AGR Partners, Visalia, Calif., has 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 out 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 Torch Lake Capital, 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 office. He began his career as an analyst at Bank of America.
Solot has more than 15 years of private equity and venture investments experience, as well as first-hand 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 Wind Point, 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.
AGR Partners also has expanded its advisory board to include Douglas Circle and Richard T. Crowder, said Knudsen. “Our advisory board helps to execute AGR’s investment strategy as well as to assist portfolio companies with strategic direction and business insight.” They join Duane “Butch” Fischer and Dan O’Neill who were named to the board earlier this year.
“These new advisors are influential business leaders with deep industry expertise,” noted Knudsen, “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 the president and CEO 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 fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine grapes in northern Santa Barbara County, California, and Pinnacle Vineyards, LLC, concentrating on Bordeaux and Rhone varietals in San Benito County, California. 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. Under his leadership, Frozsun Foods was the largest processor of frozen strawberries in the U.S.
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 other companies including 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 the Pillsbury Co. Crowder served as the U.S. Chief Agriculture Negotiator from January 2006 to May 2007, with the rank of ambassador, where he was responsible for directing all U.S. agricultural trade negotiations around the world.
Duane “Butch” Fischer is a director of J.D. Heiskell & Co., a leading grain, commodity trading and livestock feed manufacturing enterprise based in Tulare, Calif. Fischer is credited as the leading architect of J.D. 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, as president/CEO. Fisher currently serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the University of Nebraska at 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 (MetLife) Agricultural Mortgage Portfolio Unit, where he managed the company’s agricultural loan portfolio with oversight for loan approvals, pricing, underwriting, new business development and strategy. Under O’Neill’s leadership (2005-2014), MetLife’s agricultural portfolio more than doubled in size, to $13 billion.