Filipp Chebotarev is the Chief Operating Officer and Managing Partner of Cambridge Companies SPG where he oversees all daily operations, develops and maintains strategic partnerships and drives initiative for organisational growth. Filipp graduated from University of California Irvine with honors and went on to obtain a wide array of experience in politics, business, revenue operations and organisational development.
While working at the 39th Congressional District of California, Filipp maintained and developed new relationships with business, government, community and other constituency groups. Filipp was responsible for various reporting aspects to keep Congressman Ed Royce informed on local and national scale events that had an impact on legislation and political positions relevant to the Representative and his District.
Filipp later transitioned into a corporate role with DaVita (DVA). During his tenure, he was directly responsible for Revenue Operations of two of the largest billing regions that make up the organisation. Filipp oversaw weekly and monthly billing cycles for regions that comprise roughly 70% of the $12 billion US based revenue, oversaw the revenue integration of several key acquisitions and JV partnerships, and reviewed DaVita Revenue Operations and Compliance in accordance with SOX (Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002.) Aside from Revenue Operations, Filipp was a leading member of the National Innovation Committee which focused on organisational development, process engineering, process improvement and team building. His team was responsible for acquiring over 700 new dialysis centres and vertically intergrading these acquisitions into the parent company. His efforts also contributed to new JV partnerships for DaVita in nine countries in Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.
At Cambridge SPG, Filipp also oversees corporate public relations campaigns and evaluates investments for discernable social impact. He maintains strategic partnerships with board members, high value clients and holds key board seats at Cambridge SPG Portfolio Companies. Mr. Chebotarev shares a Board Seat with actress Sarah Michelle Gellar and Galit Laibow CEO at Foodstirs, Inc., actress Jennifer Garner and CEO John Foraker at Once Upon a Farm LLC, a rapidly growing California based baby-food company, Tosi Health and others. Filipp also sits on the advisory board of Pelican Point Capital, a Global Merchant Bank based in Newport Beach, CA. He is a Strategic Opportunity Investor in real estate, Angel Investor and Venture Capitalist with a strong focus in Food/Beverage, Technology, Hardware, FinTech, Biomedical and Healthcare. He is also underwriter and major donor to Harvesters Food Bank in Orange County and is actively involved with Shoes That Fit, a 501 C 3 empowering children in low income demographic areas by buying them new shoes.
For our June edition, we caught up with Mr. Chebotarev who told CEO Today: “My ultimate motivators are the relationships in my life: my family, my friends and the ability to give back to my community. I do what I say, say what I do and keep integrity at the core of everything I undertake.” Below, he tells us more about his career path and the main influences that have helped him develop into one of the US’ top subject matter experts on real estate and private equity investments.
What were the origins of Cambridge Companies SPG? At what point did you start the company?
We launched what would become Cambridge Companies SPG when I still worked at DaVita, one of the largest healthcare providers in the United States. I learned how to grow with a solid team and abide by the strong core values the company instilled in us from the start. With over 50,000 employees at DaVita, I learned the power of a clearly defined mission, vision and set of core values and what that can do for organisational development and structured growth.
In 2010, I realised that I could take my motivation and skill set and apply it to launching my own company, thus Cambridge Companies SPG was born. At the time my sister Polina Chebotareva and I teamed up with several partners who specialised in real estate and private equity, to invest in distressed real estate opportunities in the Western US. Throughout the course of four years, we acquired a total of 44 distressed real estate assets, formed partnerships with investor groups such as Diamond Rock Capital Partners and Pelican Point Investment Group and defined our Strategic Opportunity Investment thesis. In the first four years, we participated in over $350 million of real estate transactions on the buy and sell side. Out of the 44 investments, most did very well, few were difficult to divest out of, but generally, we did very well for several reasons. We bought distressed assets in quality locations at the bottom of the deepest recession since the 1930s, and sold them once the market recovered. The strategy worked and made ourselves and our early backers a lot of money. In 2016, we knew that prices in any market that we would be interested in buying real estate had recovered and we felt that the upside potential was now minimal, when compared to 2010-2014.
When we decided to shift our investment focus from real estate to consumer businesses in the food and beverage sector, we were a little worried. We weren’t sure if our investors will follow us and support us in our new strategy, but we saw an opportunity and knew that the only way to realise the opportunity was to go for it. We invest in companies that have established proof of concept and are ready to scale nationally or in some cases globally. The thesis is: “If it’s working in 5,000 points of sale – it should work in 10,000 and if it works in 10,000 stores – it should work in 20,000”. Our focus is on ‘better-for-you’ products with a strong focus on organic, all natural and non-GMO. Some of the companies we invested in are Wild Friends (nut butter/oatmeal), Tosi Health (snack and supplements), Powerful Brands (sports nutrition), Owl’s Brew (beer), Foodstirs (baking), Once Upon a Farm (baby food) , 4th and Heart (butter) and more. We are growing the portfolio and look for companies that have strong social values and connect with a wide core customer base. Our companies have a sophisticated grocery and convenience distribution network but also emphasise the importance in DTC (Direct to Consumer) and Amazon sales.
What are the company’s mission and values? Have these changed over the years?
At Cambridge SPG, our mission is to invest in highly skilled operators of disruptive category leading companies. Today that applies to the food & beverage/Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) sector.
In concept, our social mission is to incrementally revolutionise the nutritional landscape of the United States, as well as the world, and through this, to create positive social impact by increasing availability of nutritionally superior food and beverage products for mass market.
