Know Your Broker: Kevin Layton

Kevin LaytonKevin Layton was an entrepreneur from an early age. At 17 he had a letter of intent and was doing diligence on a dairy operation in Central, PA not too long after he got accepted to Penn State in Dairy Science. The more he learned about business the more he couldn’t make the math work to buy the herd and then farmland on the limited earnings the dairy business supplied.

Before too long he put the agricultural business out to pasture and focused on a degree in Computer Science which took him to climb the ladder quickly at GE Aerospace, SAAB-Sensis, and Lockheed Martin; culminating in a role as SVP of Technical Operations for SRA International, a $1.8Billion publicly traded company.  In 2013, following a strategic planning consulting opportunity, Kevin took the job as CEO of Data-Dynamix a $10M revenue per year digital marketing company and two time Inc 5000 awardee.

Kevin brings a cosmopolitan worldview to his work, having lived in Australia (6 years), Germany (3 years), and Czechia (3 years) where he also ran a business with contracts in 37 countries. In the US, as side business ventures to his career, he owned three franchised sub and bagel shops in upstate New York, bought and sold a radar product company, and started a B2B lead generation business.

All that travel and business building has given a real appreciation for what it’s like to be on both sides of a transaction, and he brings that knowledge to his clients. “I want to get business owners the best deal for the sweat equity they have invested in building a successful business.”

One thing he always counsels is the importance of positivity throughout the process. His clients see added credibility and value in that positivity and it often leads to better transactions. “People work with people they like,” he adds.

As all our team here at Apex does, Kevin stresses due diligence. “People think diligence is just paying attention to the data room. It’s a lot more than that,” he says. “You gotta ask tough questions.” When he’s not advising clients, Kevin makes his home in Overland Park with his wife Tanya.

Know Your Broker: Tom Bailey

Know Your Broker: Tom BaileyTom Bailey, like several other brokers on our team, grew up on a farm and hence developed a great love for the outdoors. One particular aspect of the outdoors that Tom was drawn to were the waterways of America. He’s kayaked the whole Missouri River and has also kayaked all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

With that level of commitment, it’s not that surprising that he started working for the owner of the kayak rental company he worked at in between these big trips. Some time later the opportunity to buy the business came along and Tom went for it. He still operates KC Kayak LLC on the weekends. You can get a perspective on kayaking near Downtown KC here.

Tom’s undergraduate degree is in metallurgical engineering, from the University of Missouri at Rolla (Now Missouri University of Science and Technology), where he learned to be process-focused, asking questions along the way. He also picked up an Executive MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. That business background and process mindset has served him well in business brokering. “I really enjoy peering into different businesses and learning all about this new world and the complexities I could have never guessed.”

The human side of business brokering can have its humor. Tom shared that recently he was given an unintelligible checkbook register when he asked for financials. When he asked for more details, he got a handwritten P&L.

Then there’s the seller who was convinced his business was worth a 10x multiple. “I asked him to put himself in the buyer’s shoes and reframed it: ‘Would you pay 10X for a competitor?’ When he answered no, that made it easy for me to say, ‘Then don’t expect anyone to pay you that, either.’”

But Tom understands where that “10X” valuation is coming from, as well. “These people have been building these businesses for many years so sometimes all that blood and sweat and tears inflates into a large number.” Tom sees it as his job to make sure his clients understand the realities of the market and what a business can realistically fetch.

When he’s not with his clients, Tom keeps busy with a young daughter and when he can, he gets away camping on the Missouri River.

Know Your Broker: Ken Weiner

Ken WeinerOne of the ways a broker joins our team is by being a client of ours. We either sell their business, or help them buy one, and they end up loving the process and come knocking some years later. Ken Weiner is one of the former: Valerie Vaughn sold his company, Creative Candles, in 2016.

The company was a Kansas City-based candle manufacturer, started in 1961 by a flower-child artist type and her chemistry-oriented spouse. They specialized in hand-dipped taper candles and featured a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They had a very good run for a while, but by the time that Ken bought it in 2005 it was in pretty bad shape. They had never updated what had made them successful in the first place. Unfortunately, they were people with a great idea who didn’t build a business that could stand the test of time.

