From the Desk of Dr. Doom: The Painter, The Napkin, and Escrow

November 14, 2023by Mike Cronin
A Chief Restructuring Officer sits at his desk returning an email re: a startup wind-down
A Chief Restructuring Officer responds to an urgent escrow problem

Trigger Warnings: Rich People Problems

Several years ago, a famous painter passed away, the end of his life complicated by the problems of the wealthy: many heirs are laying claim to his artworld throne. The news came to me, Dr. Doom, not through the gossip of the art world but via a terse, unexpected phone call that cut through a lazy Sunday, interrupting my most recent issue of Harvard Business Review as I binge-watched The Simpsons.

The voice on the other end belonged to the lawyer of the late Anton LaVey*, a painter whose canvases commanded the hushed reverence usually reserved for holy relics, his favorite muses being religious figures and beloved by Catholics worldwide. Anton had departed this world as unexpectedly as his art had entered it, leaving behind a legacy to be marveled at and, as it turned out, a mess to be managed.

An artist paints on a canvas before his life is cut short and his heirs must deal with an escrow
An artist paints on a canvas before his life is cut short and his heirs must deal with an escrow

The chaos was not born from the absence of a will, but from its existence on a canvas far less enduring than those Anton was famed for—a simple cocktail napkin from his favorite late-night haunt he visited with his lady friend. Upon his death, it became the disputed map to his treasure trove of assets. The family and his lover,  each member more colorful and combative than the last, could not agree on the legitimacy or the interpretation of the napkin’s scribbles. Who will inherit the vast fortune?

Enter Dr. Doom, not with a palette and brush, but with a ledger and the law. My task? To step into the eye of the storm, to manage the escrow and payment distribution of Anton’s considerable estate with the impartiality of a judge and as precise as the details on Anton’s famed “Fatima Miracle”.

The escrow process for the uninitiated is the fiscal netherworld where assets are neither here nor there—they are held in trust, secure but static until the warring factions agree, or until a higher power dictates otherwise.

My fiduciary responsibility was clear: to act in the estate’s best interest and all legitimate claimants. With an estate composed of high-value assets—paintings that could fetch the GDP of a small island nation at auction, royalties from prints and retrospectives, and the anticipated spike in posthumous sales—I had to ensure that not a penny was misplaced or misappropriated.

The journey was fraught with legal battles, contested will interpretations, and the occasional paintbrush thrown in my direction. As the executor, I used a firml hand, managing each sale and watching the escrow account with an eagle’s eye. Each painting, each print that found its way to a new home, did so under my supervision, with funds transferred securely and transparently into the escrow account.

As funds accumulated, my role expanded to mediator, therapist, and sometimes, bouncer, as tensions flared and the family’s true colors bled through. I kept the process moving, verifying each transaction, each bid with the meticulous attention to detail that I was renowned for.

Ultimately, the resolution came not with the grand finale of an art opening but with the quiet rustle of legal papers and the soft chime of a balanced escrow account. The will—yes, even that scribbled on a napkin—was honored, the assets distributed, the debts settled, and Anton LaVey’s legacy preserved.

The real lesson here? Ravix Group manages escrows after a startup’s assets have been distributed.

Is your company thinking of restructuring or winding down? Schedule a one-hour consultation with Dr. Doom immediately for an assessment and receive a wind-down playbook.

*Names have been changed to protect the traumatized…heirs. 

Mike Cronin

Michael leads the Advisory Services practice of Ravix Group. He has been handling the wind-down and liquidation of Silicon Valley companies for the last 25 years. Prior to joining Ravix Group, Michael spent 17 years with Diablo Management Group, Inc., where as a Senior Consultant, he managed orderly wind-downs, liquidations, and Assignments for the Benefit of Creditors (ABCs). Additionally, Michael has served as Bankruptcy Plan Agent and Finance Manager for distressed companies and deal-related escrow accounts. His industry experience is broad and diverse, from high-tech manufacturers, online service-providers, and software companies to event-planning start-ups and grocery chains. Michael is forthright and works with all deal constituencies, whether investors, shareholders, creditors or ex-employees with a consistently high degree respect and concern. Michael’s ability to address both big-picture issues as well as a deal’s fine details serve him well in addressing the needs of the Silicon Valley’s varied start-ups. Michael graduated from the University of California Davis with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Managerial Economics. He began his professional career with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), where he spent four years designing and implementing management information systems for a diverse client base of Fortune 500 Companies. Michael remains proud of his early experiences interning with the Oakland A’s and Senator Pete Wilson, as well as his first childhood job selling found golf balls back to the hacks that lost them.
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