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Ben Wagner, 39

An accountant-turned-entrepreneur leans on his mentor for advice, such as how to "fail forward."


  • By Brian Hartz
  • | 5:00 p.m. October 12, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Ben Wagner, left, learned to 'fail forward' from his mentor David Koffman.
Ben Wagner, left, learned to 'fail forward' from his mentor David Koffman.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Class of 2023
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Construction. Accounting. Real estate. Golf and yacht club management. Angel investing. Ben Wagner’s career has been nothing short of eclectic, so it’s all too appropriate that he now finds himself working for HSK Industries, one of the region’s most diversified companies. 

Owned by entrepreneurial brothers David and Jeffrey Koffman, HSK Industries’ portfolio includes bagel shops; a glass and mirror manufacturer; a kitchen and bath installation firm; a Tennessee-based maker of foam products; a tile, stone and cabinetry business; a golf club and ski/waterpark resort, both in New Jersey; and Ride Entertainment of Sarasota, which organizes festivities such as the Winter Spectacular event on St. Armands Circle. 

Wagner, a Chicago native and avid golfer, double-majored in accounting and finance at Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri, before moving to Sarasota, lured by the opportunity to play golf year-round. It didn’t hurt that he was no stranger to the area. 

“My grandparents would come down here,” he says. “They were snowbirds about six months of the year.” 

As a CPA, Wagner performed audits for many local businesses and organizations, including companies owned by the Koffmans. Years later, he started “dabbling in venture capital and angel investing” and struck up a conversation with David Koffman at an investors’ dinner. 

“One thing led to another, and they brought me on board as a partner,” Wagner says. “That was about a year ago. I did their audit 15-plus years ago on one of David’s companies and it came full circle.” 

So much so Wagner says David Koffman has become his mentor and someone he aspires to emulate.

“This guy is unbelievable,” Wagner says of David Koffman. “He’s the calm, cool, collected human being that I would want to be when I’m his age. You tell him anything, good or bad, and it’s almost like a monotone response. And he’s one of the smartest people I know, numbers-wise, like how to structure deals, how to buy a company.”

Wagner, however, has learned from David Koffman that numbers can take you only so far in your decision-making process. 

“There’s one big thing that he always says, and that’s ‘fail forward,’” he says. “If it works, great; if it doesn’t, that’s fine. That’s how you learn — from your mistakes.”

Wagner adds, “At first, I was like, ‘That just sounds crazy.’ I want to do my due diligence and research and make sure it’s the right, educated choice, but sometimes you don’t have enough time in the day and you have to go with your gut. That’s what I’m learning from David.”

 

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