Bluestone pulls in seasoned leader to be platform company's executive chairman

Dennis Kelly's last day at Centauri was Friday after helping lead the sale of that company to. On Monday he began work as executive chairman of a Bluestone Investment Partners platform company in the market.

Dennis Kelly has been a president, chief operating officer and CEO of several different companies and now he can add a new title to his resume -- executive chairman.

Bluestone Investment Partners has brought Kelly in as executive chairman to lead its portfolio company Intrepid Solutions and Services through a new phase of growth. The company has about 200 employees and is just moving out of the small business category.

When we spoke, Kelly was quick to point out that he won’t be involved in day-to-day operations. That will remain under the purview of CEO Ryan Hebert. Kelly will be called in to help with those issues if needed.

His focus at Intrepid will be more strategic, which means looking for significant organic growth opportunities and revving up the company’s acquisition engine.

It is something Kelly knows well, having been a senior executive at several private equity and owner-operator led companies including as CEO of A-T Solutions and Buchanan & Edwards. Most recently that was president and COO at Centauri. 

For A-T Solutions and Centauri, he helped lead those companies through their eventual sales to larger strategic buyers. A-T Solutions was acquired by PAE in 2015 and Centauri was acquired by KBR in October. Kelly stayed on at Centuari to help with the transition. His last day was Friday.

But don’t look for any kind of quick sale with Intrepid. Bluestone acquired the company only a year ago, so it is very early in the private equity life cycle.

He was brought in because Bluestone is ready to make more investments in Intrepid.

“There is a great leadership team there but I think (Bluestone) wanted someone with my background to help that leadership team,” Kelly said.

Kelly also could become executive chairman of other Bluestone platforms, but for now Intrepid is his priority.

Intrepid is in the defense and intelligence space, with most of that in the intell side. The company provides high-end software development and data analysis work as well as cybersecurity, operations and training. Kelly said since he’s spent most of his career also in the defense and intell market, “I have a real passion for those customers.”

For Intrepid, his role will be about providing guidance and mentoring the executives as well as working on strategic initiatives.

While M&A is high on that list, Kelly said he’ll also be paying a lot of attention to business development efforts.

“I’ll be working with the BD and doing your basic blocking and tackling,” Kelly said, which means look at skill sets and how they match with opportunities. The goal is to look for where the company can capture new customers and grow business with existing customers.

He has an ambitious goal of a 50-percent win rate, but says it is achievable if you are selective and have a rigorous process.

The BD work also will feed his M&A efforts because it will help him identify gaps and areas where an acquisition can fuel more growth.

“Acquisitions are the most expensive kind of growth, so if you are going to spend the money, it has to be an accelerator for growth,” Kelly said. “That has to be part of the calculus.”

Kelly also wants to replicate the M&A practice he learned at Centauri, which was backed by Arlington Capital.

“What I experienced at Centauri is this notion of proprietary deals,” he said.

In other words, find a need and then look for companies that can fill that need and engage them. Often they aren’t even for sale.

One advantage is you aren’t involved in an auction process against other bidders.

“You still have to pay market multiples or the seller will ask, Why should I sell to you?” Kelly said.

But you also can present them the opportunity to become part of something bigger when you sell your company.

“The value proposition is that we want you to be part of something bigger, so later when we exit to a bigger platform, you get a second bite at the apple,” Kelly said.

During his two years at Centauri, they closed three of those proprietary deals so Kelly said he has recent examples that he can share with potential acquisition targets for Intrepid.

But again, Intrepid's focus for now is solely on organic growth.

“It’s a great platform that we can set up for strong organic growth in the future,” he said. “It’s a good base to build on.”