Merrill Ayers joined FEI in 1987 when he was senior vice president and chief financial officer (CFO) of Security Pacific Business Credit, based in New York City. "I had transitioned from line management to financial management when I became controller for Europe at Bankers Trust, and wanted to continue my career along the financial management path.
So when I took the job with Security Pacific, I joined ITT so that I could network with other senior financial executives," explains Ayers.
Several years later, he joined ITT Corp. as senior vice president of acquisitions--when ITT was still a conglomerate--and he relocated to Minneapolis. Shortly after, ITT broke up into smaller companies to enhance shareholder value and ITT no longer needed an SVP of acquisitions. So Ayers was out of a job.
However, he had become active in the Twin Cities Chapter of FEI and he had continued to network with the members. "I got involved with the Twin Cities Chapter soon after I moved to Minneapolis. My first leadership position was chair of the membership committee, and by 1997 I was chapter president."
In the ensuing years, Ayers assumed a number of national leadership responsibilities for FEI, first as an area director, then as area vice president and later as a member of the FEI board of directors. In 2010, his accomplishments were recognized by FEI with its Distinguished Service Award.
After he left ITT in 1994, Ayers joined Sparta Foods as senior vice president and CFO. "I was hired as CFO to help Sparta achieve a financial turnaround and avoid bankruptcy. We re-capitalized the company and successfully sold it to a large food co-op in 2000," he recounts.
Ayers now became recognized as a turnaround specialist, and he was hired by a series of smaller companies experiencing financial difficulties. "I became a non-traditional CFO for troubled companies and work-out situations," he says. "These positions were usually short-term engagements, with both high-risk and high-return potential."
For example, he recalls K-Tel International, the Nasdaq-listed music entertainment group most familiar...