Heritage Capital Group a 'next career' for business leaders

Four of Heritage Capital's principals sit on boards listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

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  • | 5:20 a.m. July 22, 2019
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When longtime Jacksonville business executives Jerry Mallot and Scott McCaleb joined Heritage Capital Group this year, it was a continuation of a trend.

The investment banking firm has been building a deep pool of talent with years of experience, including several people coming from high-profile positions with Jacksonville businesses.

“We offer a sort of next career for well-respected business people,” said Heritage Chairman Howard Serkin.

Heritage President Don Wiggins recruited Serkin in 1993 to what was then a relatively small Jacksonville firm. 

Wiggins was a professor of accounting and finance at the University of North Florida and Serkin recently had joined the faculty as UNF’s first executive-in-residence.

Serkin had served in executive roles with several prominent Jacksonville companies, including The Charter Co. in the 1980s and Koger Properties in the 1990s.

“I could tell he knew what the hell he was doing,” said Wiggins.

“He said ‘Let’s build this little investment bank,’ ” Serkin said.

Heritage is an investment banking and financial advisory firm serving middle-market and emerging growth companies mainly in the Southeast U.S.

The firm has offices in Orlando and Savannah and also is a member of Oaklins, a global business advisory firm.

Over the past 26 years, Wiggins and Serkin have recruited executives with a wide range of experience to serve businesses in different sectors.

“Here you’ll find all types of industries represented,” said Asok Chaudhuri, a former senior vice president of corporate development at Jacksonville-based railroad giant CSX Corp.

Chaudhuri joined Heritage as a principal in 2005 but the firm has really been on a growth spurt in the past decade.

“We grew fairly rapidly in the past nine years or so,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said the group made a decision about 10 years ago to grow in the North Florida area and has expanded into Central Florida and Southeast Georgia. It added principals and industry specialists to support the growth.

Heritage Capital has 36 people, including 16 principals and seven industry specialists along with five staff, four transaction support personnel, three interns and a marketing person.

Former Mayor John Delaney, also former president of UNF, said Wiggins and Serkin “built a fascinating company with Heritage.”

“They followed the model for Charter: Assemble talent. And in this case, very diverse talent in terms of backgrounds and experience,” Delaney said.

“And the people have an uncommon ethical core. Clients can trust their advice and valuations without question. They have a band of valuations that they focus on and have an incredible track record,” said Delaney, a shareholder with the Rogers Towers law firm and a principal with The Fiorentino Group government relations firm.

Scot Ackerman, medical director of the Ackerman Cancer Center, turned to Heritage for help as he invests in specialized equipment that can cost from “a couple of million” dollars up to $30 million. That can’t always be financed with traditional bank loans, he said.

“I have a practice that’s very capital-intensive,” Ackerman said.

“They know the capital sources,” he said. “They helped to match me with a source of capital.”

Wiggins said Heritage Capital has expanded substantially, both in the size of the group and in revenue, which he said has grown at almost 20% a year.

Mallot, former president of JAXUSA Partnership, and McCaleb, a former executive with building materials firm Vulcan Materials Co., are the most recent additions.

Other Heritage principals who joined after long Jacksonville business careers include former banker Mac Holley, former Jacksonville Jaguars Chief Financial Officer Bill Prescott and Dan Edelman, founder of a Jacksonville accounting firm.

Heritage also has gone outside of Jacksonville to recruit additional principals including Mary Merrill, who had been a managing director of an investment banking firm in Minneapolis.

“We’ve been very fortunate with the people we’ve added,” said Wiggins.

Serkin said four of Heritage’s principals sit on boards of New York Stock Exchange-listed companies.

“That’s a pretty big deal,” he said. “I use that as one of the validations that we have been successful in attracting some amazing talent.”

While most of the principals bring financial expertise, Mallot brings experience in recruiting businesses to Jacksonville in his role as Heritage’s director of corporate development.

“We really started emphasizing marketing eight or nine years ago. Jerry is an extension of that,” Wiggins said.

The backgrounds of the principals and industry specialists show the depth of knowledge and familiarity that Heritage Capital has within industry, especially in Jacksonville where many of the executives served in top-level positions.

Among them, they have had direct contact with much of Jacksonville’s corporate leadership of the past 30 to 40 years.

“Relationships have a tremendous impact on investment banking,” Wiggins said.

“Since most of our business comes from referrals from former clients, and business, social and academic contacts, we try to expand our contacts and maintain relationships.”

He said being a member of Oaklins International also added to growth significantly.

Wiggins and Serkin said they’ve built the firm by recruiting people as they’ve become available. 

Wiggins said the group identifies and recruits primarily through networking and its contacts.

“We didn’t have a written strategic plan,” Serkin said.

“We’re very opportunistic,” he said. “We’ve worked hard for 26 years at building the team.”

“The company has gradually grown. We’ve grown in stages,” Wiggins said.

“We didn’t plan it that way. That’s the way it worked out.”