Starting a New Company Requires a Banker Who Believes

If you’ve ever read a book on a black and white electronic e-reader, you have AVEKA to thank.

The Woodbury-based company, which processes the engineered particles used in e-readers, specializes in custom particle processing for a diverse range of applications—everything from cosmetics to personal hygiene, from microelectronics to medical devices, from food to fertilizer.

The company was founded in 1994 by CEO Willie Hendrickson.

“I was with at 3M for 16 years, and when management decided to divest the pilot plant where I had been working, they asked me if I knew anyone who might be interested in buying it,” says Willie.

Willie did indeed know someone … and that night he went home to discuss doing just that with his wife. “She thought I should and promised to love me even if I failed—so I went back to work the next day and told my boss that I wanted to buy the plant and start my own particle processing company.”

3M liked the idea, and AVEKA was born.

“In just one day, I went from being taken care of by 3M to having to do everything myself,” says Willie. “I had to figure out my own IT and phone system, where to advertise, how to invoice, when to pay my employees, and more.”

But one thing Willie didn’t have to figure out was how to finance the new company … though he admits not having a very clear understanding of the process.

“My boss asked me how I planned to pay for the company, and I looked him right in the eye and told him I thought 3M would loan me the money, and I would pay it back down the road,” says Willie. “My boss chuckled and said, ‘That’s not how it works.’ Then, he pushed a business card across his desk and told me I had an appointment the next day with the president of Eastern Heights Bank, which was owned by 3M at the time.”

At 3:00 the next day, dressed in a suit and tie, Willie went to the bank to make his pitch for a loan. Halfway through, the president stopped Willie to tell him the loan was approved. He then introduced Willie to business banker Brad Benesh.

Brad helped Willie understand what bankers care about: a business’s income and expenses, its cash flow and debt to equity ratio, what makes good collateral, ways loans can be paid back, and more. He also helped Willie secure a U.S. Small Business Administration loan.

While it wasn’t always smooth sailing—at one point Willie was taking home less than half of what he had been making at 3M—it wasn’t long before business picked up and, by the early 2000s, Willie was shopping for a second building … then eventually a third and fourth. Along the way, Willie and Brad lost touch, but one day, Brad called Willie to check in, say hello, and share the news that he’d joined a new bank: North American Banking Company.

Brad’s timing was perfect: Willie was just about to purchase a fifth building and was looking for a banker who truly understood him and what he was trying to accomplish with AVEKA.

“I told Brad I’d like to do business with him again,” says Willie. “Unlike other bankers I’d worked with over the years, Brad understands and supports my vision. He’s my banker, but he’s also a friend and confidante who’s not afraid to push back when he thinks I’m making a mistake.”

When asked what advice he has for other business owners, here’s what Willie had to say:

  1. Be honest. Honesty is priceless. It’s critical you be true to yourself, your employees, your suppliers, your customers—and your banker.
  2. Develop your management team. Although you may feel you can do it all, you can’t. But if you share your vision and invest in your management team, you truly can have the company you’re dreaming of.
  3. Find a banker you can trust. As a business owner, there’s never enough money, so find a banker you can trust and treat him or her as your friend, not your enemy.

If you’re looking for a banker you can trust, give Brad Benesh a call today at 651.714.6421 or email him at bbenesh@nabankco.com. A business banker for more than 30 years, he’s helped many individuals just like Willie secure the financing they need to buy a company. He also helps companies manage cash, reduce debt, and plan for growth.