project for the financial services industry, with a large multinational investment firm and bank. My next project was in healthcare. While I was working on the digital conversion of medical records for a hospital, a nurse came running into my office and gave me a big hug. She told me, “You just saved a man’s life in the ER.” Because I had required the team to include all medicinal allergies in the new system, we prevented the physician from administering a drug that would have been fatal to the patient. I knew then that the best use of my time and experience would be to combine my love of the healthcare industry with my expertise for commercializing intellectual property and securing funding for new businesses.
What does your work entail, both on behalf of companies to help transform them and take them to the “next level,” and on behalf of investors who are considering investing in a particular company?
We focus on operations diligence, business transformations, and IT strategy for healthcare and manufacturing targets and portfolio companies. We look at staff skills, succession plans, top supplier and client contracts, and examine all the operations. We give investors confidence that operations are sound and sustainable. We look at back-up and business continuity processes and assure the company and their investors that the company is operationally stable; we don’t do any financial or legal diligence.
One illustration of our proficiency was confirmed when a private equity client called and said, “Next time I’m in Cleveland, I’m going to buy you guys dinner so you can say ‘I told you so.’” We asked him what he meant, and he reminded us that when we had performed diligence on one of the firm’s investments, we highlighted a risk in their manufacturing process—that raw materials and finished product were kept in the same storage facility in their manufacturing plant. We recommended that they be kept in separate warehousing facilities outside of the plant. We also suggested that they have a manufacturing facility under contract for increased demand. We learned that the company had a fire, which ruined over $40 million in raw materials and finished product. This example conveys our pledge to mitigate risks for entrepreneurs and their investors. We also do portfolio reviews for private equity companies, where we’ll come into a capital management firm and perform operational diligence on all of the companies in their portfolio. We’ll grade the companies from A to D, so that the private equity firms can have an optic on where they may consider investing additional funds in the future, based on operations.
What makes your company different from others in the industry?
We have over 300 contractors from all sectors of healthcare and manufacturing, so if we need a unique skill, such as medical device manufacturing, we have someone with whom we’ve worked before, who can bring that skill to the diligence project.
You’re also a best-selling author with a third book currently in the works. What compelled you to write your first book, Conquering the Boundaries of Friendship?
Conquering the Boundaries of Friendship was written during my rehab in 2018, after I had emergency brain surgery for a very rare, undiagnosed, asymptomatic birth defect. I had the idea for the book years before but decided that writing it would be a good exercise for brain function, organizational capacity, and motor skills. It was all of those things, for I ended up interviewing over 200 people.
The most rewarding result of its publication was the letters I received from readers. One woman, whom I’ll call Michelle from Minneapolis, wrote to me that she had seen my book sitting on her husband’s nightstand and she decided to read it. Based on what she read in the chapter, titled, There’s No Crying in Baseball, which is about the subtle and not-so-subtle messages we send our children about growing up, she and her husband decided to raise their children differently. Those letters are what really motivate me to write. I’ve always loved writing, but who knew I would be any good at it?!
Tell us about your upcoming book about entrepreneurs and founders.
The working title of the new book is, Financing for Founders and Entrepreneurs - What They Don’t Teach You in B-School about Securing Funding for Your Business.” I’ve interviewed over 150 partners, origination experts, and finance professionals because this book covers every aspect of securing financing to launch your business or take your business to the next level. It includes information about everything from bootstrapping your business, to SBA and bank loans, angel investors, friends and family private equity, venture capital, and family offices. Every potential interviewee who I sent the book synopsis to, said “Wow, you’re doing a real service to entrepreneurs, founders, and the industry.” I’m co-authoring this book with my business partner, Greg Johnson.
My next book is titled, You’re Cured - the Definitive Guide to the Healing Process for Patients and Caregivers. For this book, I’ve interviewed over 400 patients and primary caregivers. It is a hopeful book for anyone who has overcome severe physical or mental trauma.
What do you enjoy most about your work/what drives you?
I love helping leverage investments for the innovative discoveries, operational improvements, etc., that will benefit as many people as possible. “You don’t have to sleep to dream. You can dream about what you want to do, and you can plan for it, and make it happen.” This is one of my favorite phrases. To this day, I get a thrill every time I see how our work is helping other human beings.
Mark was awarded Author of the Week by the Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAAA) a professional association for non-fiction authors. He is a regular contributor to several podcasts and webcasts on leadership and a featured speaker at the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship at Case-Western Reserve University. He is a member of the president's council for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a member of the Raleigh Tavern Society and Goodwin Society of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and chairman of the board for the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation of Historic Jamestown. In addition to a B.S. in operations management and organizational behavior from Case Western Reserve University, he holds a professional certificate in strategy and shareholder value creation from London Business School in England, and a professional certificate in venture capital and private equity from Bosconi University in Milan, Italy.
Denovo Advisors LLC