Aurora’s Chief Shares His Thoughts on Sale to Matthews

An excerpt from the June 29, 2015, issue of Funeral Service Insider (FSI) –

Earlier this month, Matthews International Corp. announced it was buying Aurora Casket Co. from Kohlberg & Co. in a deal valued at $224 million…

Matthews thinks its culture aligns well with Aurora’s. “Their mission is to celebrate every life and create healing moments for families. And that is really similar to the Matthews Memorialization Group’s mission of helping families move from grieving to remembrance and helping our customers grow their business,” says Steve Gackenbach, group president, Memorialization at Matthews International.

Michael Quinn, who was named president and CEO of Aurora when Kohlberg purchased the company in 2012, believes the deal will provide immense value to funeral professionals, and he spent some time with Patti Martin Bartsche, the editor of Kates-Boylston Publications to share some thoughts on the sale.

When Kohlberg & Co. acquired Aurora Casket Co. in 2012, you assumed the role of president and CEO. Can you talk a little bit about your time at the helm of the company?

Aurora has a rich 125-year history of service to its customers, of product innovation and of employee development. Joining Aurora in my role was a unique responsibility, given that I was following five generations of family members who founded and built this company employing countless craftsmen, and always dedicated to providing high quality products to families in their time of need. It has been a real privilege for me to be given the opportunity, and I’m proud of what the Aurora team has accomplished during the last three years.

It has also been an extremely rewarding experience to learn the funeral service business. Losing, and then making arrangements for and burying both of my parents in the years right before I joined Aurora taught me a lot about what families need as they face the loss of a loved one.

Aurora’s purpose of ‘helping to celebrate every life and creating healing moments for families’ guided us to create, which I believe is the most innovative product in funeral service. allows a person to save treasured memories, photographs, stories, and private messages to loved ones. People can also tell their family and their funeral director exactly how they want to be remembered in a personalized final celebration. The combination of their story left behind for future generations and the description of a meaningful last goodbye goes a long way to creating healing moments for families, and that’s giving families what they need!

When Kohlberg & Co. purchased Aurora in 2012, was there a time frame put in place to sell Aurora as many have speculated?

No. It is impossible to tell how long it will take to develop and then execute a new growth strategy. What we knew was that funeral service is a very stable industry, with negative volume influences like a rising cremation rate, but also positive volume influences like the forthcoming wave of baby boomer deaths. The investment thesis was anchored by Aurora’s (then) rich 122-year history that provided a great manufacturing and service infrastructure, a seasoned employee group and thousands of loyal customers. We saw an opportunity to build on that foundation by investing in products, marketing and people – the plan my team built was to provide growth on top of that foundation over a long period of time. It is a compliment to the Aurora team that we have an opportunity to realize the value we created.

You’ve served as president or chief financial officer for other companies purchased by Kohlberg & Co. What was your experience like this time heading up Aurora Casket Co.?

It has been a great experience. The Aurora team was ready for a new challenge and a new strategy, and most of the ideas that propelled our growth were generated internally; some were present when I arrived and just needed investment and nurturing. Almost all of our current management team was present at the acquisition, and many have stepped up to new roles to handle new challenges and are now excited by the idea of being part of a bigger team, which will undoubtedly create opportunities for growing their careers well into the future.

It has also been rewarding to help current customers grow and improve their businesses and acquire new customers by offering them business building solutions that they understand will help them grow their business and provide better service to the families they serve.

When what you do every day creates healing moments for families in a time of need, it’s a great experience!