Ken Melanson: ACON sale will help take Northern Wind to next level
Selling a company after 35 years of work is no small decision, but Northern Wind Co-Founder Ken Melanson told SeafoodSource it was the best way to take elevate the company to the next level.
Melanson co-founded Northern Wind with Michael Fernandes in 1987, building it from what he described as “nothing, absolutely nothing” to a company with USD 200 million (EUR 173 million) in annual sales.
In mid-October, Northern Wind was sold to ACON Investments in a deal that included Suncoast Seafood and Raymond O’Neill & Son Fisheries, creating a new entity now called Atlantic Sustainable Catch.
Melanson, who has become the interim CEO of Atlantic Sustainable Catch, said Northern Wind been considering either a merger or sale for some time – he said at least four parties were interested in the company over the last few years – but that the decision was ultimately made in oder to continue the company's growth trajectory.
“It wasn’t the money that drove us to make the decision to sell. What made us sell was the fact that we could partner with like people and build something bigger," he said “The first thing is, Mike and I are both 65 and older, so we needed some kind of succession plan. There’s no family inside of our business so there’s no one to take that over,” Melanson said. “It took us 35 years to get where we are today, to get to where we want to be tomorrow. We don’t have another 35 years!”
The other part of the equation, he said, was a trend toward consolidation in the seafood industry.
“I think we’re all in somewhat of a fragmented fishery. Where we’re so fragmented, consolidation was bound to happen sooner than later,” Melanson said. “We had the choice to make: Do we want to be sooner, or do we want to be later? Do we want to be a follower, or do we want to be a leader?”
Throughout the search for either a partner or a buyer, the focus was on making sure the other company was a good fit, Melanson said.
“The [goal] was to make sure the individuals had the same thought-process in business, like we have,” he said. “That was one of my fears, that you sell your company and you’re no longer the guy in charge, and if they seem to think they want to take a left and you think taking a right is better … The ones that suffer the most are the employees that have worked for you for 30 years.”
Approximately nine months ago, “we got kind of serious with ACON," Melanson said.
ACON, he said, immediately stood out from other companies as an investment platform that would let Northern Wind continue its business philosophy, while pairing it with other like-minded companies to form a larger, more dynamic entity.
“ACON really, really did their homework as far as synergies with the people,” Melanson said. “The three people that they put together at this stage of the game, I believe we’re all going to fit together like a glove.”
Melanson said the current management structure at Northern Wind isn’t changing – the key managers and personnel, some of which have been with the company for 30 years, will continue to be a part of the company.
“The day-to-day operations are still going to be run by the people who were running the companies prior,” Melanson said.
The newly formed Atlantic Sustainable Catch will, he said, have a clear path toward growth – and will serve as a good foundation for ACON to build on.
“I think we can grow to USD 1 billion [EUR 870 million] platform in the next couple of years, and be into a bunch of other different items and different companies, and be part of something bigger than what we are – or what we were,” Melanson said.
Photo courtesy of Northern Wind