C3 Puts Capital Behind Talent –

C3 Holdings LLC operates much like an executive search firm, and with good reason. Its M.O. is to recruit and back top talent, and then to acquire operating companies, usually in that order.

“We are more interested in people flow than deal flow,” said Gregg Herman, managing director of development at the Kansas City, Mo.-based firm.

But at times circumstances dictate a change in order, as was the case with the recent acquisition of Clore Automotive LLC, a $100 million company that designs, manufactures and distributes portable power equipment, battery chargers, portable hydraulic lifting equipment, welding equipment, cutting equipment and automotive fluid recycling equipment. The company serves both retail and professional channels within the automotive after-market service equipment industry.

Clore was unique because the company surfaced before the management. Sponsored by C3 Holdings, Clore Automotive acquired the automotive service equipment business from Pentair’s Century Manufacturing Co. and K&K Jump Start/Chargers Inc., owned and operated by Larry Clore.

Pat Healy, principal of C3 Holdings, noted that while the acquisition represented “an excellent opportunity, [we] realized that a phenomenal senior management team was needed to properly manage these assets.”

Fortunately, they had a group waiting in the wings. Serial executive Gus Halas was recruited by C3 on the strength of his past success with complex business integration, his customer focus philosophy and leadership abilities. Previously, Halas served as president and CEO of Marley Cooling Tower Co., a multi-million-dollar manufacturer of water cooling towers. Prior to Marley, Halas was the president of the pump services group of Ingersoll-Dresser Pump Co., a $1 billion global fluid handling organization.

“Gus Halas is backable; you know it when you see it,” Herman said. “We would have backed Gus regardless, but it just so happened that the automotive opportunity had come up.”

Clore’s new senior management team includes Don Meltzer as chief operating officer and Mike Canipe as chief financial officer. Meltzer worked with Halas at Marley, as vice president in charge of cooling products. They both left Marley in August to join C3 Holdings.

The makeup of the deal was the vision of Clore, who founded and operated K&K, a family-owned enterprise. Clore’s goal was to buy his biggest competitor. As such, he began acquiring assets of smaller businesses that had their own family dynamics. Last December, he acquired the Pentair subsidiary Century Manufacturing Co., before rolling his business into Clore Automotive.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction was completed in December, but announced in mid-March.