Looking back at more than 30 years in business, from the founding of the company to today.
Forty-three Main Street in Natick, Massachusetts, was the site of the first real office for Mark Zweig & Associates, which later became Zweig White, and today is Zweig Group. The year was 1988, and the first office was in the northeast front corner of the building (and it cost me $200 a month, rented from building owners, Ben and Steve Greenberg). We quickly took another office going back from the street, and paid $330 a month. We then rented all of the rooms down the alley side, front to back, and paid a grand total of $550 a month in rent!
Russ’s Lunch occupied the restaurant space below us that is today an Italian restaurant. A Greek fellow named Costas owned it. They had good burgers and the best grilled blueberry muffins you ever tasted! I went home smelling like burgers every day. The Natick Cab Company was located down below us in the basement area, and we shared the upstairs space with a wide slew of characters fit for a sitcom.
We grew and grew, and made it onto the Inc. 500 list in 1995 and 1996. We eventually moved our office to the Apple Hill office/retail complex, also in Natick, on Route 9, and there we had a series of successively larger spaces over the following years, culminating in renting a building that was first used as a high-end women’s retail store that was also attached to Apple Hill. It was truly exciting, growing by 30 percent annually for our first 13 years in a row!
We started out with something we called “the pie,” which was our cash basis profits each month. Everyone who was there early on got a “piece of the pie,” i.e., a certain portion of the cash basis profits each month.
We incorporated in 1991 – and my unofficial business partner, Fred White (who joined me a few months after I started), became my first real partner, and eventually we added other new employee partners – sold them stock, and financed 100 percent of it. We rang a bell with every sale that came in via phone, fax, or mail. We bought a small firm in San Francisco, and opened an office in the D.C. area. We had an annual business planning process that involved all employees. We were open-book and shared our financials with everyone.
Our business volume was about 40 percent products – which we defined as newsletters, books, survey reports, and seminars – and 60 percent consulting. We spent about 40 percent of our product revenue (14 percent to 16 percent of total revenue) on direct mail, and increased that expenditure every year, along with adding new products. That made the phone ring and resulted in consistent growth that allowed us to add more and more people with different skills in the ensuing years.
We dominated our market by having youthful, committed, energetic people who were creative and intelligent and working with a strong mission – to make our clients more successful. Our new offerings were different from anything provided by any of the other firms in our sector and could only be purchased through us. We were relentless cashflow managers, super aggressive marketers, and we “played our own music,” never jumping on whatever the trendy and popular management stuff was that was being pushed by our competitors.
We had little to no debt, the best D&B creditworthiness rating you could have, and a fantastic, fun, and productive culture. But for a variety of reasons, we decided to sell the company to a private equity firm in 2004. I retired to Fayetteville where I had a university teaching gig, and the new owners quickly made a mess of things. Most of our good people left – and the firm was eventually taken over by its mezzanine lender in 2009. In 2010, the lenders who owned it approached me about coming back. I did – and I hired some friends, including my future wife – who all worked diligently to fix the mess we inherited.
In the years to follow, Zweig Group’s fortunes turned for the better. Key people were added, including Chad Clinehens, Zweig Group’s CEO and majority owner today, at the beginning of 2013. We got back on the Inc. list (by then it was 5,000 firms) in 2013. Many other talented people came on board and joined the company in its reborn state. While I sold my ownership back to the company on a long-term deal and retired in 2018, today Zweig Group is growing and profitable. And once again, the firm has a talented, diverse team of youthful, committed, energetic, creative, and intelligent people. They are plowing new ground with a wide variety of unique products and services, while at the same time respecting the heritage and principles on which the business was founded.
And while I can’t say there aren’t some things I’d do differently if I could do it all over again (let’s be honest, who wouldn’t make some changes in their past if they could?), I was lucky to have lived the American dream – twice – with the same company! And I am proud of the business that it has become today.
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at email@example.com.