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Ep 65- Sailing the Waves of Business Expansion with Mike Vellano

Ep 65- Sailing the Waves of Business Expansion with Mike Vellano

Sailing the Waves of Business Expansion with Mike Vellano

In today’s episode of Building Texas Business, Mike Vellano joins us to share the things He has learned from building his company, Vortex.

As the CEO who has steered Vortex’s innovative growth, Mike offers a look inside deal-making. Beyond mechanics, it’s a celebration of relationships that drive success.

We explore personal connections too – from Mike’s early job to his passion for Tex-Mex. Plans for an Italian sabbatical link work ambitions with heritage.

Mike’s gratitude for support systems and understanding of sacrifice offers a holistic view of leading an expanding company.

Join us for stories of commitment, strategy and groundedness through change. Mike’s experience navigating Vortex’s eventful voyage provides actionable insights for any enterprise.


Transcripts are generated by machine learning, so typos may be present.

BTB (00:00):

Welcome to the Building Texas Business Podcast, interviews with thought leaders and organizational visionaries from across industry. Join us as we talk about the latest trends, challenges, and growth opportunities to take your business to the next level. The Building Texas Business Podcast is brought to you by BoyarMiller, providing counsel beyond expectations. Find out how we can make a meaningful difference to your business at and by your podcast team where having your own podcast is as easy as being a guest on ours. Discover more at Now. Here’s your host, Chris Hanslick.

Chris (00:42):

In this episode, you’ll meet Mike Vellano, founder and CEO of Vortex Companies. Mike and his team have built Vortex through a series of strategic acquisitions since 20 15 17 in total by focusing on people, process, and technology. So Mike, I wanna welcome you to Building Texas Business. Thanks for taking the time to join me.

Mike (01:07):

You got it, man. Great to be here. Uh,

Chris (01:09):

So yeah, well, let’s kind of just dive right in. Uh, you’re the CEO of Vortex Companies. Let’s start by just telling the audience, you know, what that company is and what it’s known for.

Mike (01:19):

Yeah. Vortex is a comprehensive and full portfolio of products and services that serve to, to repair wa water wastewater and, and storm water assets, pipes, structures, anything that you, anything that, that lives in a municipal, in municipal or, or a commercial industrial application. And we do it all non intrusively and through what’s called trenchless grid

Chris (01:47):

Less technology. Okay. Yeah. So,

Mike (01:48):

So line a pipe without excavating. Okay. So we get to save the environment a little bit every day.

Chris (01:55):

That’s good. I like that. Yeah. So tell us, I guess, how did you find your way into this industry?

Mike (02:00):

So, I, I’m a, my, my background, I got a, I have a picture of my great-grandfather, Paul Llano, laying a water main in 1925. Italian immigrant came to this country installing a water main in, in Schenectady, New York. My family actually fixed that same water main years later. I’m not a finance guy or I don’t have an MBA I’m, I’m a, I founded Vortex and have, have spent my entire career in this industry other than, you know, cooking in a restaurant in college or bagging a few groceries. I’ve been married to this trade and, and moving that forward, my, my family was in, my family, had a pipe supply business and a, and a and a, and was in trench shoring and, and open excavation. And my father was one of the pioneers in this industry in 1994, brought a technology here with my family. The business was actually called Trenchless Technology. And, and I left the family business to go to go at a quick stop at a trenchless services business. And then, you know, the vision of, to get this thing going.

Chris (03:03):

Wow. So, so in, I guess it sounds like in a lot of ways it’s, it’s kind of a continuation of the family business.

Mike (03:08):

Yeah, I mean, if you look at, my grandfather was using an old steam cable machine to lay a water main to, you know, my family delivering and supplying, you know, frames and covers and fire hydrants, one of the first water work suppliers in the country to my, my, my father and his brothers and my uncles who are all entrepreneurs, watching them expand it and bring new technology to, and all of them, you know, sort of systematically advancing with the industry with water infrastructure and varied assets. And now Vortex is, uh, you know, we’re an innovative, we’re an r you, we do a lot of r and d and technology development, and we, and we get to do some really great things with, in some pretty, in some pretty tough areas.

