Consultant helps first-generation business owners meet their goals.

It's not hard to figure why Randy Gerber got interested in first-generation entrepreneurs.

Serving both business owners and employed executives, Gerber learned something from the abrupt market correction of 2000. “Those who did holistic planning—while they were unhappy—at least understood because they had a plan. Those who didn't, it was an emotional disaster for them and for us,” Gerber recalls.

“But the big thing was I noticed: Our business-owner clients, they weren't rattled. They actually looked at it as an opportunity to work on their business, to tweak their business, to increase market share, to sharpen the edges a little bit.”

Acting on that revelation, Gerber turned exclusively to serving first-generation entrepreneurs by 2005, even though some colleagues at Raymond James said he was crazy to narrow his focus down to that niche.

The skeptics were wrong. Today, Gerber has 200 business and financial advisory clients, with more than $450 million in investments under its direct management. Twenty-seven clients have sold their businesses with Gerber's assistance, in deals valued up to $350 million.

But it isn't easy; Gerber helps entrepreneurs jump a lot of hurdles:

• Not investing quickly enough in a comptroller or CFO—despite a six-month payback.

• Short-changing training, employee development programs and hiring processes.

• Undercapitalizing by failing to count obvious upcoming expenses.

• Following unfiltered advice from close friends who love and adore the business owner but don't understand entrepreneurial realities.

“One of the first things we ask any client to do is to write down all their activities and, invariably, 80 percent of what they do is a waste of their time,” Gerber says. Instead of balancing personal and business life, Gerber encourages integrating them. Take the spouse to an out-of-town conference, he advises. With more than 20 years of experience with entrepreneurs, Gerber's tools include copious checklists for business projects, as well as a network of highly capable professional experts, from accounting to venture capital. But as part of his holistic approach, he also has relationships with child psychologists, weight-loss experts and a lawyer who specializes in helping clients experiencing marital difficulties.

It's a lifeline for people like Brad Halley, a successful innovator and president of Groveport-based USA Vinyl. His principal product line, Weatherables, broke new ground back in 2000 with online sales of vinyl siding. The company has grown from three employees to 60. For the last seven years, advice from Gerber has been a phone call away.

“From a financial, family, company health standpoint, they're in front of it,” Halley says. “They give you some options, help you figure it out, and the big thing is they execute it. They not only say here are the people to help you, they manage it and make sure it gets done. It seems simplistic to have goals and plans and where you want to go on a personal level, but we never did that before. We were too busy!”

As to the future of his own business, Gerber listened to the challenge of a client after helping him complete a $40 million deal in 2012.

“He said, ‘You have this little boutique business sitting over here, but this could be a national-scale concept.' I was angry with him because I realized he was dead right and that I didn't recognize it,” Gerber recalls.

Gerber's answer to the friendly critique is a service introduced in 2016. Emerging Entrepreneur is a combination of classroom training and action for companies between $300,000 and $2 million in sales.

Most of Gerber's clients hail from west of I-71, with some significant exceptions in Bexley and Granville. But Emerging Entrepreneur will seek new clients not only throughout central Ohio, but also in Nashville and Denver.

“The only concern I have is whether I can do four classes of 15 per market in a year. Mathematically, if we do that, this is a winner,” Gerber says. “More than half of them will convert, and retention is like 99.5 percent. We rarely lose a client.”

Mike Mahoney is a freelance writer.