Jargon: ‘Let’s play in each other’s spaces and put some skin in the game’

CEO Mark Ragan crawled into the private equity sandbox and discovered a whole new language.

Several years ago, I made the mistake of inviting private equity companies into Ragan to discuss the possibility of raising cash for the company.

It was shortly after Sept. 11 and sales had plummeted. Our customers had stopped traveling, and the conference business had gone from boom to bust overnight. Making matters worse, we had just spent all of our cash reserves on the multimillion dollar purchase of a new publishing company.

Ragan, it seemed, stood on the brink of collapse.

After a flurry of meetings, I decided to go it alone. I just couldn’t handle the pressure of the 30 percent return these guys demanded on their money. I later joked, “Why don’t I just go to Don Corleone. He’ll want less, and he’ll leave me alone to run the business.”

But the time I spent with these financial entrepreneurs introduced me to a wondrous new vocabulary. Phrases I had never heard floated over our long conference table; colorful, jargony new words tumbled from the mouths of these calculator-wielding businessmen. I remember asking my then-president Dan Oswald for translations after every meeting.

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