Chris (03:51):

So it’s interesting you mention innovation and, and, and r and d. What are some of the things that, that you do to kind of instill the innovative side or innovative spirit within the company?

Mike (04:05):

You know, I think if I think about, you know, our core values, we have this, our, our most, our core values are centered around this, this, this statement or mantra called, you know, we win big together. And then as we drive down into our culture, we have that, that, you know, we actually have that trademark. It’s a big part of what we do. We sign off emails on it and we rally around it if you go into an office. But winning big is thinking big. You know, that’s a big part of our marketing strategy. And you know, what we have the way we think about products that work in infrastructure, you know, they don’t always come from the lab to the field. They come from the field and they’re perfected in a lab. And, and we have a lot of great people that are, that have dedicated their career to this industry that we’ve worked with for a long time. And I think everybody at Vortex is an innovator. And I think our culture drives that.

Chris (04:57):

That’s great. Yeah. So it sounds like you kind of encourage it at, at all levels, not just some one department that’s responsible for things, but are there any things that you do to kind of allow a, a, you know, a process for the ideas from the field to bubble up? How do you create that, I guess, in engagement or pride, uh, for people to speak up?

Mike (05:17):

You know, I think having, uh, I think having what, what, you know, trenches, technology is innovative in itself. I mean, we’re taking liners and GNA with resin and going through a manhole. We’re essentially performing angioplasty in a sewer application. You know, we’re, when we’re coating a large, you know, 16 foot diameter culvert with a geopolymer, I mean, there, there’s, those solutions don’t, aren’t solved with a material only. It’s a system. So it’s people, process and technology. Uh, I think the way that we innovate and encourage innovation is really, is really through, you know, it can be reactive, it can be proactive. And when we started our geopolymer business business, we, we really focused on how the field, you know, the material led to really, you know, try a ton of innovation and perfection in the field that was driven by most of our superintendents and most of our crew people. Uh, so I, you know, I think it’s, I think it’s a combination and it’s a, it’s chemistry, it’s, it’s, you know, some of it’s organic chemistry, but there is engineering and there is some real science behind it. But there is an art form to what we do. You know, there is, you cannot perfect this technology in a closed environment. You need to be able to deal with a lot, you know, the pipes or pipes of all kinds of construction and diameters and, and condition.

Chris (06:38):

Gotcha. Lemme take you back kind to the building. You said, uh, the beginning. You mentioned that you kind of, you know, broke off and, and started this. What year was that?

Mike (06:46):

So that would’ve been 2015.

Chris (06:48):

15. So, you know, that’s, you know, one of the questions I like to ask, you know, guys like you is okay that you had to take a, get, I guess the intestinal fortitude to be ready to kind of take that step, say, I’m actually gonna do this on my own. What, how did you know you were ready? What were some of the things looking back that, you know, you thought, you know, you go, man, that was really tough and had I known to have been this tough may I may not have done it.

Mike (07:14):

Yeah, I think, you know, I, I read it when you’re in, when you’re in YPO or you’re, you’re in some of the organizations that are, you’re involved, you, you get some really great, uh, case study. And, you know, I, there was an article about Kobe Bryant and somebody asked Kobe Bryant how, you know, how he thought he, if he thought he would ever play in the NBA, he’s like, well, my dad played in the NBA, you know, my dad was an entrepreneur, was a CEO. You know, I saw that, I saw that spirit and all with all my uncles and my family, and my grandfather was, and great uncle brought products to this country and innovated waterworks supply. And were one of the first in the country to, to do something like that. So my risk profile was kind of set out at, at birth.

Mike (07:55):

I mean, I, I don’t, seeing it being around it, seeing your name and the pride of, of having that on the side of, on the side of a truck or the side of a building, was always something that I wanted to either stay in the business or grow it, or, you know, have something that I could, you know, not only make my family proud of, but also build on my own. And I think the, the real working for my family and, you know, working for my family, you know, we always say we’re, you know, I, I, the experience, I would never change that experience, but working around entrepreneurs and then the stop that I made before I started Vortex, you know, allowed me to get to, you know, the MBA, I never wanted, you know, working around private equity and doing some things that, that, that allowed me to, to recognize, you know, the principles of business that some family businesses don’t always fully capture, like HR or fleet management or things that are, or how, you know, how you manage a p and l and things that, that are typically, you know, you know, managed at a, at a pat in my Italian family at patriarchal level, or, you know, however that comes to bear.

