Growth Partners | Principal Backgrounds
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The ability to deliver valuable strategic growth guidance and exceptional transaction outcomes for our clients is based on the quality of our professionals. We are fortunate to have a “dream-team” of individuals, each of whom is complementary and represent centers-of-expertise within their specialty, to serve our clients. We are pleased to introduce our senior representatives who are the professionals who would be personally helping you.

Sandy Barger 


Distinctions:  Sandy is an exceptionally talented marketing specialist possessing an outstanding professional background.  Sandy has created award-winning marketing strategies for Fortune 100 companies to startups within a diversity of industries.  Her expertise is multi-dimensional, and includes niche enhancement, consumer “affiliation profile” development, omni-channel maximization, messaging material creation, product launch optimization, website enrichment, and social media community development.  Sandy creates integrated programs or enhancements customized to the client.  Since all companies never perfect the marketing function, Sandy’s capability has a universal application.

Background:  Sandy achieved a distinguished 14 year marketing career at the Walt Disney Company. She ascended from a VP of North American Business Development, to SVP of Cross-Channel Product Strategies, to SVP of Marketing for Emerging Markets, to SVP of Worldwide Brand Marketing.  Prior to her cross-fertilizing tenure at Disney, Sandy was a marketing executive for Dole Packaged Food, while starting her career at the May Company. After leaving the corporate world, her entrepreneurial drive was accommodated by working at a management consulting firm providing a very granular form of marketing engagement. Sandy enjoys an outstanding reputation within the marketing profession as she has been a top-performing professional contributing to the growth and development of her clients while increasing the value of their businesses.

Education:  Sandy received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Davis, and thereafter, a Master of Business Administration degree from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Sandy remains a student of leading-edge marketing strategies and tactics.

Readiness:  Sandy is ready to use her capability to develop, or enhance marketing strategies and programs as a fractional Chief Marketing Officer working with a client’s existing marketing executives on a project-specific basis. Sandy is a valuable resource providing a meaningful impact.

John M. Boland


Distinctions:  John has been a highly successful Chief Executive Officer and President for well over a decade. Most of his experience has pertained to building and selling manufacturing companies, and most recently a machine tool industry start-up. Based on this experience, John brings an “owner’s perspective” to Growth Partners Strategic Advisor clients. This is invaluable to the client based on John’s ability to not just anticipate and empathize, but to offer his expertise in regard to all important growth, preparatory and sale matters. Every CEO, President or owner would want John on his or her team for purposes of offering advisement related to building their company, or at the proper time, selling in whole or part.

Background:  John is a former client of Growth Partners.  John was President of SMW Systems when Growth Partners solicited SMW for its purchase by ATS Workholding. John’s talent was so strong that he became the CEO of the combined company and out-performed the initial projections years before ATS’s liquidity event in 2015. John’s background is classic as he was cross-fertilized by having progressive roles in engineering, production management, product management, and sales leadership in preface to his CEO and President functionalities. He began his career with Ingersoll-Dresser Pump Company before joining Kaiser Aerospace managing commercial and military aircraft systems before spending 17 years with SMW and ATS. As a result, John has extensive M&A and capital formation experience in complement to top manufacturing and leadership skills.

Education:  John received a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Upon moving to Southern California to join Ingersoll, he received a Master of Business Administration degree from in finance from the University of California at Irvine.

Readiness:  John remains prepared to assist his fellow CEO’s, Presidents and owners in regard to each of Growth Partners Strategic Advisors offerings, while providing additional advisement related to a variety of other important matters. John is an exceptional resource and a special asset to our clients.

Marc Emmer


Distinctions:  Marc is an author, speaker and consultant who is recognized as a thought-leader throughout North America as an expert in strategy and strategic planning. The release of Marc’s book, “Intended Consequences” was covered by Forbes, CNBC and Fox Business. Marc has personally lead strategic planning processes for over 125 companies in a broad range of verticals, including manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, and energy. This is accomplished by creating highly productive “environments” affording management teams with the ability to maximize creative thought and enrollment. In short, Marc is a special resource that helps increase the value of companies.

