KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Now more than ever, business schools have a responsibility to not only develop students for future careers but to create opportunities that impact the world. The Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy at Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business is doing just that. By engaging with alumni, strategically utilizing resources and expertise and connecting aspiring business owners with capital, the center has successfully supported its first business acquisition through Sleeping Giant Capital, a private investment firm affiliated with Western. The acquisition is driving opportunities on multiple levels—by making business ownership a reality, spurring educational experiences and creating employment possibilities for future Broncos.
Alumnus Michael Abdella, the first individual to acquire a business through the fund, has always known that opportunity is what WMU Haworth is all about. When he walked through Western Michigan University’s Schneider Hall as a student, he saw opportunity at every turn—in the sales and business marketing program, in leadership positions and in networking with employers.
He first realized the impact that a leader could have when he took on the role of president of the Sales and Business Marketing Association, at that time the second largest student organization on campus. “That experience gave me a taste of what it was like to lead a team and help develop people within an organization. It was an early glimpse into understanding culture, strategy and goal-setting.”
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in business administration from Western in 2011, Abdella held sales roles at Coca-Cola, ADP and Huntington Bank, eventually founding Mauve Capital Partners, which invests in and actively manages privately held companies in the United States, aiming to grow these enterprises to their fullest potential.
With deep experience in operations and sales as well as a network of investors and suppliers, Abdella saw a great opportunity to collaborate with Sleeping Giant Capital, which recently announced an investment fund that would generate economic, social and educational returns in West Michigan through acquisition of small businesses.
As Abdella began interacting with the firm’s managing partners Drs. Doug Lepisto and Derrick McIver, who also lead WMU’s Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy, many areas of mutual benefit in a more formal partnership emerged.
In May, Sleeping Giant announced Abdella would be the first owner-operator to receive investment capital to back his acquisition of LineDrive, an industrial sales company that specializes in safety equipment such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and a variety of products that aid facility productivity. Abdella assumed the role of CEO of the company on May 1.
“I looked at a lot of different organizations over the last two years as I was considering acquiring a business,” says Abdella. “There were two main things that I was seeking: personal fit and the culture of the organization. The LineDrive team is incredibly skilled, and this company is essentially a talent organization with success tied directly to how well talent is managed, supported and developed. The company is already a thought leader in the industrial sales space, and that was very attractive to me in terms of the potential to grow the business—the company has distinct competitive advantages.”
Abdella also has many unique advantages that poise him to be a successful leader of LineDrive. Growing up in the Flint area, he has an interest in and understanding of industrial businesses and has always hoped to lead an organization in that sector. His sales background directly applies to what LineDrive team members are focused on every day—maximizing sales. He sees all the places where the company can leverage what it does best to expand its impact.
“This is an incredible chance to not only grow a business but to develop people and provide an investment in the organization’s employees, customers and other stakeholders in order to have a positive impact in the community,” he says.
Opportunity is exactly what Abdella sees at LineDrive—the chance to grow a business and to support employees in their career paths. With a goal of expanding the business to two to three times its current size, he knows the company has the expertise and potential to get there.
“There is already an incredibly strong portfolio of customers who are themselves industry leaders, with growth that can be achieved first domestically and eventually in Canada and Mexico in coming years. I look forward to learning all the nuances of the business from team members. My goal was not to manage or maintain a business but to advance a company. I look forward to defining and measuring growth opportunities at LineDrive after more discussions.”
Two key things that Abdella plans to keep at the forefront are his focus on lifelong learning—something he came to value deeply at WMU Haworth—and the ability to use that learning to always innovate and remain fresh in problem solving.
His work with Western’s Center for Principled Leadership and Business Strategy throughout the process of connecting with Sleeping Giant Capital has linked him to several helpful resources, including research and data during the acquisition process, student intern help on analysis and alumni who could serve as experts to advise on critical needs such as technology or measurement.
“It is both an inspiration and a pleasure to be able to work with owner-operators like Michael on companies like LineDrive,” McIver says. “The purpose of our fund is to empower individuals to become the next generation of principled business leaders. It not only creates economic returns but is a win for our community and local businesses looking to transition. It creates an unrivaled educational experience and a viable path to owning and operating a business that can create genuine value for others. We are excited to continue to learn and grow with Micheal, LineDrive, others like him in the future and our community.”
One of the things that Abdella looks forward to is being able to engage with the center and its leadership and business strategy students and programs such as sales and business marketing to build out the team at LineDrive as the company grows.
“I am excited to be able to connect with the talent from the Haworth College of Business. With the college’s focus on highly experiential programs, which has only grown since my days as a student, I cannot think of a better place to hire world-class talent to engage in exciting business opportunities that make a real impact in people’s lives.”
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