Mike (08:57):

So I think I always, you know, well, I, my, my wife, I remember coming home and she had 12, you know, Ford envelopes and was like, what are these? And, you know, I was like, well, we financed some trucks, it’s gonna be okay. You know, we had no, no money in our bank account. So I think some of that stuff is, is easier for me just because I, you know, back to the be like you, I had somebody that modeled that risk profile and that ability to say, Hey, just go take some chances and, and you create your own luck and you work. That’s,

Chris (09:30):

It’s a great story. I mean, it’s and unique, you’re right. ’cause it sounds like you, you almost didn’t have a choice in it, right? You were just brought up through from birth to understanding how entrepreneurs work the risk about it. But yeah, as you were talking, that has to put a whole nother level of pressure on you to say, yeah, this is what I, this is what we do in the ano family. I better make sure it works. ’cause everyone else looking back, uncles, grandfathers, and they’ve all made it work, I better make this work. That has to be a whole nother level of pressure.

Mike (09:58):

A hundred percent. And I think that’s, I think that’s, I think that is a driving principle, right? You know, people, you can harness pressure and use it, use it effectively. I mean, sometimes I probably run myself a little too hard, but I still am afraid to be late to work. You know, it’s just

Chris (10:17):

<laugh>. I love that. Yeah. Uh, especially in today’s world, right? That yeah. You know, the CEO is afraid to be late and there’s that level of kind of accountability that as a leader you want to instill in everybody in the organization. What are, what are some of the things you do to kind of, to do that, to demonstrate that? I mean, obviously it starts with, you know, your actions, but how do you try to show up as a leader to make sure that those values that you grew up with get infiltrated throughout the organization?

Mike (10:47):

Yeah. I remember going to the first management meeting in my, with my family and, and you know, we, it was, you know, if you’ve been around Italians, you know, you, there’s always a big dinner. There’s always, you know, more appetizers than entrees on the table, good wine or, you know, definitely a few cocktails. And, uh, you sit there and you go and you run and you come in town for a meeting. And I remember one of our branch managers, I remember one of our branch managers showing up late and my dad locking the door and just saying, you know, it’s like, dad, it’s two minutes late. It’s like, well, we, this meeting started at seven o’clock. And I’ve done that a couple of times. I’m mellowing out a little bit. But when I first started this business, I mean, as a 30-year-old guy, you know, you’re trying to prove a point and you realize that there’s better way, you know, that’s not always the way to do it.

Mike (11:37):

But that, that left a, that left an impression on me. I think, you know, there are definitely times where I, I get overextended and I gotta move calls around, and I’m not, I, I want be, I want to be more. But this is, it’s a big job with a lot of responsibility and you, you gotta prioritize differently. But I think, you know, our core values are, you know, we are a driven business. And I think them seeing drive in our organization, not only by me, but our team, I mean, our team is, our team is a very close group. You know, I think like when we went through our core values, we talked about how teams win. You know, families fight, you know, so I don’t always, I don’t, you know, we think like a family, but we work like a team. I mean, we are a team.

Mike (12:19):

Yeah. And I think them knowing that we are gonna win as a team, I think that look, they know that we’re all gonna get up. That nobody’s, that nobody’s fallen behind. And I think in a dynamic organization where that’s a driven organization, and, and you know, they see every time they walk into a Vortex office, they see that core value that we, we are driven and core values are for all, you know, some people we stand behind ours. And I think some of ’em have become a little cliche, but I think that’s how we keep people. I think that’s how we, I I think that’s a model that comes from our entire executive team down to the organization.

