Turnaround specialist and Queens College alum Michal Falk invests in failing firms
FLUSHING, N.Y., June 25, 2013 – Founder and co-chairman of the Comvest Group, a private investment firm in Florida that has pumped over $2 billion into turning around and growing more than 95 distressed or underperforming companies, Michael S. Falk ’84 readily remembers when attending Queens College was a financial stretch. Yet by his mid-20s, he was teaming up with another QC grad to establish a boutique investment bank in Manhattan, well on his way to success.
“I knew I was good with numbers,” says the entrepreneur, who speedily crunches figures in his head. Majoring in economics, he had “a slow start” his first two years, juggling valet parking and other jobs to pay his way. A classmate, Mario Mitarotonda ’84, introduced Falk to his older brother, Jim ’77, who was managing a Citibank branch. Jim offered Falk a part-time job fitting perfectly into his busy class schedule. For Falk, it was a chance to work for a large professional corporation and with someone he could learn from. “I realized about that time that relatively limitless success can be achieved through focus and hard work. I got serious about my studies, brought my grades up significantly, and enrolled in the toughest class Queens College had to offer: Advanced Honors Econometrics. Econometrics—applying statistics to real world economics—was an extremely challenging course. I focused, earned the only A+ in the class, and never went backwards from then on
As mid-year Commencement loomed, Falk was impatient and insecure about finding a job. The timing was wrong for bank training programs and “no one was interested in my résumé,” he recounts. Without an MBA, he was convinced that to land on Wall Street he had to “take initiative.” He researched investment banks and knocked on doors, eventually getting hired at Shearson/American Express, which furthered his fascination with the stock market and investment analysis.
In 1988 Falk joined forces with Jim Mitarotonda and a colleague to launch their boutique bank, Commonwealth Associates. “A year later, Jim left and I was on my own. Jim and I are still good friends,” Falk says. Commonwealth quickly grew to 350 employees, but absorbing “the lessons of rapid growth, it then shrank to 50,” Falk explains. In 2000, as he learned that he was a better investor than manager, Falk teamed up with a highly successful operating executive and transitioned Commonwealth into Comvest, a $1.5 billion principal investment firm that focuses on acquiring and lending money to mid-size businesses.
Realizing Comvest could be based anywhere, he and his wife, Annie, opted for West Palm Beach. “Comvest is a fast-paced, New York City-style business in a place that moves a lot slower,” he says. Nonetheless, Comvest’s growth has been rapid.
A core component of Comvest is improving and growing under-performing businesses. “We owned the largest in-house rehabilitation equipment provider for skilled nursing homes andtripled the profits in three years. We currently own the largest water pipe manufacturer in the U.S. and the leading infrastructure provider for 3G and 4G wireless,” Falk points out.
When the Falks and their two daughters caught bird flu, they discovered an urgent-care center near their summer home in the Hamptons. That piqued Falk’s interest in adding such centers to the firm’s investment portfolio. Now Falk’s investment firm owns the largest urgent-care chain in North Carolina, “We are providing exactly what this country needs: high-quality healthcare at the lowest possible cost, and have partnered with the state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina,” he notes.
As with acquisitions, Falk creates value through philanthropy. The Michael and Annie Falk Foundation, which has aided 9/11 first responders, focuses on benefiting children, the environment, and the arts. The proceeds from Annie’s recent book, Palm Beach Entertaining, will benefit a favorite. Children’s Home Society
To celebrate his turning 50, the Falks last summer trekked to Machu Picchu in Peru. The family took along five couples, plus 30 lunch pails packed with supplies for poor schoolchildren. Wherever they go—Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Galápagos—“my wife and I try to help the environment and local people,” he notes. With a “good friend”—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.—the Falk family in 2006 had a “great experience” in southern Chile, joining the effort to protect one of the world’s wildest rafting rivers.
Thinking back to his boyhood in Bayside, Queens, Falk recalls that his parents “had run into serious financial hardships when I was in my early teens. Those were tough times, but you learn from those times and they build character and empathy that likely wouldn’t be there otherwise. A lot of positives came out of it.” He hopes to help today’s smart but struggling students who have a similar “drive and the desire to improve” that he had, and he is excited about the scholarship fund he recently established at his alma mater. “I like what I see at QC, and I really like the leadership there,” he adds.
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Contact: Phyllis Cohen Stevens
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