J. Richard Walker

Richard Walker has directly served as a corporate banker, financial advisor, and crisis manager throughout the U.S. and abroad. He has 30 years of experience in analyzing, underwriting, restructuring and funding leveraged finance and turnaround transactions in specialty industries, as well as the broader retail, manufacturing and distribution industries. Mr. Walker has served as a senior executive of a public multi-bank holding company, founding board member of a community agency, oversight executive of a community organization and founding Chairman/CEO of a public charter school. In 1997, Mr. Walker formed Oak Capital Group to provide merchant banking and corporate finance advisory services to emerging and mid-market firms. Among Oak Capital Group’s various portfolio companies, three (3) firms focus on education services (Starboard Partners, Aspen Partners and Banyan Strategics) which primarily serve charter schools in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Mr. Walker holds a BS in Finance from the Brigham Young University Marriott School and a graduate degree from Rutgers University Stonier Graduate School of Banking.

Mr. Walker owes his love of education primarily to a mother and a wife who are heartfelt, transformative teachers who deeply love children into becoming their best. Their devotion to education at its most crucial level inspired him to invest more of his time in making more heartfelt education possible. Mr. Walker’s subsequent experiences as founding Chairman of Lake Norman Charter School caused him to more fully appreciate his ancestors who founded various schools and a university. He came to understand education to be more “heart” driven than “mind” driven. More importantly, he came to recognize the specific gifts of his teachers and their Great Hearts for providing and nurturing the “spark” of great learning in all their students. He now leads Banyan Strategics in a mentor role to the Banyan Strategics family.

Sharon Garner

Sharon has over 12 years’ experience in marketing, underwriting and managing leveraged finance transactions for public and private firms. Her background includes transaction due-diligence management, capital markets sourcing, loan restructuring, and corporate turnarounds. Her areas of expertise are transaction analysis, debt syndications, financial restructuring, structured debt and equity financing, cash flow management, and asset evaluation. Prior to joining Oak Capital Group in 2001, Sharon was with Fleet Capital and First Union Capital Markets where she managed middle market leveraged finance portfolios in excess of $200 million. In 2001, Mrs. Garner joined Oak Capital Group as Business Director where she manages the business affairs of Oak Capital Group investments and various roles in Oak Capital Group consulting engagements. Mrs. Garner graduated from Clemson University with a BS Degree in Accounting.

Mrs. Garner received the gift of education primarily through her parents, particularly her father. Her father’s kind, patient faith in people and their potential led him to teach high school students as his life ministry. While her teachers were extremely influential in bringing academics to life for her, her father’s warmth for people was truly reflected in her love for school and her classmates. Her elementary teachers often noted in her grade reports that Sharon carried exuberant “warmth” to all her classmates – just like her father. She continues to bring “warmth” within Banyan Strategics where she actively seeks to turn well-intentioned strangers into education friends. Ms. Garner’s core trust in genuine, constructive relationships that truly build people is the essence of her passion for education and life. She leads Banyan Strategics in a mentoring role that emphasizes talent and leadership development for all who have strategic relationships within the Banyan Strategics family. Her father’s life ministry still lives within her.

Robert O’Connell

Mr. O’Connell has over 35 years of US and foreign experience in starting and managing financial and business services, consumer products, manufacturing, distribution, and technology-driven enterprises. He led the turnaround of a publicly traded consumer goods importer. He was involved in leading the growth of a medical equipment manufacturer. He also led the startup of a commercial real estate services group as well as the strategic startup of a new manufacturing division of a public company. Mr. O’Connell has served as CEO and board member of two public companies, senior manager of two public firms and founding Chairman/CEO of one private firm. His areas of expertise are commercial real estate, sales and marketing, strategic planning, supply chain optimization, international sourcing and M&A. Through his early years as an institutional broker and advisor for several NYSE firms, he has widely lectured senior executives and managers throughout the financial services industry. Bob holds a BS in Zoology from Brigham Young University with an MBA from Brigham Young University Marriott School.

Mr. O’Connell has realized the value of education to open doors from an early age; he was the first of his family to go further than High School in his education. His desire to learn was initially stimulated by his mother who was interested in having an excellent vocabulary and loved grammar and spelling. He was not inspired by many teachers as he grew up, but the few who saw some potential in him had a lasting impact. As he raised his children, he began to understand that good teachers can create an environment but that learning occurs when the student can see the value of what was being taught in his or her life. He saw that great teachers inspire students to realize their potential through focus and effort and feel they can do well in life. Each child has talents and abilities that can bring fulfillment and purpose if properly directed. His role with Banyan Strategics is to help create a Culture of Learning in each school and assist the administrators, faculty, students and parents to reinforce the timeless principles of growth, development, and engagement.


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