Chris (12:53):

Yeah. I would say, you know, we talk about core values in my experience, if you identified them right then, their behavioral characteristics for the behavior that you as the organization want to see, expect to see, and almost, you know, demand to see for those that are gonna be successful in your organization. So you talk a lot about, I love the win as a team, and, and I thought it was, I I love that, uh, families fight teams win. Uh, that’s a good one. I’m gonna have to use that again. But, uh, so culture’s definitely important to any organization. It sounds like it is, you know, obviously to yours. With that, the win as a team mantra to me, that then means that the hiring and onboarding process is critical to making sure you’re getting the right people during the interview process as you’re bringing them on and building the team. So what are some of the things that you do at Vortex to try to make sure you’ve got the right processes in place in the interview and integration process to add successful members to the team?

Mike (13:50):

I think that onboarding is, we have a great HR person that, that our onboarding process when we first started was where are we gonna grab a stake? And or where, you know, where’s, where are we gonna, where’s a fun place to do an interview? And we’ve created some, we, Brooke has really helped us to kind of formalize some things and our head of shared services that to make that first day, you know, that first day at Vortex, their most exciting day. I mean, that’s, it’s gotta be, you know, whether it’s the type of swag they get or their way book or whatever those things are, and what their introduction is to an or to an organ, to a high performing organization. I mean, they gotta feel like they’re, they gotta feel that fire and that encouragement day one. You know, when you, I, I think that if you build your team, right, and you build your people, you know, we have, uh, we’ve acquired seven companies now and our executive team has leadership across our, the leadership across our organization has come from those, has come from those transactions.

Mike (14:50):

And those folks have moved into pretty dynamic roles in the industry and high level leadership roles. So we’ve brought some of their core values along, but we’ve also elevated several members of, say, of, you know, an acquisition we did in Maine. We have three people running different parts of the business. Our COO has mentored several, you know, of our younger project managers and salespeople into roles. So they’re gonna, they’re gonna be leaders in our business. And we have the same role, you know, for me as, as sort of a sales support role that, you know, young men that started around 22. One of those guys is, is our, is our, uh, senior VP of of services now. And he is been with us for, for 12 or 14 years through, through other places. So I, I think we focus on, you know, it it is, and it’s a sink or swim sometimes. We’re, sometimes, you know, we, it’s, we do what we, we do sort of police our crew and we, and, and our drive gets in the way of, of really understanding, you know, and wanting everybody to be more than maybe they should be in some cases. But yeah, I think that was a bit of a ramble, but hopefully I answered your question. No,

Chris (15:59):

No, you did. I think it’s great. You, so I think in, in that answer though, you, you, you hit on a couple things. I wanna follow up on 17 acquisitions in that’s since 20. Yeah.

Mike (16:09):

That’s small to large. And on top of that, we’ve grown.

Chris (16:12):

Yeah. I know that you recently just closed a new transaction. So it sounds like there’s been a lot of growth through acquisition, you know, entrepreneurs or people that started a company, I mean, they’re faced with, right? You know, how do I grow, do I grow organically? Do I grow by acquisition? Do I do both? When’s it, right? So what are some of the things I guess, that you could share from your kind of strategic thinking about when you felt it was right to make those acquisitions? How, how’d you vet that to go, okay, this is a good fit, knowing, I guess there’s no Sure bet.

Mike (16:43):

Yeah. We’re acquiring businesses from 1 million to, you know, 15, 20 million in revenue. So, so a few of these businesses have been smaller tuck-ins or technologies or somebody would call ’em a an asset deal or, you know, so we have, and, and in all of those, we’ve never hired a banker. We source ’em internally. ’cause we either have a customer or a vendor relationship, and we have some, you know, we have some, we have a little bit of a matrix that we use, you know, in the, in the sense of do they have personnel, do they have technologies? Do they support the things that we do? Are there people innovative enough to expand? And if we can, we add value, we’re not gonna buy a business that we can’t grow organically or turn into something that is truly gonna make that business better and make our business better.

