Speaking at the 2ndAnnual Cleveland Entrepreneurship Celebration before an audience of aspiring entrepreneurs and Cornell alumni at Cleveland’s renowned LaunchHouse, Anne Anquillare, President and CEO of PEF Services, told her story of creating PEF Services and growing it to a full service fund administration firm.  “Having been a GP, I now have more respect for entrepreneurs than when I was doing deals,,” quipped Anquillare.  “When you are a board member, you think why wasn’t that done and didn’t you see that coming, but when you are in the trenches, you experience all the challenges facing an entrepreneur – and it an be daunting.

Leaving the partnership of a private equity fund, Anquillare started PEF Services in 2002 with the backing of her partners.  “I came out of the business and realized the need for fund administration services.  My old fund was my first client, and it took a while to land my second one.  Today, I am proud to tell you that PEF has grown dramatically to 30 employees servicing more than 110 funds.  PEF Services has an IT department of six and a dedicated sales and marketing team.  PEF continues to grow because of its great people, great technology and great clients.

Responding to a question about current challenges, Anquillare was quick to respond:  “Keeping everyone educated about the developments of our firm.  We have clients that first hired us eight years ago that think we are still a small shop.“  Another perception that PEF Services fights is that it is an SBIC-only shop.  SBICs are a specific type of private capital fund which receive funding from the SBA.  “It is amazing,” says Anquillare, “that people who have grown up with your business and you think know you well, still describe you as an SBIC shop.  Today, though we service more than twice as many traditional private capital funds as SBIC funds, our friends sometimes still think of us as we once were. ”  She elaborated that the misperception can be harmful as it allows competitors to use the SBIC-only moniker against them, duping unsuspecting fund managers into thinking PEF Services cannot handle their firm’s fund administration.

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The best is yet to come,” promises Anquillare. “With our people and technology,
we have the ability to handle more clients and to offer more services.
The private capital industry is dynamic and changing all the time.
We need to keep adapting in order to remain relevant.”

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Growing a business requires the infrastructure that matures with the business.  “It started with Anne Linden, my first COO who is still with the firm,” Anquillare stated.  “She was able to instill a standard of quality and client care that allowed David Gerogosian, Executive Vice President of PEF Services, and me to develop new business.  A few years ago, we hired Beth Manzi and promoted her to COO due to her extensive industry experience.   She has stressed the need to develop the staff not only in accounting, but in private equity and soft skills.”  Anquillare noted that Manzi is a key person in preparing the firm for its annual audit known in the industry as SSAE 16, SOC 1. This accreditation indicates that the firm’s policies and procedures meet or exceed industry standards.

When I started PEF Services, I did not realize that I was starting two businesses,” stated Anquillare referring to PEF’s web applications.   “Very early on, we made the decision to develop the required technology ourselves so that we could be responsive to our client’s needs.  Having our operations team sitting right next to our application developers makes a world of difference.”  Under the direction of Joe Campbell, the firm continues to enhance two products that  it offers to its clients:

  • PEF Online, an online transaction system; and,
  • Investor Library, a portal with embedded workflow technology to streamline specific processes while providing investors with secure access to fund financials and K-1s, among other important investor documents.

Most recently, PEF Services started using a new talent management (new term for HR) system.   “Having the proper technology in place will help us scale the business,” advised Anquillare.  “Having the right tools in place is critical to growing a business.  It keeps everyone aligned and focused on key goals.

Anquillare also notes the importance of having someone who can think through issues.   “Initially, several partners at my private equity firm backed me, but only one is still involved in the business – Allen Greenberg.  He has a different perspective on some issues and pushes me to view the company in different ways.  Every entrepreneur needs someone like that if you are going to be successful.

To accommodate its growth and to house more sophisticated technology, PEF Services moved its office last September.  “The best is yet to come,” promises Anquillare.  “With our people and technology, we have the ability to handle more clients and to offer more services.  The private capital industry is dynamic and changing all the time.  We need to keep adapting in order to remain relevant.”  Building on its AML/KYC (anti-money laundering and know your client) capabilities, PEF Services is exploring what it would need to do to help private capital firms with investor verification and specific FACTA requirements.

Anquillare was invited to speak at the conference by Mark Brandt, President of the Cornell Club of Northeast Ohio and Director, Private Equity at McGladrey Ohio.  In addition to Anquillare, the audience also heard from a number of other entrepreneurs including:

  • Harvey Kinzelberg, a 1967 Cornell graduate,  founder of Meridian Leasing Corporation ( growing it into a $4 billion business) and Sequel Capital, LLC and Corporation
  • Ed Aghajanian, founder and president of EZ Brite Brands, Inc., an award-winning, zero-waste manufacturing company in Westlake, Ohio
  • Dr. Albert M. Green, CEO of Kent Displays, Inc., a technology company that sells “no- power” LCDs for eReaders, eWriters, electronic skins and eCard displays.
  • George S. Warren, III, President, CEO of LUBE Holdings, Inc. and the co-founder of the Quaker Steak & Lube, a franchisor that has stores operating in 19 states

The event was hosted by the Launch House, a business accelerator that provides services and resources to entrepreneurs in the Greater Cleveland region to help them launch innovative businesses.