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AGR Partners opens Chicago officeAGR Partners opens Chicago office

November 13, 2015

4 Min Read
AGR Partners opens Chicago office

AGR Partners of Visalia, Cal., announced the opening of its Chicago, Ill., office, to expand its national coverage as well as to continue exploring new opportunities to invest in food and agribusiness companies.

"We continue to invest across the ag and food industry sectors to support the growth in agriculture and food production," said Ejnar Knudsen, managing partner for the company. "AGR Partners has provided over $150 million in the last two years to management teams seeking strategic and flexible equity and sub-debt to support their growth plans."

The new Chicago office is being led by managing directors Keith Freeman and Michael Solot, who both joined AGR in 2014. The Chicago office will soon be adding team members and is currently seeking new space. The new location should be operational soon.

Freeman has spent 16 years in private equity. In 2009, he co-founded Torch Lake Capital Partners, a private equity fund based in Chicago that invests in food-related industries, consumer products, business services, manufacturing and specialty finance companies. Prior to that, he helped start Hilco Equity Partners. He also gained experience at Gryphon Investors and with GE Capital's Merchant Banking Group, where he led the opening of its San Francisco, Cal., office. He began his career as an analyst at Bank of America.

Solot has more than 15 years of private equity and venture investment experience, as well as firsthand private family business leadership experience. He served as managing director with Wind Point Partners, where he held board positions, led transactions and played key roles in primarily food and consumer investments. Prior to that, Solot helped lead his family's manufacturing business Werner Ladder Co., served as an associate at Goldman, Sachs & Co. and worked as an associate consultant at Bain & Co.

Knudsen added that AGR Partners also has expanded its advisory board to include Douglas Circle and Richard T. Crowder. They join Duane "Butch" Fischer and Dan O'Neill, who were named to the board earlier this year.

"Our advisory board helps to execute AGR's investment strategy as well as to assist portfolio companies with strategic direction and business insight," Knudsen explained. "These new advisers are influential business leaders with deep industry expertise. They bring a combined business experience of 100-plus years to all of our portfolio companies."

Circle has more than 30 years of experience in agriculture, processed foods, finance, real estate, packaging, purchasing, personnel recruitment and sourcing of overseas products. He is currently president and chief executive officer of Circle Vision LLC, an investment vehicle for managing his ongoing business enterprises. He is also the owner and managing director of Sierra Madre Vineyard, a major grower of wine grapes in northern Santa Barbara County, Cal., and Pinnacle Vineyards LLC, concentrating on varietals in San Benito County, Cal.

Circle is well known in the strawberry industry for building Sunrise Growers Inc. and Frozsun Foods Inc. into major players with more than $300 million in annual sales.

Crowder has spent more than 40 years in senior executive and policy positions in the food and agriculture industry, advancing the interests of farmers, ranchers and the industries that produce food and fiber. He is currently Thornhill professor of agriculture trade at Virginia Tech and serves on the Neogen Corp. board of directors and the Farm Foundation board of trustees.

Crowder previously served on the boards of companies such as Soo Line Railroad, Penford Corp. and Smithfield Foods. Most of his career has been in executive positions with the American Seed Trade Assn., DEKALB Genetics Corp. and Pillsbury Co. Crowder served as the U.S. chief agriculture negotiator from January 2006 to May 2007, as ambassador with responsibility for directing all U.S. agricultural trade negotiations around the world.

Fischer is a director of J.D. Heiskell & Co., a leading grain, commodity trading and livestock feed manufacturing enterprise based in Tulare, Cal. Fischer is credited with leading Heiskell's transformation from a small, regional enterprise into a coast-to-coast operation. Previously, he spent 28 years with The Scoular Co. in Omaha, Neb., where he worked in several capacities and, ultimately, became president and CEO. Fisher currently serves on the Dean's Advisory Board of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Business.

O'Neill has more than 30 years of experience managing agricultural loan portfolios. Most recently, he was the head of Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.'s Agricultural Mortgage Portfolio Unit, where he managed the agricultural loan portfolio with oversight for loan approvals, pricing, underwriting, new business development and strategy. Under O'Neill's leadership from 2005 to 2014, the agricultural portfolio more than doubled in size to $13 billion.

AGR Partners is an equity firm based in Visalia, with capital provided by institutional pension investors. AGR Partners provides strategic, flexible capital that cultivates long-term growth in high-quality food companies and agribusinesses. Over the past two years, the firm has invested more than $150 million in equity and sub-debt into five companies.

Volume:87 Issue:44

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