Mike (17:30):

Uh, sometimes it’s technology and sometimes it’s, but there is always an organic element to everything that we do. We start, we add crews every day. We implement our technology developments into our own service businesses or into others. And a true differentiator in how we go to, like, how we go to market up until, uh, you know, up until this recent transaction, which is a products company, a subsidiary that I can get into that in a few minutes, but this is the biggest, the largest acquisition we’ve made. And most of our product, products business was developed and grown organically through some smaller, what I would call partnering opportunities with, you know, our, our, we’re so proud of our business out in Utah. You know, we grew, we’ve grown that business by, you know, 20 times from when we acquired it in 2019 with, because we had a partner that understand, understood the chemistry, we understood the operation and commercial side and together, you know, great products and a great strategy work.

Mike (18:31):

So, wow. Yeah. That’s been our, that’s been a big part of our strategy on the product side. On the services side, we’ve bought, we’ve acquired some mature businesses. We just bought a business in the UK that we’re really excited about. It’s got an excellent market opportunity. It’s a service business, but they fit our DNA, they’re not afraid to do, they’re not afraid to go out and work with difficult customers or on difficult projects or take on emergency jobs. You know, we live in a municipal world and we really do focus on selling. We go after negotiated work. We don’t just go and low bid work, like a lot of, like a lot of municipal contractors do or have to do because they don’t have the resources or, you know, or some of the, I think some of the talent that we have to go utilize procurement networks or emergency contracts. So it, it’s a steady diet of, of acquiring to build on build or just doing it grassroots, organic.

Chris (19:25):

Gotcha. So then, you know, the next question comes, you do all these acquisitions. Acquisitions sound great and, and, and sexy, and you go close a deal, but it will only be successful if you are successful in the integration process. You’ve done 17 of different sizes. It sounds like you’ve gotten pretty good at the integration process. So I wanna talk to you some about that. It’s clearly not happening by accident if you’re good at it. So what are some of the tips that you could share about what y’all have done there, processes you’ve, you’ve developed, because I’m sure they haven’t all been successful, you’ve learned from some failures. So talk to us about that. Tell us kind of, you know, how that’s evolved at Vortex for you and your team to make sure you get the integration piece right.

Mike (20:09):

I think we start integrating a deal before it’s closed, and I think that’s important. And I don’t think that’s a strategy that can be, I don’t know if you can hear that dinging. Nope. Um, I don’t know. And I don’t know if that’s a, I don’t think that’s a strategy that everyone has a luxury to support, but part of our story is we, you know, we, we’ve never hired never hiring a banker. We are very familiar with the acquisitions that we’re going in to make, both from a personnel perspective, uh, the technologies that they support in how they think about the world. You know, we, we want, we want these acquisitions to be as excited to join Vortex as we are to acquire them. The other thing that, that we don’t do is buy a hundred percent of anything. We’re typically partnering with a seller that is gonna come into the business and continue on.

Mike (20:54):

And, you know, we, and we do a really good job of, I think of, of, you know, creating the right level of support, um, understanding what their skill sets are. At a seller come to me after we bought his company and say, you know what? I lo I always wanted to own a business, but I never wanted to run it. And I’m like, okay, I, I could see that, but let’s put you in a role like you’re, we’re here because you we’re doing something right. Let’s figure out what you’re, you know, what you’re good at. And I think, you know, our team collectively took a step back and was like, this is what he is gonna be good at. And, and he is been, and he is one of our best in that role now, and still a shareholder and had enough, you know, hasn’t had enough, you know, really believed in what we’re doing.

Mike (21:37):

And we believed in him as a, in this role. And, and, you know, some of, a big part of integration is understanding what everyone’s thinking and being transparent and saying, Hey, you know, you really stink at this. We need to get you a better finance person. Like, yeah, your finance person can go do this. We we’re not here to, I think our real focus is finding people and, and the other thing that we don’t do, and we buy cash flowing businesses that have good roots and have good people. And we don’t buy distressed businesses. We’re not, that’s just not who we are. And that’s understanding what your capabilities are. We don’t, we wanna manage, we wanna manage a business to grow it and build it and make it better, like I said before. And I think when you really look at, Hey, this is, we, we’ve, as you grow up, you know, you, you learn to deal with those, with those situations.

