When children have difficulty with their homework, they often receive help from parents, older siblings or tutors. Individuals with aggressive canines have the option of consulting dog training professionals to help get their pets under control. And when people are injured in auto accidents they are typically taken to hospitals where they are examined and treated.
What about startup payment companies that are uncertain how to devise the best business structure and position their products and services for a successful launch, or what if established businesses are suffering lackluster performance or worse. Where can they turn to find effective assistance?
Whitehall Capital Advisors LLC was created to fill that need. Whitehall founder and Chief Executive Off-icer Tom Cannon said his company is called in when businesses require help to focus, grow and move forward.
Whitehall does this by helping companies refine their business plans, raise capital, recruit quality executives, and launch and market new products and technologies. Whitehall's experts also advise clients on equity/debt formation, international strategy creation and execution, licensing, and preparation of joint ventures and co-partner initiatives.
Whitehall prides itself on having the technological expertise, business acumen and experience necessary to help companies whether they are just starting up, moving in a new direction, rolling out a new product line, going global, raising capital for expansion or streamlining processes to prepare for growth. Cannon will even become a company's interim CEO during a company's transition until the business gets an even footing.
And according to Whitehall, its principals have experience with all aspects of financial services, payments, payment platforms, authentication and transaction processing, as well as extensive software and Web services experience. Whitehall has consulted with companies from South Korea to Australia to the United Kingdom. The company also just finished an 18-month assignment in Israel.
Cannon's experience in the payments industry began in the 1970s at International Business Machines Corp. where he served as Branch Manager for offices in Chicago and then moved on to head the company's San Francisco offices.
Subsequently, Cannon and a group of friends started First Data Resources (now First Data Corp.). He served as Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. In that role, he oversaw First Data's worldwide sales. He noted that while he was at First Data, he also invented the first affinity (co-branded) credit card with the American Automobile Association and Visa Inc.
Cannon also was an innovator in the prepaid sphere. "I invented the prepaid card and launched it over 20 years ago," he said. "Of course, the infrastructure wasn't there to support it electronically ... [Now] it's bigger than credit cards. It's not something that I could predict ... I had a hard time convincing people of it 10 years ago."
In addition, Cannon founded GasCard Inc. in 1985 and took the company public. Through that experience, he learned the intricacies of raising money and positioning a company for a merger or sale. And this became a specialty. "That's my primary focus, and I've consulted with all of the big players," he said.
Andre Hansen, GasCard's Director, Information Technology, said Cannon "surrounded himself with the best people, created the right cultural environment and instilled a work ethic that ensured success."
Whitehall offers strategic advisory services in several ways: hosted software as a service, on-demand and mobile-generated services, pay-per-use models and fees for services used. Through its merchant banking arm, Whitehall Capital LLC, the company provides assistance with financing, business structuring, capitalization, mergers and acquisitions, debt/equity structured finance to $25 million or more, and business valuation.
According to Whitehall, the cost of retaining the company's services is quickly recovered through expense reduction, revenue increases or both, and in many cases, it is equivalent to the cost of paying a part-time employee for several months.
In addition to placing experts on the management teams of client companies, if needed, Whitehall also formulates plans for capitalization and devises new strategies based on a given company's strengths. Whitehall works as long as it takes to complete the job; it can sometimes take months, or even years, to get a company headed in the right direction.
Cannon said Whitehall is an organization of doers, not talkers. "We won't engage unless we're sure we can deliver, and we deliver specified results," he said. "It's not vague generalities. We quantify it and help people move their business considerably to the forefront of whatever business environment that [the business] might be in."
Mitch Wiggins, CEO of Western Clearing Corp., said Cannon's expertise in the payments space helped Western Clearing with all sides of its automated clearing house and check 21 operations. "We think very highly of Tom and his company," Wiggins said.
Cannon helped the company raise equity capital, introduced Western Clearing to international banks and potential originating depository financial institution partners.
Arthur Mrozowski, a partner with Silicon Hill Ventures LLC, has worked on various deals with Cannon since 1998, when Cannon introduced the first gift card at One Network. Mrozowski said he is impressed with Cannon's knowledge, especially in the banking industry. Whenever Silicon Hill needs an expert in mobile or Web-based transactions, the company calls on Whitehall, Mrozowski added.
Peter Lang co-founded Pay Commerce Inc. with Cannon and knows how difficult it is to find someone who has both engineering expertise and a good head for business. "Tom is the most knowledgeable, hardest working, energetic payments executive I've ever know," he said. "He is strategic and detailed, able and willing to do everything necessary to build a company, and he takes exceptional care of clients.
"Tom handles all phases of negotiation, planning, execution and training with authoritative knowledge, skill and experience seldom found in one person."
Cannon listed three "philosophies" he applies to Whitehall. The first is to respect the individual. "The second one is only deal with things in a highly ethical, professional way," he said. "I won't even touch something if I consider it to be borderline illegal."
The third is to pursue excellence in anything you guarantee "because the only thing you can really control in your life is your reputation," he noted. "How much money you make is secondary. I won't deal just for money - never will." Cannon added that he has frequently turned down large retainer fees when anything, including the individual seeking his help, seemed shady.
Cannon said his biggest reward "is seeing people succeed because of specific advice and things that I put in place that helped them save a tremendous amount of money, and I get a lot of referral business because of it. Endorsements like that, you can't beat it when somebody calls up and says this guy saved me $2 million last year, and you ought to take a look at him."
Cannon believes one of the biggest challenges people face today is sifting truth from falsehood. "The economics is disgraceful in this country, because I think the numbers are misleading," he said, adding that some individuals continue to proffer deceptive numbers to influence business.
Cannon said that when the capital markets encounter trouble, it flows down to all economic sectors, and there are "permutations of attitude that flow from the strength of the U.S. markets in particular. I'm not a market predictor, but my guess is that we're going to see another big downturn before the year's end."
The present market has changed "the whole complexion of the startup," he added. "A person who can afford the risk can make a lot of money investing in developing-stage companies right now." He added that in spite of the huge opportunities available, risk-aversion is saturating small business under this presidential administration, perhaps more even than under President Bush.
Whitehall can assist companies, large or small, at any stage of their funding and operations. Cannon said many people don't understand what pieces need to be in place for each stage of funding; some don't even know what those stages are. As a result, "they're never going to raise" the necessary funds, he said.
Cannon advises entrepreneurs to proceed carefully and keep expenses low. "Try to barter instead of using cash," he said. "Reserve your own capital, and don't give up your full-time job until you're sure you have something that's workable." Just as important is ensuring your family is behind your decision, he added.
Even the best management teams at times experience gaps in the skills and knowledge needed to move forward. Whitehall endeavors to be the experts who will come in, smooth out the wrinkles and help companies progress to the next level.
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