People on the Move: Orion, Kretek & Tantus Tobacco

NATIONAL REPORT -- Retailers, wholesalers and suppliers in the convenience store industry are only as good as their management teams and employees. In this special roundup, CSNews Online runs down the most recent executive changes, new hires, promotions and people achievements happening in the industry.

American Realty Corp.

American Realty Capital Properties Inc. and its private capital management business Cole Capital appointed Michael Ezzell as executive vice president of private capital markets. With more than 16 years of experience in the financial services industry, Ezzell most recently served as senior vice president, product and business development at Cole Capital.

“We are extremely pleased and excited to have Mike Ezzell head the day-to-day operations of Cole Capital, the leading sponsor of non-traded, net lease REITs,” said David S. Kay, president of American Realty Capital Properties.

As a senior member of both the capital markets and relationship management teams, Ezzell  was responsible for new product development, opening new distribution channels, securing selling agreements with broker-dealers for existing and new product offerings, and overseeing Cole Capital’s due-diligence obligations.

Prior to joining Cole Capital, Ezzell spent more than five years with AIG Advisor Group, most recently as director of investment research. He also served as a vice president with J.P. Carey Asset Management.

Ezzell earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in economics and political science from Stetson University and holds FINRA Series 7, 24 and 63 licenses.


Ben Fischer has been named the new CEO of CROSSMARK, a sales and marketing services company based in Plano, Texas. He will assume his new role effective April 7.

Fischer most recently served as president and chief operating officer, and will succeed current CEO Joe Crafton who is retiring after 26 years of service with the company.

“We are not only a well-established, leading sales agency, but also a well-established, leading marketing services company as a result of Joe’s vision for the company,” Fischer stated. “I look forward to building on this success and will ensure we stay focused on the core tenets of great service, great planning and great execution, while further driving the effectiveness of sales and marketing integration to benefit our clients’ businesses.”

Fischer began his career in sales with Unilever and joined CROSSMARK in 1990. He has held various roles within the company ranging from account executive and regional vice president to president of the sales agency prior to being named chief operating officer in 2009.

Kretek International Inc.

Kretek International appointed Russell G. Mancuso as vice president of field sales, with responsibility for direction and focus of the national sales force for all Kretek brands. He will report to Patrick Hurd, Kretek's national sales vice president. 

Mancuso joined the Kretek organization in September 2013 as vice president of business development for Kretek’s Tobacco Media Group, and has been participating in Kretek distributor meetings for the past several weeks.

Mancuso’s initial focus will be to ensure Kretek’s national sales force continues to partner with distributor customers as changing assignments occur in response to new product introductions.

Prior to joining the Kretek organization, Mancuso served as senior vice president of national accounts at Commonwealth Brands. He was also previously general manager of RBA, and director of sales for Liggett Group.

Orion Food Systems LLC

Orion Food Systems, the international foodservice provider of brands such as Hot Stuff Pizza, promoted Steve Watkins to the CEO role. Watkins has been a significant member of the Orion management team for the past 25 years and was most recently president, chief financial officer and director for the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based company.

Watkins began his career at Orion as a financial analyst for then-Orion parent company Schwan’s Sales Enterprises, and was part of the original management team that launched Orion Food Systems. He has held management positions in sales and marketing, national/international franchising, and finance and accounting. 

Watkins was instrumental in facilitating Orion’s master franchise agreement in the Middle East, and was managing director for the company’s international presence in both the United Kingdom and France. 

“Orion Food Systems pioneered the concept of developing high-quality foodservice products and brands in c-stores, on military bases and in other high-traffic locations almost a quarter-century ago,” he said. “I had the privilege to be part of that initiative that laid the foundation for the company and am very excited about leading an incredibly talented team who will take Orion, our franchise partners and customers to the next level of foodservice success."

Tantus Tobacco

Tantus Tobacco, based in Russell Springs, Ky., hired Mark Turner as senior vice president of sales development. He brings more than 32 years experience in the tobacco industry as the former directer of sales for national accounts of the Eastern Division of the United States and director of sales for Canada for Swisher International, where he left in fall 2013.

“Mark brings a wealth of knowledge and professionalism to the Tantus organization. We are excited about the opportunity he brings to us in continuing to form a viable sales force to better serve our valuable customers,” said Brian Cooper, CEO of Tantus Tobacco.

Tantus currently employs 35 salespeople with plans to double that number in the coming year. The company recently entered the vapor category with 24/7 and is expanding its Red Buck Cigar line.

“I am very excited about this opportunity to become a part of Tantus Tobacco. I look forward to working with Mr. Brian Cooper and all the team members of this vibrant and growing company,” Turner said.

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