By Jim Kendall
This column originally appeared in the November 30, 2015 Daily Herald
Wall Street ultimately judges the CEOs who run the big companies. Smaller businesses have Tom Caprel.
Caprel is president of Wheaton-based Break Through Results Inc., a consultant who in a sense matches roles with Wall Street investors: Caprel will hold small business owners accountable – but only when brought in to do so.
“What’s next?” repeats Ben Olson as we wrap up a conversation on his plans. “That’s the question Tom asks me every time I see him.” Olson is president of R. Olson Construction Co. Inc., a Roselle concrete contractor that is among the big players in the Chicago market. He is the third generation family member to head the company.
“I was the youngest of the three kids who were buying the business from my father,” Olson says, “and I assumed my older brother would run the business.” That’s not what the brother had in mind.
“I didn’t know how to handle the purchase,” Olsen recalls. “When the attorney said, ‘You just bought a concrete company,’ he also passed me a card with Tom Caprel’s name on it.”
That may have been the attorney’s best move. “We had a general manager who was running the place, (but he) didn’t get along with the family,” Olson says. “I needed somebody, non-biased, who could help me bounce my way between the general manager and my father.
“Tom taught me how to get my hands around who I had to become.” Part of the process was development of a strategic buyout that moved the GM to the sidelines.
Steve Trabilsy thinks we all may need a Tom Caprel. He did.
Trabilsy is president, and owner, of Accurate Tank Technologies, a North Aurora business that provides integrated fleet fueling systems.
Previously, he honed his career in senior management at Downers Grove-headquartered Dover Corp., a diversified Fortune 500 manufacturer with operations in energy, engineered systems, fluids, and refrigeration and food equipment.
Trabilsy was comfortable in the Dover hierarchy. “There is a structure – constant strategy and planning up and down, your boss and your direct reports. I could talk tactics.”
What he missed when he bought Accurate Tank in 2007 was that free-flowing exchange of ideas. “I’m looked at differently as an owner,” Trabilsy explains. “An owner can’t talk to direct reports in the same way a company officer can, and there’s no one to review me.”
An investment planner suggested Trabilsy talk to Caprel; the two clicked.
Why? Caprel certainly isn’t the only effective small business advisor, but he has a pretty good answer to the “Why?” question. “There are moments,” Caprel says, “when business owners feel like a gerbil running on that wheel in the cage. They no longer have a clear picture of where the business is. They need someone to be accountable to.”
“He’s the yang to my yin,” Trabilsy says. “And he can play the devil’s advocate very well.”