In all my long career, I’ve never been more proud of an effort. Last week, we finished a series of seven auctions on a bankruptcy project so complicated that nobody dared dream of such an outcome: Approximately $75 million recovered for the creditors.
This has been a very long journey that began in the summer of 2012. March of this year brought bankruptcy filings for East Coast Brokers and Packers, the Madonia family and related entities. In April, Murray Wise Associates was officially engaged to market the properties.
In June, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court – Tampa Division appointed Jerry McHale Jr. as Chapter 11 Trustee. He, with support from the creditors – agreed with Murray Wise Associates’ plan to conduct a series of public auctions to sell the assets, most of which were in Florida and Virginia. These assets included thousands of acres of farmland, tomato packing facilities and hundreds of trucks, tractors, forklifts and other equipment used in the tomato business.
We realized from the outset that we were going to need help. I called on my old friend Ben Crosby, of Crosby & Associates, knowing I could could rely on his excellent staff for help in getting the assets organized, shown and marketed. We also needed more bodies for the live auctions, and we turned to Jim Woltz and his folks at Woltz & Associates, based in Roanoke, Va. Not only did they provide the much needed manpower, but Woltz’s Russell Seneff proved to be the perfect fit as a world class bid caller familiar with our method of selling land in parcels.
The missing piece was a partner to take charge of the equipment auctions. Weeks Auction Company, based in Ocala, Fla., was perfect for the job, moving all the equipment to central locations in Mulberry, Fla., and Mappsville, Va., and getting it lined up, cleaned up and ready for a successful sale. The job done by Bill Catsulis, Grady Weeks, Tim Weeks, and the others at Weeks Auction exceeded my most optimistic expectations.
My own staff in Champaign, Ill., Florida and Iowa, rose to the occasion. Ken Nofziger, Joe Bubon, Kenny Schum, Heather Mathis, Kati Przybylski, Lisa Barbee, Jeff Wright and Harrison Freeland put in long hours, producing detailed plans and professional marketing materials on tight deadlines. John Kirkpatrick, Josh Gerig and Dawn Waters from Iowa pitched in. My longtime assistant Jamie Knight held things together, facing some incredible logistics challenges. Steve Hamro from my Naples office, provided invaluable assistance.
And if the staff challenges weren’t enough, Heather and Kati both gave birth to healthy baby girls in the last days leading up to the auctions, and of course they were unavailable to travel!
Through it all, we enjoyed excellent relationships with Jerry McHale, Jr., and Susan Sprehn, as well as with the creditors – especially Greg Gallaway of Met Life Farm Loan Division and Rob Marcus, attorney for Anthony Marano Company.
Whew. That sounds like an Academy Awards speech, but the simple truth is that this group of sales presented such challenges that every single member of the team played a critical role in our success.