Mike (22:23):

You know, we just had a, we just had a business in Colorado. We kind of took a step back and said, Hey, you know, we’re breaking even here. You know, we’re, this is a distraction, you know, maybe we can move these assets somewhere else and, and focus somewhere else. And this is how we can do it in a way that, that that will be more productive for everybody involved. You know, so it’s, I think a big part of integration is really understanding our deals and having that luxury by being part of the diligence and really, I think starting integration almost before we, we close an acquisition.

Chris (22:55):

Yeah. Well, and what I, I guess what I hear you saying is, look, we’re very thoughtful about, and transparent about the process. And, you know, those are two key elements, I think, to anything being successful. So that that, that you’re gonna have clear communication. It also sounds like you take a little page outta Jim Collins, you know, good to great and getting the right, the right people on the bus, but in the right seat. Yeah. So your example of, I wanna always wanna be an owner, but didn’t wanna run it. I mean, that’s someone that probably should be on the bus, obviously, but he just Sure. You gotta find the right seat for him.

Mike (23:24):

Yeah, I think that, you know, it’s the, my, my father would’ve call it the holy trinity. It’s sales, operations and finance. But, you know, good to Great is, that’s one of the, one of the big takeaways of our best businesses have just really a, a really great balance across all three of those, all three of those areas. I mean, anything r and d, anything project level, any good strategy you have to have, you have to hit all three of those areas.

Chris (23:50):

Yeah, for sure. So you talked about a lot of these acquisitions being either vendors or partners that you have interacted with over time. So that infers to me you do a really good job at Vortex of creating some really strong relationships with your vendors and your business partners, you know, so let’s talk about that a little bit. What are some of the things you do to create in, in, in your people, I guess, to foster those strong relationships that sometimes lead to these add-on acquisitions, and then become part of the team? Any tricks or, or things there you really encourage?

Mike (24:26):

You know, like you, you, you made the comment about innovation before. I mean, I think everybody, you know, we have 800 employees now. I think we have, you know, 700 of them wanna be investment bankers. I get calls all the time, Hey, you know, so-and-so’s for sale. Hey, you know this, Hey, I bet you that that guy would be really interesting in this, you know, in this role, or should we should look at this company. You know, I think, and, and some of those have come to fruition and look, you know, when you do that many deals in 20, in that timeframe, which seems like a lot more than it is, but, you know, we did four deals in Covid, which was crazy. Wow. But we all, but you know, I think a big part of that is, yeah, I think a big part of that is like, we look at hundreds of deals.

Mike (25:11):

I mean, we still, we can turn, you know, we’re not gonna get into early diligence. Like, there’s some things I can look at with our team, and our team is is, and the higher, you know, the more involved, the more involved we get with a company. You know, we might say, you know, man, these, these guys don’t even know how to order material. Like they’re unorganized. You know, I know they want to, but like, this is gonna be a lot to fix. You know, maybe we can work together. And there’s been times where we’ve worked with companies for years, 3, 3, 4 years, talking to ’em about a deal, why we work parallel as a vendor or them as a sub, and then they become an acquisition. And I think we both got better together. You know, I, I think that some of that stuff is, but there’s, that’s also a luxury in our strategy, but that makes our strategy sound, you know, we don’t have, we don’t have, you know, you look at these deals and hey, if half of them went well with our organic growth, which is in the, you know, which is, you know, high teens to twenties and our CERs in the mid twenties, you know, it, it’s, it’s, it’s a great story, I think.

Chris (26:08):

Sounds like it. As you should be. So let’s talk a little bit, you know, more about you and, and your evolution as a leader. You, you talked about it a minute ago, uh, just referencing how you’re probably a little bit harder, maybe from the lessons you saw from your dad and you’ve evolved. Let’s dig in a little bit there. I mean, how, how would you describe your leadership style and how do you think that’s changed and evolved, you know, over the years since you’ve started, you know, this company and, and grown it to where it is today?

