November 12, 2012
The Business Journal

Mequon private equity firm Blackthorne Partners buys Berlon Industries
By Jeff Engel

Private equity firm Blackthorne Partners Ltd. said it has acquired Berlon Industries, a manufacturer of buckets and attachments for skid loaders, telehandlers and compact utility tractors.

Hustisford-based Berlon is a family-owned business serving about 900 companies in the agricultural, construction and landscape management industries through an extensive dealer network. Blackthorne Partners, Mequon, is a private equity firm that focuses on small, niche companies.

"Berlon is a 63-year-old company with a very high quality, yet affordable product line that has enabled it to build a strong brand reputation and serve a niche customer base. Our goal is to build on this foundation by equipping them with the resources they need to grow, but that can be difficult for small companies like Berlon to access," said Steve Balistreri, a Blackthorne Partners principal.

Mike Ebben, an experienced manufacturing industry leader, has been hired to serve as Berlon's president. Ebben has held leadership positions in operations, sales and marketing, and business development for manufacturers serving both domestic and global markets.

Lon Berndt, Berlon's current owner, will work with Ebben during the transition process.

"As the longtime owner of Berlon Industries, I was determined to make sure the next chapter of this company takes good care of our customers as well as our employees," Berndt said. "The team of Blackthorne and Mike Ebben offer the experience and commitment it will take to grow the legacy we've built over the years."

Blackthorne Partners, which made its first direct investment in September 2010, said it is targeting smaller, established companies that are often overlooked by traditional private equity firms.

"We believe there are many companies in our market, like Berlon, whose future can be brighter with the right ownership transition," Balistreri said. "By focusing on companies with earnings of approximately $1 million, we not only serve an unmet need in the marketplace but have an opportunity to help these smaller businesses become the mid-market companies that are the future of Wisconsin."
Focused on addressing the equity and liquidity needs of small businesses in the Upper Midwest