Interviewed by Matt Totsky
Photographed by Jerry Zolynsky
Meet Bloomfield Hills resident and author Ken Pape. A native of Detroit, Pape developed a hard-working attitude at an early age.
“I had a lot of jobs, starting when I was just 10 or 11,” he says. “My family needed money, so my siblings and I did what we could to contribute. I had paper routes. I sold donuts. I became an expert on making businesses from nothing. I was the eldest of four children and paid for my own college education.”
Pape earned a bachelor of business degree from Western Michigan University, majoring in finance and minoring in accounting and economics. From there, he worked at General Motors, Rockwell International Automotive Operations and the St. Louis-based manufacturer of brewing equipment, the Barry-Wehmiller Corporation.
“That was an opportunity for me to bring some automotive experience to the beverage equipment business,” Pape says. “I was also able to gather more sales management experience and become involved in international sales, particularly in Latin America.”
All of this experience gave Pape — along with his wife, Sandi — the foundation they needed to start up their own company called the Parts Finishing Group, a group of companies that provided secondary manufacturing services to automotive, industrial and aircraft-related companies.
What made you want to leave corporate life? I got fed up with the rat race. I didn’t fit in, and thought I could do better outside of the system. The corporate world is filled with non-monetary perks, like special parking spots or a couch in your office.
That kind of stuff meant nothing to me. I wanted to branch out and make more money. Our philosophy was to own a business and pay ourselves a decent salary. Then, when it comes time to sell the business, we could make a pretty good profit if we were successful.
What is a “do-able deal?” It’s the art of making money with other people’s money. It’s buying a business without any of your own money, basically using the assets and cash flow of the
business to buy it. These deals are possible and very do-able. When we started, no bank would deal with us. All of our money was tied up in real estate. When we bought our company, we wrote a memorandum of understanding. We figured out a way not to use a bank. And we were very successful.
How did you get the idea to write Do-Able Deals? Do-Able Deals is a “how-to” book. It provides a historical perspective of how we were able to start, build and grow our business from a $40,000 initial investment to $40 million in family wealth in 26 years.
I wanted to write the book for my family, but I also wanted to write it for business school students and people who want to start their own businesses. Small business owners with a desire to grow, expand and make themselves more profitable will also benefit from it.
It’s important to note that Do-Able Deals is not about my wife and I and our own personal story; it’s about helping others. If I could have read something like this when I was just starting out in my career, I would have understood why I needed to pay more attention in school.
What kind of feedback has the book gotten since? I’ve been told my personality really comes through in it. It’s pretty straightforward without any BS, and we tried to make it easy to read. It’s not very technical. It’s just the simple details about our particular approach to success.
When you feel the need to relax, what are some of your favorite things to do around town? We spend a lot of time with our family, including our two children, Jordan and Fred. I enjoy playing golf at Forest Lake Country Club, and I also like to hunt and fish. Some of our favorite restaurants are Ocean Prime, Capital Grill and Bill’s.
Sandi and I are also very active in charities including Variety, The Children’s Charity. It’s a great organization dedicated to helping kids. We were on its international board and they have a big chapter here in Birmingham.
My wife has been president of Women of Bloomfield and Birmingham and Bloomfield Newcomers. We meet a lot of people, and Monty Hall — the former host of the TV show Let’s Make a Deal — is a close friend of ours. He’s an expert on deals, and he loves our book! NS
Order Pape’s book at www.do-abledeals.com.