In a sense, it was a fixer-upper, and Ken spent a lot of time rebuilding the brand by working closely with major customers like Bloomingdales, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, and Simon Pearce. His frequent trips to NYC made him an expert on what it took to succeed in the hard world of retail.

But this knowledge of business and its inner workings goes back to his childhood. His father owned an independent pharmacy and seemed to always struggle. Ken was only in grade school but already he had the concept that, “owners weren’t supposed to work so hard.” As he looks back on it now, he thinks his father was really a job person that got talked into a business by a friend. Indeed, Ken’s dad, “was probably someone who should have just worked as a staff pharmacist; he would have been a lot happier,” Ken muses.

This taught Ken early that skill in a particular field, be it in pharmacy, or as he would learn later on, in candle-making, does not qualify you to run a business in that field. You have to know that you don’t know a lot and be willing to learn. As you learn, you have to put together a process and training that goes along with that for your team.

On the other side of the table, with those who would like to buy a business and don’t know where to start, Ken often asks about someone’s personal and professional life. It’s not always possible to buy a business aligned with a passion (e.g. buying a candle business when you’re a big candle fan already) so he often will ask them to look back and review what they were not only talented at but really enjoyed.

When he’s not helping buyers and sellers, Ken lives in Kansas City, where he can enjoy the company of his three grandchildren, who sometimes accompany him up to the family lake home in Miami County. If you want some running tips, don’t hesitate to ask him: he’s run six marathons.

For more information on each of our brokers, view our team profiles.

Know Your Broker: Wayne Swisher

Wayne SwisherWayne Swisher is one of the newest additions to the team here at Apex. As many do, he comes from a business owner background himself, having bought, built, and sold several businesses. Wayne’s worked in everything from manufacturing and distribution to agribusiness to SaaS to real estate.

How It Started

Wayne grew up on a small farm and so was no stranger to odd jobs. His mother even acted as an agent to get him weed-pulling gigs. When he got through college he started out in Fortune 500 corporate America but found out pretty quickly it wasn’t for him.

Instead, he picked up an MBA en route to, along with his brother, buying his father out of a family business which he then proceeded to grow with his partners from 25 employees to over 600. He exited in 2010.

How It’s Going

When asked why he wants to be a broker, Wayne confesses that he loves the art of the deal. “I have been so blessed to work with so many terrific people and to have been in and around deals of many sizes across many industries. I want to share the knowledge I’ve gained to help make others’ dreams come true, be it buying or selling a business.”


So, even though he’s new to business brokering, Wayne’s not new to buying and selling businesses. We asked for his tips for buyers:

  1. Be patient. The right deal for you is out there. The hurry-up offense doesn’t end well in this scenario.
  2. Think outside the box. Don’t look at what a business is doing now. Look at what it could do. You’re buying tomorrow’s opportunities, not yesterday’s or today’s.
  3. Identify your passion/dream. What is it that you are really passionate about or want to do? The better you can identify that and match it to an opportunity, the better long-term result you’re going to have.
  4. Do NOT buy something “just for the money.” You’re always going to be happier pursuing a passion or dream (See #3). If you’re just doing it for the money, how is it any different from a job?

He’s got tips for sellers too:

  1. Know when it’s time to fold ‘em. Some people chase a “peak” selling point only to miss it and the tremendous amount of value they worked for.
  2. Be prepared well in advance of a sale with SOPs, clean books, customer contracts, and a well-trained team.
  3. Be replaceable. Selling a job is a much harder proposition than selling a business.
  4. Be open to creative deal structures. If you’re fixated on only one possible outcome, you may limit what you can get.

When he’s not meeting clients, Wayne is spending time with his wife Kelly or jamming on the bass guitar.

Can’t get enough Wayne? You can listen to his podcast appearance here.

For more information on each of our brokers, view our team profiles.