Background:  Marc was raised in New York and began his career in the food business. He spent over 20 years in marketing, business development, and operations thereby becoming cross-fertilized in regard to all of the key aspects of a business. Based on Marc’s conviction behind the necessity and value of strategic direction, Marc began his consulting practice in 2002. Since this founding, Marc has been an instrumental contributor to both public and private companies as they have optimized their enterprise value. He has been retained by such distinguished companies such as Rio Tinto, Sunkist and Superior International. Marc will not just assist in crafting and supporting a strategic plan, but also will promote greater management team cohesion and engagement.

Education:  Marc graduated from Loyola Marymount’s business school, and completed executive education management programs at Ohio State and Cornell from which he earned a financial management certification. Marc has delivered over 225 keynote speeches and is an active Vistage speaker.

Readiness:  Marc remains prepared to assist clients develop strategic plans, and support certain execution objectives. In some cases, Marc will vet Growth Partners’ Creating New Value deliverable with senior management through a formalized and valuable process. Marc is a top professional resource.

Dr. Lilli Friedland


Distinctions:  Lilli is a distinguished leader within her professional discipline, which is applicable to, and valuable for all business owners and management teams. Her expertise pertains to expanding the leadership, management and team-building capabilities of a company in order to increase productivity and performance. The end-product of her work is greater cohesion, enrollment, alignment, communication and effectiveness. In addition, Lilli assesses and remediates certain dynamics associated with succession, conflicts, and strategic development, liquidity event, etc., uncertainties. She can work on an individual or group basis.  Lilli further develops the skills of the business owner and improves the inter-personal modality within an organization.

Background:  Lilli enjoys tremendous recognition within the business and financial communities, and by her professional peers, located not just in Southern California, but across the Country and in Canada. She has been actively assisting companies, and their leadership teams and owners for many years. The demand for Lilli’s expertise has become highly prominent given the new complexities of business and the resulting imperative for managers of all types to expand their inter-personal effectiveness. She has received many honors from a variety of professional organizations, but is most fulfilled by the gratitude expressed by all of her clients. Lilli’s standing includes training other clinical psychologists, being quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, etc., while making over 150 media appearances.

Education:  Lilli is a Ph.D., American Board of Professional Psychology, is Board certified, and has certification from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. She has held Board, or Governor positions with the American Psychological Association, Society of Psychologists in Management, California Psychological Association’s Industrial & Organization Psychology, California Board of Psychology etc.

Readiness:  Lilli remains ready to use her expertise with business owners and/or companies to improve inter-personal related dynamics, and in turn, performance, which ultimately contributes to increasing the value of an enterprise. Her contributions are always a great benefit to any client.

Sarah Gao


Distinctions:  Sarah brings a special understanding regarding the building and selling of companies, especially from the perspective of Asian-owned companies domiciled in the US, with or without operations or vendors in Asia, and Asian domiciled companies seeking to enter the US marketplace typically through the acquisition of US companies. She has a deep understanding of cross-cultural business practices enabling the effective bridging of distinctions. As such, Sarah advises US-based Asian owned companies in regard to critical build-related, and liquidity event decisions, and conversely, works with Asian-domiciled companies seeking to acquire US companies.  Sarah provides a valuable set of expertise that is important given business globalization.

Background:  Sarah is a former client of Growth Partners. She was the co-founder and CEO of JBS Group and JBS Hotels, which are companies serving the cross-border travel industry related to Asia. JBS retained Growth Partners to create a build-plan dedicated to margin expansion. This was accomplished, and Sarah, and her partners and team executed the plan exceedingly well. Years later, a billion-dollar international travel company solicited JBS for acquisition purposes, and Growth Partners represented Sarah and her two partners. The result was a final purchase price that was 40% higher than the initial offer. Sarah is an exceptional manager, operator and strategic thinker, while experiencing proactively building her company, the complexity of international business issues, and executing a successful liquidity event with the largest travel company in the world.

Education:  Sarah received a Bachelor’s degree in Western Philosophy from Yunnan University in China, and after moving to the US, a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Pacific State University. She has been an active speaker at dozens of international business conferences.

