A look at the people behind the numbers in area business:


Title: Managing Director

Age: 58

Tom Ahonen is marking two recent acquisitions and seeking more as managing director for Heartland Equity Partners, which aims to "protect the legacy" of transitioning business owners.

Heartland's long-term investment approach, Ahonen said, offers owners an alternative to selling to a competitor or a private-equity fund with a shorter time frame.

"We have a conservative capital structure with a commitment to take good care of their baby, keep growing it and take care of the people," Ahonen said.

Heartland, founded in 2014, last month announced its acquisition of Cass Screw Machine Products, partnering with Cass President and CEO Steve Wise. The Brooklyn Center-based company makes precision-machined parts for original equipment manufacturers.

Heartland also announced its acquisition of Visual Impact, a digital printing company in Blaine, in partnership with Visual Impact president and CEO David Bohn.

Cass Screw quickly began work on a 26,000-square-foot addition to one of its buildings while Visual Impact ordered a new, 5-meter-wide printer. All employees continued working at each company, Ahonen said.

Heartland, focusing on manufacturing and value-added distribution companies, would like to make one or two acquisitions a year, Ahonen said.

Ahonen grew up in his family's lumber and logging business in Michigan's Upper Peninsula before taking on consulting and management roles at Coopers and Lybrand, Kimberly-Clark Corporation and Platinum Group. He has a finance degree from Northern Michigan University.

Q: Why should a transitioning business owner consider Heartland?

A: It will be interesting to see 10 or 20 years from now whether that conservative, old-fashioned approach yields a rate of return that's superior. We have an opportunity to create compelling cultures because we're long-term players and we care about those employees.

Q: What challenges does Heartland face in making acquisitions?

A: People hear the word private equity and immediately there's a perception. If I have an opportunity to talk about my life experience growing up in a family business, what Mark (Orgel, Heartland principal) and our investor group have experienced, to listen to their dreams and what they care about, we tend to navigate that.

Q: What do you like about finance and mergers-and-acquisitions work?

A: I keep going back to my roots in our family company. The thing that's the most fun to see is the beauty of these small companies and what the families have built — and then structuring something so that beauty can be maintained and expanded over time.

Todd Nelson