10 Minutes With ... Mark Eaton, Envision

July 05, 2017
The following article was published in the June 29 issue of the Wichita Business Journal:

New Envision CFO Mark Eaton is all in on his mission and community

By Daniel McCoy
Wichita Business Journal

Mark Eaton, a native of the St. Louis area, has had a business career that has taken him all around the country.

After nearly two decades in public accounting, work on mergers and acquisitions led him to become a turnaround specialist for private equity firms.

It was that work that first brought him to Wichita four years ago.

Now, thanks to the mission and opportunity he has become part of at Envision and the community surrounding it, Eaton says the Air Capital is the place for him.

What first brought you to Wichita? I had ended up in Silicon Valley during the era of irrational exuberance, which was extremely interesting, and from there, I actually did the Beverly Hillbillies in reverse. California was not the place for me. So I wound up in Chicago with EY doing mergers and acquisition due diligence for private equity groups and then went off on my own to do turnaround work for private equity groups on portfolio companies. I did that from about 2001 on, and that is what eventually brought me to Wichita, Kansas. I was doing some work for a group out of Chicago and Vancouver and they wanted me to go down to the Wichita, Kansas area (to what was then Fabpro Polymers in Kingman). So I lived in Wichita and drove out to Kingman. We got that company refinanced, put up for sale and another private equity group liked it. I told them there was also a competitor up for sale, it was going to be a bankruptcy liquidation, they could buy that one and the one in Kingman and be the biggest in North America. They liked the idea, and asked me if I would stick around for a couple of years and bring the two companies together (under the Great Lakes Polymer Technologies umbrella). I did that, but then it was time for me to move on to something else.

What was it, then, that kept you in Wichita? I was 60 years old and had kind of tired of moving on new things and new places every couple of years. I had been in Wichita for four years, I’d come here in December of 2012. And I said, “I quite like Wichita.” It’s a great quality of life here. The business community and the arts community are very robust and creative. You look at all the education that’s here between WSU and Friends and Newman and WATC ... so you have great quality of life, great arts, great business, great education. So I wanted to stick around in Wichita. Gary Plummer at the chamber had introduced (Envision CEO) Michael Monteferrante and I, so that’s how that came about.

Beyond what Wichita offers, what specifically attracted you to the opportunity at Envision? The mission here of working with blind and vision-impaired people is just amazing. You walk through — whether it’s the facilities on Main Street or the production down on Water Street — and see what’s going on, and you can’t help but be touched by how it’s improving peoples’ quality of life. And as I learned more about, talking to Michael and learning his vision for the organization, as well as the vision of where the whole BVI (Blind-Visually Impaired) community around the country and around the globe is evolving to ... this new wave (of more technology-driven, white-collar job opportunities), and that Envision is a thought leader in that. He is trying to build an organization that is not just a thought leader here in Wichita, but across the country, when it comes to the whole BVI sector. So I looked at that, a great mission, then you look at the challenges ahead trying to take that next evolutionary step in working with people and improving their quality of life and creating work opportunities ... it’s just really exciting for our organization to be a part of that.

You’re very involved in the arts community here. What is special about the arts in Wichita I think the arts are a very important part of the quality of life for a community. You can have a great, robust business community. But when you get done working, you want something else to go do. I consider sports part of the arts, performing visual, all of that. You need that to have a well-rounded community. When I got here to Wichita, and started getting involved in what is now Mark Arts. And the more I started learning, the more I learned that Wichita actually has a very, very robust arts community, and it actually has a very good national reputation. A lot of our artists are nationally. Then I got involved in music theater. The first time I saw a presentation here, I was taken aback, because it really is Broadway-quality music theater. I think sometimes the only place that the arts community in Wichita is a secret is actually in Wichita.

Mark Eaton

Title: CFO, Envision.

Age: 60.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in agriculture economics, University of Missouri; bachelor’s degree in accounting, University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Experience: Envision, CFO, January-present; Great Lakes Polymer Technologies, president, 2014-2016; Fabpro Polymers, CFO and COO, 2012-2014; Southward Associates LLC, managing director, 2002-2012; FTI Consulting, managing director, 2007-2010; public accounting work, including with EY, 1982-2001.

Local nonprofit work: Member of the board of trustees, Mark Arts; member of board of directors, Music Theater of Wichita, member of the city of Wichita’s cultural funding committee.

Daniel McCoy covers aviation, manufacturing, automotive and Koch Industries.

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