Dwayne Luquetta’s (Yale SOM 2020) career was always focused on big corporations. He worked for PwC and Gerson Lehrman Group prior to his MBA and spent his MBA summer internship with Restaurant Brands International. His interest in small business started in his classes at Yale SOM, where he took Entrepreneurship through Acquisition, Rollups, Consolidations and Serial Acquisitions, and Leading Small and Medium Enterprises.
After his MBA, Luquetta joined Chenmark as Vice President of Finance and Operations. He first learned about Chenmark at Yale SOM when he met two of Chenmark’s three partners, James and Trish Higgins in a class session. Chenmark is a holding company headquartered in Portland, Maine that focuses on acquiring and building small to medium-sized enterprises in the US and Canada with an indefinite hold period.
When Luquetta began at Chenmark, he worked on a variety of projects, ranging from evaluating new potential acquisitions to tackling corporate-wide insurance programs to providing Chenmark’s operating companies with financial and operational analysis. After a few months, he moved into a CFO role for one of Chenmark’s operating companies, a New England–based lawn care business called Mainely Grass.
In 2021, Chenmark acquired Benjamin Moore Kelowna, a paint retailer in British Columbia, Canada. Luquetta knew he was ready to take the leap and become a small business CEO, and he was eager to put his Yale MBA into action. Due to COVID-19-related border issues, closing the deal took over six months. Luquetta and the Chenmark partners used the extra time to learn more about the company and to work out a detailed transition plan with the sellers that resulted in a close partnership. “I’ve developed a great relationship with the previous owners of the business,” Luquetta said. “They had run the business for over 10 years, so I learned a lot from them when I first came on, and we still talk once a week about how things are going. I’ve had to learn to balance learning from them and running the business in a way that makes sense to me. At times that’s been a challenge, but it gets easier with time.”
During his first 30 days as CEO, Luquetta worked 14-hour days to ensure a smooth transition between the previous owners and himself. “I had a lot to learn about the business, which was facing extraordinary challenges as soon as we showed up,” he said. “For example, two weeks into my role as CEO, the region had unprecedented flooding, which caused severe landslides and a weeks-long shut down of the highways and roads used by our suppliers to get us paint. I asked what we did the last time this happened, and everyone looked at me funny and told me it had never happened before. Our supply, which already was witnessing historical challenges, suddenly was at its all-time worst. On top of that, we were in a pandemic, and I was new to the industry and business. I had to learn quickly to control what I could and to try to let other things go. I also learned to rely on and learn from my team.”
Luquetta has made it a priority to foster a positive team culture and increase retention of his employees.
"The previous owners hired some amazing people, who have stayed at the business for years, and I felt that the most important thing coming in was to do everything possible to keep the team. They are the primary reason why the stores’ culture and experience is what it is, so I saw it as my job to keep them happy. I began by hiring a few more people because we were very short-staffed and the team was starting to show burnout. I’m also giving the team the responsibility and opportunity to make bigger decisions, and I try to emphasize that mistakes are going to happen and that that is okay. We all make them, and we can all learn from them together."
As CEO of one of Chenmark’s operating companies, Luquetta has the support of the organization, and the Chenmark partners, behind him. “It’s been great to have Chenmark there to support me, listen to my concerns, and explore ideas with me. But they’ve also been hands-off in a way that’s given me a lot of freedom to try new strategies and learn from them. It’s a great combination, and I’m excited about what the future holds.”