Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround/restructuring work?
Richman: I always had some familiarity with the turnaround industry. My father is an attorney, but I wasn’t necessarily interested in the turnaround and restructuring world for my career. I studied political science and psychology, and went to graduate school, where I did some economics work. I spent two years as a trader on Wall Street, but I recognized that it wasn’t a sustainable career path for me, and I wasn’t passionate about it.
In school, I thought I might be interested in consulting. I was lucky enough to have a chance in 2012 when Ted Gavin of Gavin/Solmonese took a shot on me. He opened the door. After about a year of working with him, I was hooked, and 8½ years later, I still have a passion for it. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Ted has really been a mentor to me throughout my entire career.
Q: How did you meet Ted?
Richman: I had known Ted for a few years through the American Bankruptcy Institute band, The Indubitable Equivalents. His daughter and I ended up going to grad school in England at the same time. When he would come over to visit with her, he and I would spend some time together, and we built a really good relationship.
Q: You never know when those connections are going to come in handy.
Richman: It’s one of the major reasons I’m always willing to take the phone call, answer the email, go meet for coffee, etc. I’m living proof of the cliché the harder I work, the luckier I get. My whole life could have turned out differently without my relationship with Ted. Getting to spend the first years of my career learning from him was truly special—and it really helped launch my future.
Q: What have been some of your favorite, most gratifying, or important engagements that you’ve been involved in?
Richman: I started my career doing mostly creditor advisory but recognized my passion was working more on the company side. The employees of the companies are the ones who frequently, through no fault of their own, get hurt most in the process. The engagements that are the most gratifying are those in which I’m able to save jobs or preserve companies to make sure those people are OK. I hate the idea that they’re the ones who get hurt in the process.
Two engagements jump to mind. In one of my first debtor-side engagements, I was working at a defense contractor in Alabama. The employees were largely veterans, and the company was owned by a Native American tribe based out of Alaska. We were able to work with them and get a refinancing to keep the company together. It was going down the tubes if we hadn’t been able to help.
Then, one of the first deals I worked on in Denver was similar. It was an agricultural chemical company that sold fungicide, pesticide, etc., to industrial farmers. We had no idea if we’d be able to market the portfolio of products or whether there would be an interested buyer. We got to a place where all of the employees were hired by the successor buyer, and the company is still in operation today under this new umbrella.
People’s careers and jobs, are more than just a paycheck. It’s self-worth, who you think you are, and the reason to get up in the morning. The engagements where jobs are saved are the ones that feel the best.
Q: What have been some of the key milestones in your career that have helped make you the professional you are today?
Richman: One of the things I’ve always loved about this industry since I started is that while we’re all so busy and we’re all working so hard, everybody is willing to give you enough rope to either hang yourself
or climb out of a hole, especially when you’re a junior professional.
I didn’t have the formal training, so for me the key milestones are those moments where I’d say, “Alright, Joe, you need to put this analysis together,” even when I was a little bit unsure. Obviously, I sought guidance from senior people, but when it all clicked and the puzzle fit together, that was huge. I think about that a lot with some of my early modeling projects. The first time I built a fulsome cash flow model, it was like, “Hey, I can do this!”
After I was promoted from the analyst level to the manager/director level, we had a day where the senior folks on our deal team were all tied up with an internal conference. They were out of pocket, and counsel needed someone to decide immediately. I had never been put in a position like that. I had to come out and say, “Here’s what I would do.” I was scared, but all of a sudden, you decide, the decision is correct, and the deal is better for it.
It was amazing to think not necessarily that I had arrived but that all of that hard work, all of that perseverance over all the years was paying off. When I was put under pressure and put in the position, I was able to be the decision maker and make the right decision.
Q: I’m sure that gave you a lot of confidence going forward.
Richman: Exactly. I think about those early instances where, even if I was not essential to a phone call, hearing, or meeting, I was still invited. I would sit in the corner and listen and take notes, learning the jargon. It was gratifying when all of a sudden, I would sit on those calls and know exactly what the issues were. I was able to provide analysis and think forward and be proactive in dealing with issues, just by osmosis.
Q: How did you end up migrating to Denver?
Richman: My immediate goal post-school was to live in New York City—the “center of the universe,” as I thought of it at the time. But after traveling more for work, going to client sites and other offices of firms, I saw there was life past the Hudson River. That was eye-opening for me.
I was kind of myopic.
In 2017, I was on that debtor engagement with that client in Alabama. I flew from Alabama to Utah for a couple days of skiing and ended up tearing my ACL and doing some other damage to my knee. It required surgery and then nine months of intensive physical therapy.
Going through a period like that makes you realize the important things in your life. All that I loved about New York wasn’t for me anymore, and I cared about what you could do outside that bubble—having some space to raise a family and, obviously, being able to ski.
That Christmas, my wife and I took a trip to Aspen for a couple days of skiing. Those were my first days back on snow. After all the recovery and having been through PT, the skiing was more gratifying than ever. I turned to my wife on the last day of that trip and said, “What if we don’t have to go back home?” Her response was, “OK, make it happen. We’ll figure it out.”
