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Walter Simson, Ventor Consulting, LLC

With a 92-year-old father who developed printing industry patents and still listens to college lectures for fun, it's easy to understand where Walter Simson gets his smarts. Simson, 55, principal of Ventor Consulting, LLC, is a native New Yorker and former Wisconsin business exec who resides in New Jersey but maintains close relationships in Madison and surrounding areas. Ask him for his business address and he'll say, "I'm based wherever my email is," though he and a small virtual team maintain an office on the Capitol Square.

Simson, past CEO and CFO for start ups and turnaround companies, enjoys working in the Midwest because he sees it as a microcosm of the national economy. "On the West Coast, people work on high tech – Google, LinkedIn, Facebook – all of those new technologies, none of which are game changers, but they create excitement and buzz. On the East Coast, people are concerned with finance, derivatives, and abstract money problems. But in the Midwest, the focus is on manufacturing, distribution, low costs to compete, printing, and agriculture."

Simson earned a degree in comparative literature from Columbia University in 1977, and an MBA from New York University 10 years later. Always a language enthusiast with a particular passion for French, Simson was hired out of college by Chase Manhattan Bank, and soon after he was sent overseas to conduct loan reviews and credit audits.

"It was a wonderful time," he recalled. "I took my first international trip to Columbia, then Korea, then Japan, Hong Kong, France, Africa, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Thailand, Panama, and Puerto Rico [to name a few]." In 1982, he managed the rescheduling of the $32 billion debt of Venezuela as co-chair of the creditors' committee.

It was the perfect beginning for a man who set his career goals early. "I always wanted to be a diplomat," he said. "I wanted to travel internationally, study, and think big thoughts." In 2004, after heading up Freeman Shoes in Beloit and later Infigen, a subsidiary of ABS Global here, Simson decided to make consulting his full-time career, and Ventor Consulting was born, combining the terms "mentor" and "venture."

Today (besides blogging for ibmadison.com), he specializes in turnaround consulting. "It isn't about being a 'hatchet guy,'" he insisted. "You typically don't turn around companies by cutting staff. Every company has two operations – one that makes money, the other that doesn't, or the problem area. If a company is not making money, there's a reason." Where is the company making or losing money? Are long-term behaviors hurting or helping the bottom line?

Simson's own business isn't immune to the economy. "Competition is tough," he admitted. "When the economy isn't doing well, everyone's a turnaround expert!"

So what turnaround advice would Simson offer the U.S. government? "I'd ask, 'What are your core missions?' What we did in the past may not be what's making it successful. I'd question the defense budget, and how we're taxing people and raising revenues. We have a political system where people are defending old decisions. I think we should challenge that."

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