Readiness:  Sarah remains ready to apply her experience and expertise to assist US companies with cross-border business issues, Asian-owned companies in the US make critical build/sale decisions, while conferring with Asian-domiciled companies in regard to exploring US acquisitions.

Brad Grob


Distinctions:  Brad is an expert and thought-leader in helping companies generate significant new revenue growth. In short, Brad is a “revenue guru.” Brad has been a successful company owner, and builder of businesses as an officer and consultant. His clients/employers have spanned a range of sizes and industries. Brad has the ability to determine the optimal next-steps in revenue development for companies of all types, and in some cases, assist with implementation and execution. He has a demonstrated track-record that has resulted in significant increases in company value for his clients. Brad offers significant value to our clients, both in the short and long term.

Background:  Brad began his career by working for Xerox to build new revenue sources. He then founded a manufacturing company that was an early pioneer in maximizing retail and direct response channels. He later joined Baker & Taylor developing new growth strategies for this specialized distributor which lead to this company’s growth from $40 million to $150 million, and then Multicom where he developed innovative partnerships with very large companies that produced exceptional revenue growth results (400% in two years). Before beginning specialized consulting activities, he built Emblaze Systems as an EVP, and his achievements were instrumental in this company’s successful IPO. In summary, Brad enjoys a long-standing record of helping companies attain sustained profitable growth.

Education:  Brad received a Bachelor’s degree in both electrical engineering and economics from Duke University, and a Master of Business Administration degree from the Wharton School, at the University of Pennsylvania. Brad has taught eMarketing at UCLA, and is a Vistage speaker.

Readiness:  Brad remains prepared to assist clients with all of their “build,” or new revenue generation objectives. He is actively engaged with Growth Partners Strategic Advisors Creating New Value, and Maximizing Existing Value offerings. Brad is an exceptional and rare asset for our clients.

[The above individuals are “not” registered representatives of Growth Partners Investment Banking]

Jeffrey R. Knakal, Managing Partner

Investment Banking
Strategic Advisory


Distinctions:  Jeff founded Growth Partners in 1994 based on the vision and opportunity to create a more powerful investment banking capability by integrating a synergistic strategic development competency. Aside from being a thought-leading and highly successful investment banking professional, Jeff has developed a state-of-the-art strategic engineering capability replete with proprietary practices. This new integrated duality well transcends traditional investment banking approaches, and leads to superior transaction outcomes for clients. Jeff enjoys a tremendous record of building companies (e.g., he founded two companies with each achieving revenues of over $100 million) to increase their value, and executing transactions in a next-generation manner, while earning special trust from all of his clients.

Background:  Before founding Growth Partners, Jeff was a highly successful investment banking professional on Wall Street in New York. He built successful practices for three world-class firms. Jeff began his career with JP Morgan Chase handling relationships and transactions with US multinationals. He was then recruited to Credit Suisse to build client relationships, execute transactions and work among three affiliated firms (First Boston, CSFB and Credit Suisse). Thereafter, Jeff was the first American hired to build a US investment banking business for Daiwa Securities. Jeff’s career is hallmarked by achieving, a number of “first-time” transactions for clients such as Colgate-Palmolive and Aetna Life, and a number of awards (e.g., Deal of the Year in 1990). Throughout his career Jeff has been a published “best practice” author, and an active speaker.

Education:  Jeff received a Bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School, at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in finance, and a Master of Business Administration from the Stern School, at New York University majoring in finance. Jeff is a student of strategic engineering and has five FINRA licenses.

Readiness:  Jeff remains ready to use his unique practices and approaches with client for purposes of maximizing a company’s opportunity whether related to, achieving the best possible M&A and capital formation transaction outcomes, or offering “build” advice. Jeff is a distinguished and compelling resource.

 Here is a speaking example as Jeff moderated a panel discussion about Relationships Within a Deal at C-Suite Quarterly’s Investment Summit. CSQ Investment Summit Panel

Please read what Jeff’s Vistage Group members, which are composed of CEO’s, Presidents and business owners from prominent companies, say about him. Vistage Group Member Testimonials

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