The best way to describe James Pickel’s role with private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg is “creative thinker and problem-solver.” As counsel and chief compliance officer, Pickel oversees legal functions, but due to the nature of the business, his responsibilities cross the boundaries of a typical corporate counsel’s domain.
Lindsay Goldberg’s model is rare, if not unique, in the private equity sphere—itself a singular business form. The firm focuses on investing in family-owned and founder-led businesses and helping them reach their next level of growth. This strategy demands a flexible approach to dealmaking and management.
Lindsay Goldberg invests in companies across a variety of industries, and each company has a unique history, culture, and needs. Every investment is approached individually; pulling template agreements off the shelf and filling in the blanks is not an option. As stewards of growing businesses in partnership with families and founders, Lindsay Goldberg must also guide portfolio companies during its ownership tenure, when any number of legal issues can arise. For Pickel, these factors mean every day is different. Versatility in approaching and executing investments, along with a wide variety of legal matters, is a must.
“You have to be humble when you don’t know something,” Pickel says. “You have to know who to turn to for expert advice and to be willing to constantly learn from the best.” His role at Lindsay Goldberg has also required him to adjust his mindset. “My last position was more transactionally focused,” he says. “When you have that focus, you are more concerned with what is going on day to day.” Assuming a generalist role, he says, has made him strategize and plan for the next five to ten years as well as oversee current projects.
Pickel’s key responsibility during negotiations to invest in a company is to translate the aims of the transaction team to the outside counsel that performs due diligence and helps craft the terms of the contract. “It’s critical to make sure the deal professionals and the law firms are not talking past each other,” he says. Part of that process is to make clear to outside counsel how the in-house investment, finance, and tax professionals envision the deal, and how they expect to help the acquired firm grow.
Pickel engages with five to ten law firms a year with different areas of expertise, including labor relations, government contracting, intellectual property, and environmental regulation. “We select firms that are expert in a particular area,” he says. “Sometimes you need to have several firms weigh in on a specific transaction.” In addition to legal acumen, Pickel prizes candor and commercial skill—meaning an understanding of how to efficiently spend time and resources—from outside counsel.
When Lindsay Goldberg invests in a company, the firm works closely with the company’s senior leadership to help execute a growth strategy. Successful family-owned and founder-led businesses often have exceptionally strong brands and reputations. As such, they are ripe for working with an institutional private equity partner to help scale and grow their business; the know-how to start and build a business can be different than the skills needed to substantially scale it up.
Frequently, Lindsay Goldberg will fuel growth in its portfolio companies via follow-on acquisitions, Pickel says. That typically entails providing advice on how to get a deal done, negotiating the acquisition, securing financing, and working through integration challenges.
The growth strategy is carefully tailored to each company. “Not every portfolio company has the same path for growth, due to the nature of the businesses and the markets and industries in which they operate,” Pickel says. For example, some can significantly boost earnings by integrating better supply chain management technology into their business. Lindsay Goldberg’s specialists identify those opportunities and help portfolio firms implement them. The legal team advises on these strategies where needed.
As Pickel looks out to the next decade, he expects to continue to devote significant time to ESG (environmental, social and governance) and related matters, which are important to both Lindsay Goldberg as well as to the families and founders with whom Lindsay Goldberg partners. Information technology, he says, will also continue to be a key area of focus, as opportunities to do more with software and systems are ever evolving.
It’s yet another area for Pickel to investigate, and another challenge for his legal team and network of in-house specialists and outside counsel advisors. But for Pickel, the variety of complex topics that demand his attention is a source of professional motivation, more of a draw than a deterrent.