From a young age, Howard Sherman says he’s always had a knack for seeing the bigger picture. It’s a talent he shares with his wife, actress Sela Ward, telling Mississippi Today that she can transform the words on a script into a three-dimensional moment on screen.
“I was blessed with the kind of aptitude that I could look at something and see what isn’t there, what’s possible,” he said. “That same gift I have in the business world — I can see the genesis of an idea. I can see what we need to bring together.”
In his quest to be the Democratic challenger to face U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker in November, Sherman, a 63-year-old venture capitalist from California who lives in Meridian, has built a campaign that plays up his businessman bona fides.
Leading up to the June 5 primary, in which Sherman came out on top over two veteran lawmakers, critics, including Sherman’s opponents, raised questions about Mississippi ties and lack of political experience.
Rep. David Baria, a third-term legislator from Bay St. Louis, who Sherman faces in a June 26 runoff election has continued to beat that drum. WLOX-TV reported that Baria told a Biloxi crowd of county supervisors: “He hasn’t been here long enough to know what has to be done and just how hard it is to do it when you’re working as a public servant.”
After Baria received the endorsement of the Legislative Black Caucus, one of its members, Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, also hinted that Sherman is an unknown quantity for voters: “I think that most of my Democratic colleagues are supporting Baria. I don’t know much about Sherman.”
An inspection of Sherman’s U.S. Senate financial disclosure form, which all candidates must file with the clerk of that body, and lists more than 10 companies he has been involved with in in Mississippi, Florida, California and Michigan, begins to shed light on Sherman’s business activities.
The form lists Sherman as managing partner at Inventure Holdings LLC, and its sister company, Inventure Medical LLC. On the campaign trail, Sherman frequently references deals that he has put together over the years, creating jobs and opportunities for workers.
On his LinkedIn profile, Sherman describes Inventure Holdings as a company that generates, monitors and mines “deal flow for start-up and young company opportunities where Inventure’s ‘playbook,’ ‘rolodex,’ and financial resources can positively impact enterprise performance and shareholder value.”
Both companies are listed on the Senate disclosure form as based in Meridian and Inventure Holdings includes a Meridian address on its website. There is no record of either business with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office. Mississippi Today visited the address listed for Inventure Holdings, which is housed in a one-story building between a CEFCO gas station and a Holiday Inn Express in Meridian.
Records show the Community Cable and Broadband LLC., which shares a building with Inventure, is run by Sherman’s brother-in-law, Granberry Ward.
Both Inventure and Inventure Medical are registered in California, however, where the Secretary of State’s Office there lists both companies as suspended.
A representative of the California Secretary of State’s Office told Mississippi Today that Inventure Holdings, LLC was suspended on May 8, 2018 — about one month before the Mississippi primary election. Inventure Medical was suspended on May 9, 2017, and by the California Franchise Tax Board on Sept. 1, 2017. Under California state law neither company can operate in that state until the issues surrounding the suspension are resolved but the representative of the California secretary of state’s office declined to provide specifics about Inventure’s case.
When Mississippi Today asked the Sherman campaign for clarification, attorney Anna Davis with Adams and Reese law firm in Birmingham responded on Sherman’s behalf in a written statement, saying that, “both LLCs were incorporated outside of Mississippi; however, Mississippi is the principal place of business for both corporations and both are headquartered in Mississippi.” Davis added that she she did not know if that was the specific reason for the suspension.
Davis said that the state of incorporation is irrelevant to where a corporation does business. She said she has not been in touch with the Secretary of State’s office in California, but that, “generally a suspension is the result of a state employee forgetting to input a required form.”
Sherman told Mississippi Today he is in the process of getting registered in Mississippi.
He also frequently points to the work of Hope Village For Children Inc., a nonprofit in Meridian that he and his wife launched in 2000 to help children who are neglected or abused. The organization owns five cottages on almost 30 acres of land, where multiple services are offered for children who have been removed from their homes. These services range from emergency shelter while they wait for foster placement or reunion with their family, therapy, classes for older children to learn how to eventually live independently, and psychiatric and psychological assessments.
Records from the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office show that the organization has grown steadily over the years, starting off with a little more than $630,000 in its first year in 2001 to almost $4.2 million in the most recently available tax year, 2017. Hope Village’s IRS records also show that the organization, which in 2016 employed nearly 200 people, raised its operating budget from a combination of donations, government grants and fees.
Sherman believes he has a proven track record of success as a deal maker will come in handy if he is elected to the Senate. In 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Sherman sold his $40 million CD storage product company, Roundhouse Inc., to Targus, today a leading manufacturer of laptop bags and tablet cases. The details of the deal were not disclosed to the public, but the newspaper reported Sherman and his colleagues at Roundhouse received payment in stock and cash.
Targus later sued Sherman in Massachusetts state court, arguing that Sherman had not “accurately represented Roundhouse’s financial condition and resulting stock purchase value.” Court documents state that Sherman “countered that Targus had made certain misrepresentations about its financial condition apparently affecting the value of the Targus stock.” After an unsuccessful mediation, in 2010, a Massachusetts appeals court affirmed Targus’ breach of contract claims against Sherman.”
Sherman said he has been a businessman for 39 years and has been involved with or founded over 20 companies during that time.
“There was a dispute about an earn out and that’s what happens when you have a dispute, it is resolved in the courts,” he said.
Sherman credits his business planning experience in developing several 100 day plans to address healthcare, job creation, education, infrastructure, prison and criminal justice reform and children. The ideas in his 100-day plan “transcend party,” he said.
“It sounds sexy, but it’s literally what in the private sector we do every day,” Sherman told Mississippi Today on The Jungle: Mississippi Today’s Election Podcast last week. It’s a way to hold himself accountable and lay out exactly what he intends to accomplish, he said.
This plan is what caused Rep. Omeria Scott to throw her support behind Sherman, she said. Days after the primary where she garnered 24 percent of the vote, Scott and Sherman held a press conference in her home town of Laurel to announce her endorsement.
“It was policy that really drove me towards him, how he was able to articulate all these big areas he felt he could impact,” Scott told Mississippi Today. “Those are the things I talked about on the campaign trail, those are the things in Howard’s 100-day plan.”
This is a skill Sherman says he is confident in. In the business world, people rarely do favors unless it benefits them in some way, he said.
“It’s deal making. I don’t want to sound like the president but it’s literally having something to offer,” Sherman said. “Right now Roger (Wicker) doesn’t have anything to offer except ‘I will support the president 97 percent of the time.’”
If the voters choose him in the primary and ultimately in November, Sherman believes he can work across the aisle to get things done for Mississippi.
“Yes, we’re going to argue about certain things that are polarizing but let’s at least make sure our health care is fixed and we’ve got jobs and people are coming here,” Sherman said. “Then we can argue about the emotional issues.