KA-CHING! The region’s power plays of 2022

In real estate, health care, high-tech manufacturing, financial services and more, these executives and companies stood out in the past year.

By Dennis Boone

Dan Duffy and Scott DeNeve
High-interest rates, low inventory, buyers priced out of the market by soaring home values. America’s housing market was in shambles throughout 2022.

Except for . . . Platinum Realty and United Real Estate Group, which sent a tremor through the nation’s realty sector with its April announcement that the two had merged. That marriage brought together one of the region’s most consistent fast-growth companies, Platinum, with one of the biggest players in real estate. Under the United umbrella, with an army of real estate agents more than 20,000 strong.

It was a natural fit for both Platinum founder Scott DeNeve, and Dan Duffy, United’s CEO. DeNeve was painting a rental house when he conceived the idea of a real estate company that didn’t gouge its agents by gobbling up the lion’s share of sales commissions. If not an overnight success, it was the closest thing to one. 

“There were no competitors to copy when I started the company,” DeNeve said. “The way it had always been done allowed me to find my niche within a niche. You hear people say the blue ocean vs. red ocean, and how sharks feed in the red because nobody is in the blue yet? This was our blue.”

By aligning with another 100-percent commission firm, the stage is set for Platinum to scale nationally. And more than sharing a philosophy on agent commissions, it taps into Duffy’s vision of being a real estate tech company with huge upside growth possibilities.

“There is always going to be an outlier who can come in, and it’s about attitude and the willingness to see this industry from a different perspective,” DeNeve says. “Whether that involves how things are done, technology, compensation—there are so many ways to evolve as an industry, and that gets me excited because, frankly, the opportunities are endless.”

For Duffy, the deal was the culmination of getting his hands dirty, in a manner of speaking.

“We are very patient and ethical diamond miners who take a long-range view of both our vision and opportunity,” he said. “We sort through a lot of coal to find the few stand-out ‘diamond’ brokerages to partner with in key strategic markets. Scott DeNeve and his team are very rare diamonds.”

Michael Rea, Rx Savings Solutions
There was a time when Michael Rea, a pharmacist by training and practice, thought of throwing in the towel on the pharmacy-tech platform he created in 2010. But thanks to a late-arriving angel investor, Rea kept the company afloat long enough to land its first whale of a client: The state of Kansas.

That set Rx Savings Solutions on a growth arc that would make it one of the region’s fastest-growing companies. And eventually, catch the eye of McKessen Corp., the Texas-based health-care conglomerate that came calling in 2022 with a buyout offer: $600 million upfront, with the potential for an additional $240 million if key performance indicators are met.

Rea and his team wrote a new chapter for regional companies in the health-care space by joining the ranks of success stories like Marion Laboratories, Cerner, Netsmart, and others. 

“We are proud to serve as an example of a homegrown business that has seen tremendous national success,” Rea said. “Kansas City is a dynamic city with strong talent, and we are proud to have roots here.”

McKesson saw the acquisition as a way of advancing health outcomes for all with the RxSS platform, which empower price-sensitive consumers and simplifies the dizzyingly complex world of prescription drug and plans.

It also does something for those who helped Rea turn the boat around and create an attractive acquisition target: “We anticipate the acquisition will also provide employees with enhanced career opportunities,” he said.

Marty Bicknell, Mariner Wealth Advisors
Like the dominant football team that tells its opponents it intends to run the ball and dares them to stop it, Marty Bicknell long ago put the U.S. wealth-management sector on notice: It was going to grow—a lot—with a laser-focused acquisition strategy.

He and his team at Mariner Wealth Advisors drove the ball down the field throughout 2022, executing nine acquisitions that have boosted its total assets under management past $100 billion. That’s a long way from the $300 million Bicknell started with when he founded the firm in 2006.

The year produced what many firms might consider a blitzkrieg of M&A activity, with nine additions, but that was a comparative slowdown from 2021, which produced 14 acquisitions. It started in February with Arbor Wealth Management of Miramar Beach, Fla., and a $527 million pop in assets under management. The biggest catch of 2022 came in August with The Financial Services Network and its $26 billion AUM. 

The acquisition playbook for the rest of 2022 shook out like this: 

Emerson Wealth of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., came on board in May with $612 million in AUM. June produced a twofer: Taylor Wealth Management Partners of Boston to start the month with $347.3 million additional in AUM, and within two weeks of that deal, Corbenic Partners of Bethlehem, Pa., and $1 billion in AUM. 

It boated another marlin in August with Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Heber Fuger Wendin Investment Advisors and its $8.6 billion in AUM. September brought in Pittsburgh-based Executive Wealth Counselors, adding $256 million. On Dec. 7, it announced the addition of Hayes Financial in San Jose, Calif, with $325 million in AUM, and less than two weeks later, Mariner wrapped up the year by snapping up McGervey Wealth Management of Canton, Ohio, with $105 million in AUM.

Grand total: nine deals, $37.77 billion in assets. That’s more than the Securities and Exchange Commission’s database showed for Mariner SEC just a year earlier.

Laura Kelly and David Toland, State of Kansas
It’s pretty rare to find a public-sector executive listed among the biggest deal-makers of any year, but there’s no denying that Gov. Laura Kelly and her lieutenant governor/Secretary of Commerce, David Toland, orchestrated a historic business deal for this region.

In July, they formally announced that the legislative incentives approved in the spring had secured a commitment from Panasonic Energy to build a $4 billion manufacturing plant near De Soto in Johnson County. The plant, being built with more than $1 billion in state incentives, will produce batteries for electric vehicles, with Tesla as the likely destination.

Executives from construction companies, developers, and workforce development organizations say the 4,000 people to be employed there will only be a start: At least twice that number of jobs are expected to blossom on the 9,000-acre site of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, which can accommodate massive growth from Panasonic suppliers and from distribution and warehousing enterprises.

“There is absolutely no doubt this project will be transformative for De Soto, the region, and the entire state of Kansas,” Kelly said. “This facility doesn’t just represent 8,000 high-paying jobs for Kansans—it also represents my administration’s success in creating a pro-business climate that attracts young talent, supports innovation, and drives a more prosperous future. I’m glad we were able to successfully work with leaders of both parties to bring Panasonic home to Kansas.”

Allan Swan, president of Panasonic Energy of North America, references the key development attributes often cited as attractions for manufacturers with its location, cost structures, and quality workforce. 

On top of that, he laid praise at the feet of Kelly, Toland, and the statehouse. “Kansas,” he said, “is full of people who work together for the common good. There’s not many places—remember, we looked at over a dozen states—there’s not many places where there’s a non-partisan approach that you all have done for this project.”