Know Your Broker: Doug Hubler

Doug HublerDoug Hubler has been a broker for over two decades now, so you might be forgiven for forgetting he had a whole other life before he ever started selling businesses, a life that took him all around the Midwest and up the ranks in the financial world.

Doug’s degree was in finance, so a job with GE Capital was a great opportunity out of the gates and he stayed with them for 14 years, going to Dallas, then Denver, then on to Chicago, where he made a switch to Ford Credit, once again heading back to Colorado (this time to Colorado Springs) to help Ford open up an office under the name Fairlane Credit. But three years later, realizing that not coming up in the auto business or with Ford family connections made it difficult to get things done, he decided to come back to Kansas City and start a remodeling business. Doug admits that back then he didn’t know you could buy a business instead of building one.

But those of you who’ve had experience know that the remodeling business isn’t an easy one, and a couple bad situations later, one with a subcontractor and one with a customer, Doug decided the remodeling business was probably not for him, and decided to see what was available out there.

Want Ads

Younger people will need to ask their elders about these things called “want ads” but there used to be such a thing in printed newspapers, and in between the pages of the Kansas City Star was a sales job for Sunbelt Business Brokers. It had all the expected verbiage of such an ad, including “unlimited earning potential” and “make your own hours.” With a young family to support, Doug grabbed the opportunity.

The big problem? Doug joined in mid-2001 and September 11th happened later that year. All business transactions were paralyzed and for a while, no one was thinking about buying or selling anything. For business brokers, it’s all about surviving your first year or two. That time allows you to build up rapport and a network, and a pipeline that you can begin to harvest in good time. But Doug held on, then thrived, and by 2005 he became a manager at Sunbelt and by 2010 he was in a position to buy the franchise.

Apex Begins

While the franchise model may have made more sense in the early days of Apex, Doug decided to go an independent direction which would allow him to do some marketing and outreach that made more sense in the local market. Since then Apex has gone from strength to strength and is one of the first names people turn to in the area when considering a business transaction in the Main Street and Middle Market sectors.

When he’s not leading the team at Apex (or trying to recruit new team members), Doug keeps busy with his wife, three children, and two grandchildren. He also enjoys acrylic abstract painting, something he does fairly regularly (check out some of his work on Instagram) as an outlet for his own thoughts about what’s going on in the world. When asked about what he enjoys the most about what he does, he responded, “What gets me to come to the office every day is working with a great team of brokers, collaborating and strategizing on their specific deals. Those deals often end up with a seller reaching his/her ultimate retirement goal, and a buyer starting a brand new adventure.”

Doug is always looking for the next Doug Hubler. He can’t put a want ad in the newspaper anymore, so feel free to call us instead!

Know Your Broker: Andy Cavanaugh

Andy CavanaughAndy Cavanaugh has had a taste for running his own businesses since his teenage years, when he was mowing yards for cash.  He wasn’t certain that was going to be his career path, however, and after an undergraduate degree in business and an MBA from UMKC he took the corporate path for a while.  But that life never really took with him, especially when trips took him away from his wife and two daughters and even more so when he was told he might need to be on the lookout for an email on a weekend evening, and possibly respond right away.  

He diversified into doing some tech development, consulting, and even running restaurants.  His last business was a franchise that he sold after running it for ten years.  He wasn’t thrilled with the franchisor and felt it was time to move on.  The level the business was at wasn’t a good fit for us here at Apex so Andy ended up selling it himself, learning a new the lessons we see every day here as brokers.

He had three buyers look at the business and had takeaways from the first two that backed out that helped him get to the finish line with the final buyer:

  • The first buyer was going to buy the business “for his daughter” but after two months of emails and phone calls, the daughter was nowhere in sight (Lesson: get all the stakeholders in the room before you can take a deal seriously).
  • The second buyer had some money to put down, but didn’t seem too interested in understanding the fundamentals of the business (Lesson: make sure there is alignment between buyer and seller regarding the opportunity).
  • The final buyer seemed to be a tire kicker, with 20 questions right off the bat, but ultimately he got serious and ended up buying the business (Lesson: don’t be scared off by a raft of questions; even if this person doesn’t end up being serious you’ll have those answers for someone else).