Mike (26:37):

You know, I think I know what, I know what I’m not <laugh>, uh, and I know that I have to surround myself with people that, uh, that, you know, you, you backfill by weakness, I think. But at the same time, you know, our, our CFO’s been my partner for 15 years. You know, the, we’ve had, we have people on our team that we’ve worked with for all of that. And even before and even going back 20 years in some cases, you know, I think leadership, I think leadership to me, has evolved as I’ve really understood what I’m truly, you know, what I’m really good at and having enough. And so sort of having, I think being intentional and having some humility and being able to say, Hey, I’m not, yeah, I, you know, I believe in the one minute manager. I don’t need a ton of detail.

Mike (27:18):

I just need to know what the issue is. Uh, and I’ve gotten better at, at really understanding why that detail is, I think, important. But, you know, as a leader, I think, I think gaining perspective and, you know, and listening, uh, I think YPO has helped me in a lot of ways. You know, being around, I think peer development is something that I never, you know, that was not, that’s not something when you grow up in an Italian family in upstate New York, you know, therapy isn’t something, I don’t know. Yeah. I dunno if that’s something I, I, I don’t know if I knew the meaning of that word until I was married. Um, but those aren’t things you don’t, you don’t share family business. You don’t share problems. You fix problems. And I think that, I think in some ways that’s good. Like, you know, you, I know I wanna run into, I think I wanted to run into every birding building until about five years ago. And I’ve started to realize that there’s people on my team that are better at things that I am and can execute on that. So, you know, I, I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, but I do enjoy leading. I, I do love my team, and I like, I I love seeing them be successful.

Chris (28:25):

That’s good. No, I think it, like you said, I think it starts with drive, right? You have to have the drive and the want to, and the little bit of that risk profile to take the risk. And then I think over time you learn maybe humility and empathy, and you can let others do some things backfill where you’re not as strong or you wanna provide the opportunity. But

Mike (28:44):

Yeah, don’t get me wrong, the New York Italian does come out. It’s a <laugh>, it’s a, it’s real. So,

Chris (28:50):

Well, let’s, we’ll test that a little bit then and say, ’cause I like to ask people, you know, I’m a big believer and I think we, we learn from failure, right? And so, you know, is there a situation or decision or circumstance you can think of, you know, there was a, a failure, right? Where you got it wrong, but you were able to recover, or what you learned from that moving forward that made you better, stronger, you know, leader person, whatever that might be.

Mike (29:15):

I think I, you know, I, I probably learned from the, the, you know, we always say when we’re hiring somebody from a competitor, you know, try to be a good lever. I think the way I left my family business was probably not, you know, I, it was, it’s ne never perfect. If I could go back, I’d probably, I would probably do that differently. You know, there’s been technologies that I have died on a hill for, and you, you take a step back and you go, God, why did I think that would work? You know? And I think now, I, I’m having conversations that people had with me 15 years ago where they’re going, Hey, what, what do you, we should buy this company. I’m like, ah, you know, I’m like, that’s not the right company for us. And I think there’s times where I, I know I need to explain myself better, but you know, I, there’s been some, there’s the, we’ve had, I’ve had some bad partners that we had to buy out and that I separated with. And you know, when you’re going through that, you realize like, Hey, this is this guy, you know, you want to, you, it’s all their fault, and you’re pointing the finger. And then as you get past it, you go, you know, I didn’t, I perspective and time or time changes perspective, right? So yeah, I think there’s certainly no shortage of things that I’ve failed at, so.

Chris (30:23):

Gotcha. Well, the other thing I kind of like to ask people as we start to wrap things up is if think about one or two things you would impart to an aspiring entrepreneur that if you’re gonna, if you’re gonna go chase that dream, you know, here, here are a thing or two that I think you should keep in mind, or you, you know, maybe it’s a do this and don’t do that type of thing. What, what would be that from you to kind of that generation next generation of, of entrepreneurs?

Mike (30:51):

Man, I love move fast and break stuff. Like I, and you know what, like when I did at first, I felt like we were breaking more. I feel like we’re, we’ve gotten a point where we move, really, we move it, it seems like we’re moving at the speed of light. But, you know, some of it, like this deal we just closed, which is, you know, sort of a dream deal for us, it’s a company that is a founding, uh, founding manufacturer in our business. It, it’s applied. They’re one of the largest producers of liners in our space and have, go back to Eric Wood, who’s really a, you know, a founding father of our business who started a company called In Forum. And, uh, you know, we’ve been working on this deal for two and a half years. I mean, this isn’t like 90 days. We got the book and we hired a big New York law firm, and our banker, you know, handled all the conversation and we walked in the door, you know, and, and here are the changes we’re gonna make.

