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News | February 27, 2023
3 minute read

MiBiz Honors Warner Partner Justin Stemple, Shepler’s Transaction with Dealmaker of the Year Awards

MiBiz has honored Warner Norcross + Judd LLP partner Justin W. Stemple as its 2023 Dealmaker of the Year for his extensive work with employee stock ownership plans, or ESOPs. The business publication also recognized the firm’s work on the sale of the iconic Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry as its 2023 Transportation Deal of the Year.

Both will be honored during a special event on Wednesday, March 1 in Grand Rapids that recognizes the top mergers, acquisitions and other deals in West Michigan. Now in its 10th year, the MiBiz M&A Deals and Dealmaker awards celebrate outstanding achievements and spotlight best practices for transactions of all types.

Stemple was recognized for the work he did on 28 ESOP transactions during 2022 – the second busiest year for ESOPs in his 18-year history with the firm. He represented either the company or ESOP trustee as counsel in a wide range of transactions for manufacturers, distributors, mechanical contractors, construction companies, retailers, engineering firms, architectural firms and professional services agencies. Ten of these were for Michigan companies, and the other 18 were for organizations around the country.

His nomination read in part: “Justin navigates these and other issues with grace and skill. He is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to creating ESOPs and to working with the families and management teams that lead them.”

Stemple notes this is an exceptional time for ESOP transactions, which are being driven when legacy owners of a company who don’t have a natural successor, family member or management team in place to transfer the business to. They are attractive to companies, owners and employees for their tax advantages and other creative uses.

Warner was also recognized for its work on the sale of Shepler’s, a multigenerational family-owned transit company, to the Hoffmann Family of Companies in a stock sale. The Warner transaction team was led by Gregory T. Demers, Jeffrey A. Ott and Emily E. Cantor and included work from 10 attorneys.

Shepler’s started out shuttling passengers to Mackinac Island from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace in 1945 with a single ferry. Over the next 77 years, Shepler’s grew to its current fleet of seven ferries with a total capacity in excess of 1,400 passengers. More than 600,000 passengers a year board a Shepler’s ferry. Shepler’s – the umbrella name for three separate companies owned by the Shepler family – secured the services of an investment banker in 2021 to explore the opportunity of a sale.

Warner helped the family evaluate 20 proposals before selecting and leading negotiations with Florida-based Hoffman, which shared the Shepler family’s strong commitment to “first-class service for every guest, every day.”

The nomination read in part: “The transaction was not without its challenges, and one of the largest centered on real estate issues. Since its founding in 1945, Shepler’s had grown by acquiring more than 42 pieces of real estate in Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Many of these properties did not have modern legal descriptions or surveys, instead relying on folksy descriptions along the lines of ‘start at the maple tree on the corner of X and Y streets and go to the big rock’ – when neither the tree nor the rock still exists!”

About Warner

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