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2022 Inductee, Birch Lake Holdings, L.P.
Jack Butler is the founder and chief executive officer of Birch Lake Holdings, LP, where recent transactions include leadership of merchant banking relationships in the consumer electronics, food, legal tech, logistics and transportation industries. Jack co-founded Skadden’s corporate restructuring practice and helped create more than $100 billion in accretive value for clients and stakeholders during his 23 years as a practice leader. He previously served on the executive leadership team at Hilco Global. In addition to the Secured Finance Network Hall of Fame, Jack is a member of the M&A Advisor Hall of Fame and the Turnaround, Restructuring and Distressed Investing Industry Hall of Fame. He is a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which is awarded to Americans who exemplify outstanding qualities in both their personal and professional lives. In 2016, Jack received the Harvey R. Miller Outstanding Achievement Award for Service to the Restructuring Industry and he and his family were honored with the Anti-Defamation League’s Jerold S. Solovy Freedom Award. He has served in leadership positions for many other industry organizations including as a founder and past chair of the Turnaround Management Association. In addition to his committed involvement to numerous civic and charitable organizations, Jack officiated high school and college football for many years and is a lifetime member of the American Football Coaches Association.
How did you get your start in the industry and what are some of the most memorable moments of your career?
Three of the influencers on my career: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. I am an outlier. And I started out at the same time that the U.S. Bankruptcy Code was enacted, which changed the capital markets landscape and created the turnaround industry by favoring corporate reorganizations and keeping state law directors and officers running their businesses and hiring advisors.
I worked weekends and summers as a teenager in our family’s retail businesses before completing high school early to head to college and then, at my father’s urging, law school to combine an appreciation and understanding of business entrepreneurship with legal skills and knowledge. That led to a permanent offer from one of the premiere midwestern law firms – followed by an involuntary exit 18 months later for not conforming to their expectations of a young associate. I preferred client rainmaking to the law library and focused a lot of energy on imagining how the new Bankruptcy Code would fundamentally change how companies navigated business challenges, debt would be invested and from whom, and business, financial and legal leadership roles would evolve in the new statutory regime. I bet my career on the proposition that everything would change – and it did.
Soon after arriving at another highly regarded Michigan-based law firm, I approached the managing partner with an unsolicited business assessment of the firm’s prospects and client concentration. Rather than getting fired (again), I was given the proverbial rope to hang myself as my proposal for an aggressive regional business development plan was put to the test. Fortunately, with the support of a mentor from my alma mater, what would become a decade-long client relationship was secured with a Chicago-based financial services company that led to more than 100 deals and created a national platform for a regional Detroit-based law firm.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend 1989, a global law firm reached out without any advance notice to recruit me to join as a partner. Five weeks later, on New Years’ Day, I was in my new office in a new city and mission-focused on what would become Skadden global corporate restructuring and distressed M&A practice. Soon thereafter, I met the man with whom I have raised our four awesome children (still in college) and recently celebrated our 31st anniversary. Along the way, working on a team of remarkable lawyers and support staff with whom I had the privilege of serving as a practice leader for 23 years, we led transformational restructurings of dozens of companies across a diverse range of industries.
Always an entrepreneur at heart, I stepped away from the active practice of law following US Airways’ historic merger with American Airlines to become a full-time investment principal. Following several years on the executive leadership team at Hilco Global, in 2016, I founded Birch Lake, a Chicago-based merchant bank that blends decades of structuring and advisory experience with principal investing. The insights gained from advisory relationships create an advantage for our investment business by providing early access to proprietary investment opportunities complemented with deep connections to and understanding of the operating businesses and their leadership teams.
My advice to someone just starting out in the industry? Be passionate, reliable and dedicated. Learn and grow from setbacks and failures. Be authentic, genuine, empowered and your best self. Seek out mentors. Pay it back from the earliest days of your career. Live your core values. Have fun!