Q&A with Upstate NY Investor and Mentor, Mark Barberio
I’m a big proponent of being different.” – Mark Barberio
With over 30 years of wide-ranging experience, Mark Barberio is an accomplished business leader and an influential angel investor in Upstate New York.
Until 2013, he held the position of Co-CEO and CFO of Mark IV, LLC, a worldwide engine parts and transportation company with over $1.5 billion in revenue, which he contributed in shaping as he climbed its ladder for 28 years.
Mr. Barberio claims he is not an entrepreneur per se, but he participated in managing a company with innovative products such as critical engine components, transportation signage and lighting, and E-Z Pass® electronic toll collection equipment.
“I am more of an investor and mentor. I started my business life in a pretty established company, although some major innovation products were launched by it (including the E-Z Pass technology), said Barberio. “I try to bring my business skills to the entrepreneur community and I invest in them. I try to help them connect the dots, take the idea and develop it into a product or service that is sellable and scale it into a business. Finding people and resources that can help make a difference is a role I play.”
Since his “retirement” from Mark IV – Mark likes to say that he has not really retired, but he has been “repurposed” – he has been involved in 3 major activities.
First, M&A and restructuring consulting, and real estate investing through his new firm Markapital, LLC.
Second, being a Director and Chairman of the Audit Committee for Sovran Self Storage, and a Director and Chairman of the Compensation and Nominating Committee for Exide Technologies, one of the world’s largest lead acid battery manufacturers.
His third activity consists of investing in and helping early stage companies in the region, mainly as a member of the boards of Buffalo Angels, LLC and the Rochester Angel Network/Fund. Mark is a big advocate of the entrepreneur economy and his involvement in 2 Angel Networks allows him to diversify his investments and broaden the scope of connections.
“Based on my experience, the best advice I can give to startups is to think about their strategy, how they’re approaching (differentiating themselves) in the market and with the customer. I also like to help them with their business model including financial and talent management,” said Barberio.
These involvements could be seen as the 2 sides of the same coin : earning a living & continuing his career in large-scale companies through his work with the company Boards, and giving back & trying to help out the Upstate community. This is essential to Mark and is fully part of his own life philosophy which he developed over the years and now tries to pass on to his children.
“The best advice I ever got came from my mother. After High School and just before I left for university, she told me: « get involved ». That means to me: try and make a difference, not just about money, but also how you can help in whatever way you can. This is truly the best advice that I ever received.”
An Upstate New York native, Mark also helps as an adviser to the Rochester Institute of Technology, from where he earned a Bachelors’ degree in Business-Accounting. RIT’s mission of greatness through difference coincides nicely with his desire to differentiate himself.
“I was born in Buffalo, NY and I went to RIT as an undergraduate. I first thought that I wanted to be an engineer, but I took a year off to figure that out, which was not that conventional 35 years ago. I did things like landscaping and snow plowing…activities that rapidly incentivized me back to school.”
Here’s a few more questions we asked, ranging from serious to not so serious, to gain greater insight into the mind of this innovative and successful businessman.
What was the worst piece of advice you ever received?
My high school counselor told me once: « I’m not sure you’re cut out for university, you should try and become a diesel mechanic! »Not sure that was the best advice…
Did you ever have an idea that flopped? What did you learn?
Oh yes! Many. When I was part of Mark IV, we invested a lot in R&D and a number of the projects/products we developed flopped. For instance, we tried to find other ways to utilize the E-Z pass technology when the core product was extremely successful and other applications did not gain traction. I learned that you have to take some risk but you also have to know when to stop.
What’s your best tip for hiring talent and growing culture in a company?
For me, it’s the personality. If we’re talking about general management, the qualities that should be looked for are a capacity to understand the business, financial acumen, and the ability to deal with people. Particularly with conflict management. You have to be a cheerleader of sorts but you also have to be a realist and knowing when to make the tough decisions. I would say, mainly look at the qualitative side of people.
What’s the most difficult part of being a startup investor / mentor?
The challenge is managing the expectations. Everything sounds like it’s going to be the best idea you have ever heard or the best investment you ever made, so the challenge is to be not too positive or too negative. The risks are extreme and you have to keep things in context.
What’s your favorite book and why?
One book that is worth reading and that I think could really interest anybody is « Freakonomics ». It’s about what incentives people, good or bad, what drives that. It’s economics, applied to social behavior of people. There’s a follow-up called « Superfreakonomics » if you really like it!
What’s your secret to productivity?
Trying to focus on what’s really important. I have a list of notes, and they transport wherever I go. I keep very organized to-do lists and keep them prioritized. I try to funnel all that. People tell me « if you’re retired, why are you so busy ? » Well I’m not really retired, I’m repurposed!
Do you get nervous before speaking publicly?
Probably when I was younger, but the more you do it, the better you get. If you know your subject and audience, it’s easier. Try to be as prepared as possible is the best approach.
What’s your favorite quote? How have you applied it to your life professionally or personally?
I don’t have one, but I kind of developed my own quote. As you get older you tend to have more wisdom and may be more philosophical. I taught my kids the 3 –ings of life. You spend the bulk of your younger years Learning, and then you spend the bulk of your middle years Earning and if you’re fortunate enough you can spend your later years Giving. You give back financially and with sharing your experiences. It’s a kind of virtuous circle as you never stop Learning and Earning.. !
Where is your favorite place to travel?
I enjoy Europe and Italy is one of my favorite places – probably a partial result of my Italian descent.
What do you think is the most important innovation of your lifetime?
Probably the micro processor. If you think about everything we do, they have a direct impact!
Who would you most like to have dinner with?
Leonardo da Vinci, somebody who was way ahead of his time. I like people that look way into the future, and are not afraid to take the risks to make changes and who think differently than others. I’m a big proponent of being different.
Who would you most like to collaborate with on a new project?
I just like to work with people who are smart, ambitious and are willing to put their heart and soul into something. Nobody in particular, I want to be with people who can build something, be it jobs or technology, particularly in the region.
Do you learn from your children and if yes, can you share something that you learned?
I learn something every time I talk to them! I have 3 boys, youngest is 16 and oldest is 22. I learn that they really challenge you, they test every fiber of your being. They challenge you and try to prove you wrong. It seems to be a motivation of theirs. And what I learned is that… it’s actually fun when they prove me wrong! They certainly don’t know everything and I don’t either and when I do or say something that doesn’t make sense to them, they point it out, I’m getting to be more accepting of that.
What can the entrepreneurial community do better in Upstate New York?
This is a broad question. What the entrepreneurs need is of course their business idea commercialized. They also need to better organize their time. Advisory help, investment capital (while running the business), continually organizing how they can do that more efficiently. Try to make the ecosystem a little more efficient for them!
Mark Barberio is a member of Upstate Venture Connect’s UNY50 Leadership Network.