Rising Star Mathew August: Timing is everything

Mathew August is executive managing director of Animus Capital Partners. Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

It’s said that timing is everything in business. And while it’s easy to recognize opportunity in retrospect, Mathew August is one of those people who can see it unfolding in real time and respond appropriately.

For him, a defining opportunity was joining a New York investment firm in 2009 on the heels of the financial markets crash.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t waste. It set up my finance career,” says the executive managing director of Animus Capital Partners, a Calgary-based leading middle-market merchant bank. Animus is already the second merchant bank founded and built by the 30-year-old.

August’s New York work targeted publicly-traded distressed businesses. “It was simple, stupid math—look at income statements, balance sheets and business fundamentals, look at the arbitrage between what a business is worth and what it could be sold for, and understand how to unlock the value.”

The New York firm was flying him back and forth to its Calgary office. August liked the entrepreneurial spirit in Calgary and, in 2011, he jumped ship.

“I started Colonial Advisors in 2011 in Calgary and sold my position in the business in 2014, just before the collapse of oil prices,” he says, adding with a smile, “The timing was luck, not intelligence.”

Mathew August is one of the Fluor/Oilweek 2018 Rising Stars. To read all of their stories, click here.

August tried retirement for four months. It didn’t work out for the 27-year-old. So he formed Animus. He’s proud of the fact that Animus did over $500 million of transactions through the punishing downturn.

“We really buy into the entrepreneur—the Alberta, Saskatchewan type of entrepreneur who has an idea, puts some of his own money in, with friends and family. Then we bring in a big slug of capital and help with management services,” August says.

That management piece is the differentiator. If a company’s expertise is coil tubing field operations but not so much business management, Animus can bring in a CFO or CEO to complete the skillset.

“You’re still a shareholder, but we drop in a guy who has done this five times. The capital follows this guy because they know this guy,” August says.

A similar approach launched Canadian Natural Resources, Penn West Petroleum and Ensign Energy Services in the 1980s, when Murray Edwards, Ron Mathison and Jim Grenon partnered with Calgary investment dealer Peters & Co.

“Some [boutique merchant banks] still do this but not to the extent that we do,” says August.

He’s assembled a smart team in Animus: “I’m a big believer that if you’re the stupidest guy in the room, then you’re in the right room. If you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room.”

And in this city, a lot of smart people are helping to build a better community. As the head of a merchant bank, August gives money to various causes, particularly those that work with disabled and under-privileged children.

“It’s just standard practice to give back,” August says.

Favourite charities: Disabled and Under Privileged Children (Dreams Come Alive, Heart Beats, Habitat for Humanity and several local quiet causes).

First job: Construction taught me to work hard and be resourceful but also to use your brains to advance in life. At 19, my first six-figure salary was as Western Canada Regional Director for Diligent Boards, a software company that was recently sold for $600 million (we started the business literally at ground floor in its early days with 100 clients—now they have 5000 clients).

If not for your career, what would you be doing: Philanthropy across the developing world, building cooperative business ventures with communities, helping them become self sustaining so they can pay it forward in their own communities.

Best advice received: Work with effort and belief in something bigger. Don’t shoot low. Try and change the world and don’t get discouraged when you hit a wall because sometimes good things fall apart so better things can come together. Never forget your personal truth and mission in life.

Favourite pastime: Racing high-performance sports cars on the track. It’s like meditation in real-time—everything else just fades and you are present in the moment.

Favourite books: Jack: Straight from the Gut, by Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric); Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Think Rich to Get Rich, by T. Harv Eker

Other interests/passions: Travelling the world embracing new languages, cultures, foods and traditions. Cooking fusion cuisine, staying healthy and spending quality time with family and friends.

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