We caught up with Zach Plener, Director of M&A at Vertus Group, to talk about his career progression, His role at Jonas, Our ABC’s, and more!

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Career Progession Stories Interview Transcript


I’m Zach Plener, I’m director of M&A for one of the portfolios within Jonas. My role really revolves around anything pre discussions with prospects to post discussions with the prospect.

My background prior to joining the team, I worked for just over three years for PricewaterhouseCoopers.  I was in their audit practice. So that involved a lot of real estate investment trust and kind of doing some audit related procedures around everything you see on a balance sheet or income statement. So, I worked there for three plus years and then after that a recruiter reached out to me about a job at Jonas and I got the sales pitch of the buy an old forever strategy and really the exciting opportunities through M& A that that we can have. I think what the sales pitch really gave me and what the recruiter and everybody at Jonas I spoke to spoke to told me about was the opportunities to collaborate and really learn from other people. And I can tell you that all of that has resonated and been completely true. I joined Jonas in early 2021, around a year after COVID. I joined as an associate in M&A and was reporting directly to the manager and director of M&A. Around two or three months after I joined, he departed.  And this was extremely frightening, I was essentially thrown into the fire on any current deals we had going on and I had to help manage the pipeline and look at opportunities. I think what was really helpful as I was going through this process is the people in other portfolios and really around Jonas as a whole. Jonas is filled with so many people and with such a different wealth of knowledge and some people who really have all these vast experiences that they can share.So as I was going through and navigating this, you know, quite an uneasy time for me, I was constantly encouraged to reach out to people. And they were constantly reaching out to me to make sure really I was learning and and continuing, continuing to grow and understanding the process. So around eight months after that, I was promoted to leading the portfolio from an M& A perspective. And I really don’t think I would have gotten there. If it wasn’t for the support that everybody gave me within Jonas and really from other portfolios helping me throughout the process.

The typical day, they’re all very different. I think that’s what I love most about being here is the day can really take many forms. It might be talking to prospects before they’re ready to sell and helping understand what they’re looking for in a sale, helping understand what they’re looking for in a partner and just getting to know them in their business and building a relationship. It could be working with them throughout the due diligence process and trying to understand about their business, some of the challenges they’re facing, and some of the growth opportunities they have. Or it could be working with businesses that we already own and trying to support them in some other initiatives, some other projects that they’re going through. So, I think that’s really what’s truly amazing about Jonas is all three of those are very different, and I get the opportunity to play a part and deal in each of them. And if you can tell, each part or each role or each responsibility that I take on in each of those is with different people who have quite an amount of knowledge and are willing to share their experiences.

I think what I enjoy most about my role is the conversations I have. It is really refreshing to meet so many successful entrepreneurs and people who have built such incredible businesses. I think that what is really nice about Jonas is the culture that is embedded here really revolves around honesty, transparency and the willingness to learn. So everything, every conversation we have really is an opportunity to learn and, and pick people’s brains and whenever I’m on a call or having a conversation with someone, I think that it’s very helpful because I just get to learn and continuously grow my own career and get to pick their brains on some of the things they’ve been doing really well and some of the challenges they’ve faced.

The most challenging part is if you think about acquiring a business, we have to learn and be comfortable with decades of experiences and information and challenges within a matter of months. So what’s challenging is taking these people who have built such an incredible business over such a long period of time and trying to understand and relay that and describe it and summarize it in really a matter of months. So that’s a challenging part. I think what makes it easy is people are super helpful throughout the process. People, when they engage with us, they want to hear our thoughts as well and we can leverage everyone internally to help maybe solve some challenges they’ve been facing. And then also, just continuously talk to them and have them walk us through the process.

When I started here, the first thing they said to me was that really your career and how high you want to go is up to you. And I really think that’s been true. They’ve really given me every opportunity I’ve, I’ve wanted to experience something new, to take on new responsibilities and to grow. So, when I started here, I was really came in with no M&A experience and the first thing they asked me was, what do you want to do? What do you want to learn? What areas do you want to focus on? So, I continuously am given opportunities to do so and I think that’s what is truly great about this company and what we’re doing is there’s really endless opportunities. There’s nowhere we can’t go, and there’s nothing we can’t do. So at any point, anyone I’ve spoken to here, including business owners, including people who are working in M&A, people who are working in finance, sales, marketing, really wherever you’re working, if you want to play a hand or play a part in other areas of the business world or the business life cycle, you’re given the opportunity to do so.

So the Jonas ABCs was a big discussion as I previously to when I started and was something that is really um, discussed quite frequently. So, I’ll start with autonomy. I think autonomy really stands true especially because of the way that our businesses operate. It’s something that we’ll consistently talk to businesses about and I’m confident that It, it has been so since I started, especially with the businesses that we buy, but also with my role and with my team, I think that Jonas, one of their biggest aspects of their culture, they’re huge advocates of taking initiative and if you’re taking initiative and if you’re essentially taking responsibility for what you’re supposed to be doing. You’re free to get that done in any way you want. So the autonomy that we’re given really at every level from an employee standpoint, from a business operator standpoint is truly endless. The things that make Jonas interesting is being able to add and take that autonomy and Experience and talk to other people to help you grow and really be autonomous from. Next is buy and hold forever. That’s absolutely remained true. Every business that we’ve spoken to that we’ve bought in has continued to be a major contributor in our portfolio and we have no thoughts to ever change that. And then the most important one, in my opinion, of sharing best practices is absolutely true. I think that’s been a really interesting point from my perspective. I was thrown into the fire on some deals where I had to really just pick up and learn. And the sharing of best practices is something that everyone buys into. So that resonates with every single employee, every single business we own. If I have a question on any industry, any topic, any challenge, I am consistently, motivated and encouraged to reach out to business owners, whether they’re people I work with or people I don’t work with.

What gets me excited about the future of Jonas. I think that it was interesting because when you’re going through the recruiting process, you’re told about all these things that Jonas does. And you’re told about all these, all the visions they have, their goals, their mission. And it’s hard to buy in when you haven’t worked here. So now I’ve been here for coming up on three years and everything that was sold to me, I have now since bought into. So, what gets me excited is as you hear Barry and the leadership team talk, it’s really the excitement around growth and continuing to buy businesses. I think what’s really impressive about what Jonas does is with every business we buy, there becomes more opportunities. So, every business we buy creates another opportunity for me. For the people within businesses we own, for the other employees we have in different aspects or areas of each line of service or line of business. So really that growth is endless, and we’re all encouraged to participate in it. And for anyone who wants to take a higher step or more of a responsibility or role, it’s really encouraged and with every acquisition this becomes endless.

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