Mike (31:43):

Like we have a foundational, innovative, pioneering, you know, industry giant that we wanna, that we want to take to what we wanna take into, into its next evolution. And, you know, I think about moving fast. I mean, move fast breaks, but maybe we’re not moving as fast as you think, but at the same time, you know, I do think that’s a big, you know, don’t be afraid of risk. Focus on what you’re good at, because in the minute, don’t get distracted from that. And, and don’t be afraid to partner with, you know, the, the, you know, you’re gonna have some bad partners, but you’ll, you’ll, if you can find the right ones, that means all the difference.

Chris (32:23):

I think that’s really good. You know, the, the point to that is similar with the employees, right? You’re gonna make some bad decisions, whether it’s a partner or a personnel, but once you realize that, move fast, right? To, to cut, because a, a bad employee can be, can erode culture, a bad partner obviously can run a business down. But once you know that, that definitely you wanna move fast.

Mike (32:43):

Yeah. I mean, if it seems like it’s, if it seems like, you know, bring a raincoat, if it’s raining every day, you know, we’re sitting here having these calls, it’s like, this business every month is having the same challenges. Okay. You know, you know, and we’ve gotten the point with my partners and the key leadership on our team where we look each other in the eye and we go, all right, it’s, yeah, we need to make a change. And then, you know, that, that leads to some quick and real thoughtful action. So, yeah. I, I totally agree. Very

Chris (33:12):

Good. Well, let’s, I appreciate all that. I mean, I think your success at, at Vortex and your teams, I know it takes more than just you. Any seven acquisitions since 2015 and the growth up to 800 employees is, is anything. It’s very impressive. So congrats on all that and the, uh, new acquisition. I wanna ask a few personal questions just before as we wrap up. What was your first job? That

Mike (33:34):

Was actually my icebreaker at my integration meeting today. Uh, my first job was, was at Ano Brothers.

Chris (33:39):

Okay. Doing what

Mike (33:42):

I was, I, I think I was counting t bolts because I wasn’t old enough to drive a forklift or picking up paper. I remember my father told me, Hey, I want you to go pick up paper on the, I’ll give you a dollar for every piece of paper you pick up on the warehouse floor. And I went out and I had like a grocery pack full. I’m like, gotta be a thousand dollars there. I think you gave me <laugh>. Here’s five bucks. Go buy a soda

Chris (34:03):

<laugh>. That’s right.

Mike (34:04):

That was my first job.

Chris (34:06):

Okay. I know you’re from New York, you’ve been in Texas a while, so I ask all my guests, do you prefer Tex-Mex or Barbecue?

Mike (34:12):

I, I prefer Tex-Mex.

Chris (34:14):


Mike (34:15):

I like a margarita. I like some good proper cheese. Texas cheese enchiladas

Chris (34:20):

And a good margarita.

Mike (34:21):


Chris (34:22):

Right. So last question is, if you could take a 30 day sabbatical, where would you go? What would you do?

Mike (34:27):

Italy, no

Chris (34:28):

Hesitation there

Mike (34:29):

Anywhere in Italy would be. Okay.

Chris (34:31):

Very good. Very good. Well, that, that’s a popular answer by the way, but I guess you have, you have family ties that would, would make it your answer too. So

Mike (34:40):

Some family ties and I like wine.

Chris (34:42):

That makes both of us. So Mike, thanks again for taking the time to, uh, come on the, the podcast. Really enjoyed getting to know you and hear your story and, and wish you nothing but the best of success in uh, 2024.

Mike (34:55):

Awesome. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

Chris (34:58):


BTB (35:00):

And there we have it. Another great episode. Don’t forget to check out the show notes at and you can find out more about all the ways our firm can help you at That’s it for this episode. Have a great week and we’ll talk to you next time.

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