Andy sold the business this year, which means that he experienced what many business owners could never have foreseen: months of operating during Covid-19.  That experience taught him a lot, but now that he’s a broker he has a new respect for small business owners who toughed it out and made it work through an end-times scenario.

Having been a business owner also means he can have a frank conversation about best business practices.  When he was looking over some owner benefit items from a potential client recently he got curious about a one-time $7,000 charge for “building enhancements.”  The seller said those were for his wife’s cosmetic surgery.  While this might qualify as an “enhancement” it certainly wasn’t on the building and isn’t anything a buyer wants to see.

Having been the less seasoned business owner who ran too many personal expenses through the business in his early days, Andy told him that what’s done is done, as those charges were from 2019, but that the cleaner the books are, the better price a business will fetch (and the sooner it will sell).

Recently Andy also had an interesting conversation with a seller who wanted to know why Andy wasn’t pursuing things with a certain buyer.  “She doesn’t like the way your building faces, so we need to move on.”  The seller was upset and took Andy to task for not “selling his business.”  After hearing him out, Andy asked if the seller was willing to turn the building so that it faced South instead of West (what the buyer was interested in).  The seller started to realize Andy’s point and replied, “No.”  Andy pointed out that there are dozens of potential buyers who are fine with the current building’s orientation and those are the people we need to focus on, not the people who have problems with the business that cannot be fixed.  

When he’s not spending more time with his family to make up for all that travel in his consulting days, Andy can be spotted, like many of us, at Chiefs and Royals games.

Know Your Broker: Ryan Wenrich

Ryan WenrichHaving been a business owner multiple times, Ryan Wenrich is another one of our brokers here at Apex for whom business ownership isn’t a theory, but a way of life.

Ryan was born and raised in Garden City, Kansas, but had plans of living in a completely different world.  His undergraduate degree was in finance and international business, with some study abroad time in Japan.  He had planned to return there to start work and a career, but there was a girl, and she had no plans in Japan.  He made the decision to stay stateside.

Without a corporate career to build, Ryan decided to buy some restaurants from his father.  His dad had been a CPA and to diversify his income had bought some restaurants as Ryan was growing up.  Ryan managed to talk a brother into going in with him on it.  They had some early success and before he knew it, Ryan had restaurants, a property management company, an accounting firm, and even a florist shop!  He was serving on multiple boards and felt spread a mile wide and an inch deep.  He made the decision to scale back a lot.

Most of the businesses got sold but some of them were simply closed and with all that restaurant experience he took on a role as Director of Food and Beverage for a local Kansas City business with over 60 different food and beverage concepts.  While he enjoyed the work, when Covid-19 hit, he was let go right away and he pondered what he would do next.

We had actually helped him sell a business some years ago and he had kept in touch with us.  Knowing we are always looking for solid team members, Ryan reached out to have a discussion.  What he loved about the possibility of brokering was the chance to exercise his entrepreneurial muscles: he would get to look at all kinds of businesses and talk with owners, but he would also be back in business ownership, in a way, by developing his broker practice.

Though he is a newer member of the team he’s already got some great stories.  One of them included a deal that almost fell apart at the last moment.  The buyer needed a license in order to operate the business he was purchasing and during the diligence process it became clear that he would not be able to obtain the license, which then affected the amount of the loan the bank was willing to finance.  Ryan got everyone back to the table and after a friend of the buyer who could obtain the license was brought in and cut into the deal, and the seller agreed to carry the financing that the bank would not, the deal went through.  “It’s all about getting everyone crystal clear about what they want to achieve from the transaction,” Ryan noted.

On the other end of the spectrum, before deals are even in the works, Ryan finds that a lot of owners have unrealistic expectations of what their business will fetch in the marketplace.  As we always say, a business is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and by the time you get to a realistic valuation and the tax implications, a lot of sellers can get discouraged and say, “Well, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing now and earn this money.”  At that point Ryan tries to get to the root of the issue by asking what’ll be different X years from now if they keep on that path.  A business either sells or closes, and given that 99% of business owners have never done exit planning, sometimes our first conversations with them can be a difficult serving of hard truths.

