It's hard to think of RevZilla, the Navy Yard-based motorcycle-gear distributor, without picturing Anthony Bucci, the energetic, leather-jacketed, family-man CEO (and sparkplug of its engaging YouTube videos).
Bucci cofounded RevZilla in a Society Hill garage, in the depths of the last recession, with fellow Drexel grads Matt Kull, now chief operating officer, and Nick Auger, chief technology officer.
But Bucci has decided to "transition out of the CEO role," he says, 10 months after combining the company with private-equity investor J.W. Childs Associates and its store chain, Cycle Gear. Kull will be interim CEO while the board finds a successor.
Why? Check, for a moment, the boardroom math: The Philly squad - the three cofounders - are a minority on the combined board of the controlling company, Comoto Holdings; they are outnumbered by the Childs reps.
So Bucci couldn't stay if the investors had decided it was time to find someone else to scale up the business, which has grown from 170 folks in office, warehouse, marketing and software last winter to around 220 since the big deal.
But the company line, and Bucci's, is that he is the one who recognized and decided - after nine years as a start-it, grow-it guy - that it was time to let a bigger-company manager take over.
Wasn't this the plan when they did the deal? "I did not see it coming," Bucci told me.
Announcing the deal last winter, Bucci wrote: "We like new challenges, placing big bets and playing to win . . . Matt, Nick and I are still firmly at the helm."
Now, Bucci says: "It was my choice. It's me." Talking to the board and to his cofounders, "I saw the best thing for the next leap was for me to bow out."
It happens a lot. Boston Consulting Group in 2013 surveyed 60 private-company CEOs and their private-equity investors, and discovered that founders prefer "to focus on the big picture" while investors want "a hands-on operating style" and clear financial targets. "PE professionals want CEOs to focus more on the long term" and to take more risks.
"It's the exception, and not the rule, that the CEO lasts more than a year after a private equity firm buys a controlling interest," says Mark Naples, Philadelphia-based managing partner at Wit Strategy, an advisory firm to tech companies.
The private equity firm "almost always is making the acquisition because they think they can discover and exploit more efficiencies, if not more value, after the purchase," he added.
There are exceptions, notes George Krautzel, managing partner at Philadelphia-based venture investor MissionOG. He cited Kevin Leininger, founder of Center City-based IntegriChain, a health-care-analytics cloud-computing company bought by Accel-KKR last year. The private-equity group kept Leininger on: "He is leading them to further growing out the business."
Bucci remains on the Comoto board. He will still produce and turn up in videos, Comoto assures us, while "contributing to strategic digital, product and customer road maps."
"Everybody's happy, including me," Bucci adds. "Being a CEO is all-consuming." His wife and their five young children will see him more. They may even take a vacation, he adds: "Come on! I'm here every day. Start-up life, it's like my sixth kid."
If the board ends up hiring a hotshot CEO from the West Coast or New York, will RevZilla headquarters ride out of town? "The core and the beating heart of the company is in Philly. Our talent is Philly talent. No person we add to the team is more important than the culture and foundation we have in this city," Bucci concluded.
Will he get the founder's bug again? "I don't have any big idea lined up today," Bucci reflects. "But I'm a start-up guy. I won't take that off the table. Just, there's no master plan."