The next thing I knew, I was making calls and figuring out who was in the restructuring world out here and found r2 advisors, Tom Kim’s firm. He hired me in the spring of 2018, and that was the predicating factor to make the move. I worked for Tom for 2½ years and have nothing but great things to say about the experience.
Most of my career moves have been that seemingly serendipitous. I joined FTI in July 2020, in the middle of this pandemic. They had the exact opening for someone at my level in their Denver office. Nine months in, I’ve made some fantastic new relationships, advanced my professional skills, and am so happy I made the move.
Like a lot of firms, FTI assigns you a coach or mentor to help you with soft skills and internal firm navigation. I’d been at the firm for a couple of weeks, and my coach called me and asked if I wanted to get together. We sat on a bench in a park in one of Denver’s suburbs and had coffee. That was the first time I actually met anyone from the team in person! I’ve only been to the office three or four times, and I’ve only met my colleagues in person once, at an outdoor event last summer where we all wore masks.
Q: What role has your TMA membership played in your career?
Richman: When I was working for Ted Gavin, I had a manager who grabbed me from my desk and took me to my first TMA New York City NextGen cocktail hour and said, “These are the people you need to know, and this is how your career is going to advance.”
It has just ballooned from there. I’ve met the greatest people through the organization. What I loved about TMA was that if you were willing to do it, someone was willing to let you do it. I joined the NextGen Committee in New York City pretty much on the spot after that event and ultimately became the chair of the committee by the time I left New York.
Those TMA experiences were another example of being given full decision-making power from a more junior position. Those early decisions helped me know that I could be just as proactive on my actual work. It was such a great experience, being in a leadership role as I was maturing into my career while also meeting some of the greatest people—the ones who have really helped me and helped build this network that has allowed me to develop the career I’ve always dreamt of developing.
Some of the people that I’ve met through TMA circles have quickly merged from work friends to personal friends. In fact, some of the other Rocky Mountain Chapter members who live in my neighborhood, along with their significant others, have become some of my wife’s and my close friends.
Q: What are you passionate about outside the office? You mentioned skiing earlier. What put you back on the hill after such a catastrophic injury?
Richman: After I blew out my knee in Utah, I was sitting in the clinic with the doctor who was doing the tests on my knee. He said, “Your ACL is broken. You’re done for the season.” The first questions I asked him were, “When can I get my surgery, and when can I start skiing again?”
For me, it’s always been a life passion. From the moment my skis were on the bottom of my feet at 6 years old, I thought, “This is all I ever want to do for the rest of my life.” Of course, I recognized later that being a ski bum probably was not a sustainable career path. And growing up in the New York City area, the idea of becoming a pro skier really wasn’t in the cards either.
Q: Do you have any other passions?
Richman: Living here, I’m truly passionate about all mountain activities. If it’s not skiing in the winter, all summer long, I’m up with my wife and dog hiking every mountain trail out here in the Front Range.
I’m also deeply devoted to music. I’ve played the saxophone my entire life, and I’ve had opportunities to play with lots of different restructuring groups, including ABI’s house band, The Indubitable Equivalents, and a group out of New York City called Bankrupt Talent, a group of restructuring professionals who get together once a year. We would rehearse for a couple of days in a recording studio and then put on a performance at Le Poisson Rouge in New York to raise money for charity. We packed the place with a bunch of restructuring professionals. It was always one of the best nights of the year.
Outside of playing music, I’m also a massive music fan. Especially living in Colorado, in non-COVID times, you’ll find me up at Red Rocks on those beautiful summer evenings. There is just nothing like a sold-out Red Rocks show as the sun sets over the mountains!
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my love of sports. If there’s a bouncing ball—or a puck, as it were—chances are I’m watching it. In no particular order, I love the Yankees, Giants, Rangers, Knicks, and my Georgetown Hoyas—Big East champions!—and I am deeply in love with European soccer. When I spent my graduate year in England, I fell in love with Arsenal, though since then the club has done nothing but disappoint.
Q: What might people who only know you in your professional capacity be most surprised to learn about you?
Richman: My hope is: not much. I’ve long blended my professional and personal lives. As much as I wanted to fight that in the beginning, we all work too hard and operate in a world that is so relationship-based. You want to work with the people you become friendly with. So, I’m pretty much an honest and open book. I'd rather you know who I am, and maybe the reason why, before you hire me.
I love my wife. I love my dog. But I’ll give one surprise since this is a fun way to announce it: My wife is pregnant; we’re expecting our first in August! We’re so excited. As much as I like being out at client sites, conferences, and other events, I appreciate most the time I get to spend at home with my family. To me, that’s the most important thing.
Someday I’m going to be on my last legs, and someone’s going to ask me, “What did you do in life?” I don’t want my answer to be, “Oh, it was this great transaction.” I want my answer to focus on the kind of family man, father, husband, and son I was.