While he’s done a few deals with dental and optometry practices, Ryan is resisting a specific niche: “I’m a generalist and want to see every type of business that’s out there.”

When he’s not working with buyers and sellers in KC he’s at his home in Topeka where his eight year-old daughter lives. What time he has after that he likes to spend outdoors: skiing, sailing, snowboarding, kayaking, mountain biking, and trail running.

Know Your Broker: Chuck Campbell

When Chuck Campbell worked on his first deal at Apex, his client got seven offers in the first four days.  We tried to remind him that this wasn’t how every deal was going to go, but Chuck knew that instinctively.  Even though he’s one of our newer brokers, he’s been preparing to be a broker for many years by his career trajectory.

Chuck got a degree in business administration from KU before getting a Masters in Real Estate finance from UMKC.  After a stint at Marion Labs he went on to work at Loch Lloyd, where he helped create a neighborhood house-by-house.  Chuck loved interacting with buyers, builders, architects and creating a community that mattered.

He moved onto what seemed to be an exciting venture: supervising a beta version of a factory that hoped to create a new industry standard.  Once that beta was perfected, the strategy for building more in other locations around the US would be his main task.  As it turned out, the beta never achieved the new standard it hoped to and Chuck learned a valuable lesson.  One of the major backers of the project had just had a very successful exit and fell into the fallacy that many business owners do: well, since I sold this business, I can do pretty much any business now!  It’s much more humbling (but more realistic) to realize that success in a business venture only means that: you were successful in that venture.  You’ve got to do your due diligence and put forth the effort for anything else that follows.

He came to Apex actually looking to buy a business, but in the middle of the first conversation, realized it might make more sense to get on the other side of the transaction and become a broker himself.  He jumped in with both feet, joining the IBBA and completing his CBI certification.  He’s been off to the races since.  

When asked if there was a niche he preferred, he noted that he prefers to stay agnostic: “All businesses operate on the same principles, and for me, it’s closing deals I love, not just deals in certain industries.”  

One way those deals happen is by old fashioned face-to-face conversations.  Chuck really enjoys taking the time to get to know someone and seeing how he can help or offer connections to others in his network.  That said, sometimes even the best built relationships won’t get a deal to the finish line.  Chuck recalls one particular case in which he thought he had found the perfect business marriage.  In fact, he had built all the bridges himself.  He identified who the best acquirer was for a business, developed a relationship with someone who would be able to make an introduction, and started a conversation.  But when it came time to put together an LOI, the buyer made a terrible offer, far below asking and a lot in highly complicated earnouts.  Despite Chuck explaining that this wouldn’t go over well with the seller, the buyer came back with an even worse second offer.  Needless to say the deal fell apart, but Chuck had learned two valuable lessons:

  • A deal is never done no matter how “good it feels” during the process
  • Be wary of negotiators who need to prove how clever they are: they often out-think themselves more than anyone else

Chuck enjoys travel, entertaining, and golf.  He occasionally heads down to Texas to visit his children, who live in Dallas and Austin, otherwise he and his significant other like to head to La Quinta, California, where they have a vacation home.

When asked his advice for buyers and sellers, Chuck said, “Find balance between your head, heart, and gut, and don’t lose perspective on the overall objective.”  As for Chuck’s overall objective, he says it’s always to make sure that his clients feel proud for trusting him with one of the biggest events of their lives: a business transaction.  Earning that trust every day is what gets him up, genuinely excited, every morning.

If you’d like to learn more about our awesome team of brokers, you can read their profiles in our Know Your Broker series.  You can speak with any one of them by giving us a call today!

