Daniel’s diverse, collective work experiences have helped him build a career as one of the most effective PE-backed CEOs and operators around.
Daniel grew up in Wisconsin, and after watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at a young age, decided he wanted to get into business. After high school, Daniel made his way to Stanford, where he majored in quantitative economics and graduated with distinction. After some work experience, he earned his MBA from Harvard Business School, and from there joined Bain for a ten-year stint. While at Bain, Dan gained valuable foundation experience, working around the globe in a number of industries and functions/domains.
At the time of becoming partner at Bain, Dan deliberately pivoted to the operator side. He joined Roll International (Teleflora, Pom Wonderful), where he ran their operations improvement and acquisitions group and later became the CFO for the $300M Teleflora holding.
In 2002 after three years at Teleflora, Dan partnered up with PE firm Swander Pace Capital to acquire and run Fleischmann’s Vinegar, which at the time had 50% market share in the U.S. for vinegar. After five years, he and his partners sold the company for a 3X return. With 75% of their COGS being corn supply, navigating the ethanol craze required agility, innovative strategy and focused execution. Through effective management relations and data analytics, Dan and his team were also able to significantly increase alcohol yield, one of the most important operating metrics in that business.
Around that time, Dan partnered again with Swander Pace to serve as CEO of International Fiber Corporation, a $100M revenue producer of powdered cellulose and insoluble fiber products for the food and industrial applications markets. One of the key ways they added value to this holding was launching sales teams into new markets.
Today, Dan serves as chairman of Encore Consumer Capital-backed Van Law Foods (private label and contract manufacturer of salad dressings and sauces) and as an operator partner and board member of Altamont Capital-owned Excel Fitness Holdings (fitness club operator).
As an experienced operator often working with private equity sponsors, Dan has deep experience handling the multi-faceted strategic and operational challenges that come to companies in crisis from fast-changing industry dynamics. He has extensive experience in senior and mezzanine debt financing and in transactions to buy and sell privately owned companies.
Here are the takeaways from the discussion with Dan Muth:
1. It’s Who You Work With. It’s important not to underestimate the efficiency and quality of life factor of working with people you trust and that get you. Throughout Dan’s career, he has had the benefit of working with people that “get him” and vice versa. And he has deliberately chosen to work with people where that factor exists. Business is so much more efficient and enjoyable when you match up with partners who you have natural chemistry and trust with. If you have the opportunity to work with partners with this level of effortlessness on the interpersonal front, take it, even if it’s not the richest option.
2. Recognizing Situations Requiring Bold Action. When you’re in a situation that requires bold leadership, make bold moves. It takes intuition to recognize the scenario and guts to act. When Dan was the CEO of Fleischmans, 70% of his COGS was sugar and then the ethanol craze occurred driving up the cost of sugar. The conventional wisdom was that you can’t go around ADM for supply. Dan recognized it as an existential moment for his company that required bold action. Dan went out and negotiated direct with a supplier in Brazil. They imported a tanker of ethanol and stored the supply in a terminal in Houston. This saved his company.
3. Being Forthright and Communicating Fast with Investors. Swander Pace and Altamont Capital chose to partner with Dan on multiple transactions. Dan executed enterprise value growth, but it was his ability to communicate fast in a forthright manner with institutional investors that led to such a high trust factor. During one crisis (plant fire), Dan immediately scheduled an all-hands-on-deck board meeting o