I modeled the Cambridge Companies’ values after my mentors at DaVita and based our company on the same foundation. We are dedicated and devoted to our clients, our investment partners and society at large. Our investment team works relentlessly to grow the business and achieve desirable outcomes for our investment partners and portfolio companies.
What does the business look like today?
From July 2016 to present day Cambridge Companies SPG has invested over $20 million of equity in 20 companies.
Foodstirs Modern Baking, which was co-founded by actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, launched products in an additional 7,500 US based grocery stores and all US based Starbucks locations in 2018.
Once Upon a Farm Baby Food, co-founded by actress Jennifer Garner, continued to expand a successful national retail roll out.
Matchabar which offers ready to drink Matcha Green tea lured Platinum Artist Drake as an investor and brand advocate and expanded throughout the US
Powerful Brands continues to double annual revenue YOY as a fast-growing emerging sports nutrition brand.
Tosi continues to expand their signature superbites in the US, Middle East and Europe.
What is the company’s current business strategy?
Our strategy is to continue learning. Each opportunity we look at uncovers new knowledge and understanding. This curiosity is what drives us, our ability to underwrite effectively and monetise this curiosity is what has led to success.
How has your role impacted Cambridge Companies’ performance in the past 12 months?
Cambridge’s performance over the last 12 months has been incredible. We have divested out of several large real estate holdings and made important investments that have shaken up the US food and beverage market. I think my role in all of this activity is very important, but not as important as the collective role of everyone at the firm. If I had to choose one area of focus that attributed to the incredible performance over the course of the last 12 months, it would have to be the strong dedication from our team.
As COO, how do you ensure you are directing the company in the correct direction?
As COO, I work every day to ensure that Cambridge Companies SPG is headed in the correct direction. Myself and the partners at Cambridge invest both as angel investors in our brands and as majority shareholders. We align our interests with our limited partners and our portfolio company interest to become collective stakeholders who are all striving towards the same goal.
I believe that in order to grow, you have to be uncomfortable and you have to move fast. As soon as I feel comfortable, I get uncomfortable because that means that I’ve stopped growing, learning and making a difference. To make important decisions, I leverage the deep pool of experience from our team, confidently identify a strategy and pursue the strategy. If the strategy experiences a road block, we pause, adjust the strategy and move on.
We take what we do very seriously, as our investments have deep downstream impact. This year our portfolio companies are on track to exceed $250 million of annual revenue and sell well over 150 million units in the “better for you” product space. We helped consumers make 150 million better decisions to buy a better for you, organic or non-gmo product instead of purchasing an artificial / highly processed food or beverage product. We helped consumers make 30 million decisions to buy a ‘better-for-you’ product instead of purchasing an artificial/highly processed food or beverage product. Our investments contributed to creating over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and we reached over 125,000,000 million people around the world on social media. Our investments are incrementally reshaping the nutritional landscape of the US and contributing to a positive impact on public health.
There are currently 7 billion people in the world and experts predict that there will be over 10 billion of us by 2050. We all eat multiple times a day and this isn’t changing anytime soon. The one thing that is changing rapidly however is what we choose to eat.
In your opinion, how will the healthy food and beverage market look in the next decade?
For over 15 years now consumer preferences have been shifting to organic, non-GMO, all natural choices and as media continues to drive more awareness, this has really intensified over the past five years. I believe that isn’t the first strong wave – it will get even deeper with an emphasis on not only organic/clean-label products, but also highly functional ingredient delivery, a focus on sustainability and transparency in the supply chain. I see these trends becoming mainstream over the next decade.
Our market will continue to grow and the companies we choose to invest in will continue to deliver fresh, ‘better-for-you’ products. Consumers have a high focus on simpler, few ingredients and brands are acknowledging this trend by providing healthy dietary options. I believe that big consumer product companies are going to continue to invest in cleaning up their current offerings and will continue to acquire food and beverage brands that align with the values of new generation shoppers.
Where would you like Cambridge Companies to be in three years?
As an organisation, we want to have a meaningful, positive impact for our investors, our mission-driven portfolio companies and the US food system, from a macro perspective. We aim to have and continue to build a strong team. Our people make up our results – we want to build our team with like-minded professionals who share the same drive and core values. As long as we are learning, making a positive impact on our stakeholders and having fun along the way, I will be happy in what we accomplish three years from now.
What’s your advice to fledgling entrepreneurs?
I’ll keep this one simple:
Dream Big: Follow your heart and your dreams. There will be people along the way who support you and others who will try to throw you off your path. Honor your individuality and you will attract like-minded people.
Authenticity is Everything: Be yourself, be genuine and you will succeed. When I am evaluating a business, I can tell if the Founders are authentic and genuine and if they are passionate about what they’re doing. Passion is important when things get tough and in every business, there will always be ups and downs. Passion is the drive that fuels entrepreneurs to break through the tough times and come out on the other side.
Ask for Help and Build a Team: Hire or partner with those like-minded and authentic people who know more than you and let them shine. Collective knowledge is powerful and essential to a successful team.
Do it Right: Don’t take shortcuts. Most things in life that produce incredible results are supported by an incredible amount of work. If you are going to do it, do it the right way. Don’t be afraid to be busy if you are passionate about what you are building.
Continuous Improvement: Stay hungry for knowledge and if you start feeling like you have it all figured out and start feeling complacent, reevaluate. If you are ready to stay in the place you are currently at, then stay, but if you want to grow – challenge yourself even if it means being uncomfortable.