Know Your Broker: Debbie Small

From the very start of her career, Debbie Small was interested in small businesses and entrepreneurship. Even as a child she confessed, “I didn’t read Glamour magazine like my girlfriends, I read Entrepreneur!” In college, she put those lessons to work and created Party Pizzaz, a business that sold unique party favors to sororities and fraternities at Kansas State University. She spent the first decade after college as a Senior Media Consultant for Time Warner producing comprehensive television advertising campaigns for small business owners and placing them on cable networks. She found the work fulfilling and loved the opportunity to consult with business owners to assess their needs and grow their revenue.

Due to her experience, she is recognized as one of the top brokers in the country!

Utilizing her core strength of working with business owners, Debbie joined the Apex team in 2004. She’s now worked in the Mergers and Acquisitions industry for nearly 20 years. While she’s sold hundreds of businesses in a variety of industries, she’s still the same friendly and approachable person that she was when she first started as a broker. Her longevity and seniority with Apex have given her extensive experience helping business sellers and buyers navigate the numerous complexities of selling and buying a business. She’s helped many sellers avoid challenges that can arise when cashing out of one of their largest assets, their company.

Due to her extensive experience, work ethic, and customer focus, she is consistently recognized as one of the top business brokers in the country!

Debbie was named Apex Broker of the Year & the International Business Broker Association’s Platinum Chairman’s Circle Winner!

When asked why she loves selling companies, Debbie replied, “there is nothing better than helping make business buyers’ and sellers’ dreams come true! It’s the American dream to own your own business, to be an entrepreneur, and then sell your company, reaping the financial rewards of all your hard work!”

She went on to share the example of a manufacturing company she sold that was generating $1M a year in profit. Within five years of buying the business, the buyer had tripled his cash flow profit on the company and came back to Debbie to sell the operation. She said that “it is difficult to find that kind of return on investment anywhere else including the stock market, real estate investments, or securities.”

Debbie noted that buyers can face challenges when trying to acquire a company. “The buying environment is very competitive.” Debbie has thousands of buyer confidentiality agreements on file with only a small percentage of buyers actually acquiring a business. Savvy buyers become the ‘squeaky wheel’ with her to get her attention and rise to the top. She advises buyers that “there are too many well-capitalized buyers in the market to play the waiting game on making an offer. A solid business will be snatched up immediately! It is best to come to terms with the seller on an accepted purchase price prior to doing a deep dive into due diligence.”

Along with working as a broker, Debbie loves being a mom to a teenage son. She also owns and manages residential real estate properties. Even now, as Apex’s Broker of the Year, she still remains as driven to achieve as she did when she was that young girl flipping through business magazines!

To learn more about Debbie’s broker services, feel free to contact her at .

Know Your Broker: Jeff Crooks

Jeff CrooksIn this occasional series, we will share profiles of our team here at Apex so you can get to know the men and women who make us best qualified to help you buy or sell a business.

Jeff Crooks has spent almost 20 years as a business broker.

Even more impressive, he’s spent almost double that amount of time in the US Army. That includes 8 years on active duty, with the remainder in the reserve. His current rank is Lieutenant Colonel.  

Persistence Pays Well

When asked about what makes him successful in both fields, he responds, “Persistence pays well.”

He attributes the early stages of this trait to the work ethic instilled in him by his military family, but he honed it through practice.  

“When someone says…call me in 90 days… and then I actually do, they’re shocked.” Because the sales cycle in business brokering can often be months and years in the making (though he recently had two businesses close within 30 days), persistence really matters.

It Takes One to Know One

Jeff started life as a broker after selling his own staffing firm via a business broker.

As a business owner himself, he had a passion for helping others realize their own dreams. He also felt that he had the ability to manage the egos of everyone involved in the transactions: buyers, sellers, accountants, attorneys, financial planners, and of course, family.  

While he’s sold all sorts of businesses, Jeff has a particular passion for those in manufacturing, distribution, and service. Despite having undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry and a graduate degree in Business, it’s his graduate degree in Gerontology that he uses most often. He believes it helps him understand his older sellers particularly well.  

“For them, it’s not about money. It’s about legacy and reputation. This is their baby, and they need to be able to trust me with it.”

When you meet Jeff and witness his confidential nature in person, it’s not surprising that so many people trust him with their (business) babies, regardless of their age.