Private Equity with a Social Mission
After running parking business, Martin Nesbitt, '89, shifts gears.
Martin Nesbitt, '89, the former captain of the Albion College basketball team, was starting a career in real estate and looking for pickup games in Chicago. He found himself guarding a quick-footed community activist, Barack Obama. The pair became good friends - years later Nesbitt served as treasurer for both of Obama's presidential campaigns.
He continued to play with the president through tense primary and general election days when the candidate needed to let off steam. But Nesbitt is also a forward-thinking entrepreneur in his own right. In 1998, with the backing of industrialist Penny Pritzker, he founded The Parking Spot, an operator of airport parking lots. Following the 2012 sale of the business to a private equity firm, Nesbitt shifted gears. He is launching a private equity firm, The Vistria Group.
Following are excerpts from a recent conversation we had with Nesbitt as he embarks on his new venture.
Chicago Booth Magazine: Tell us about Vistria. What is its focus?
Nesbitt: We will look at acquiring companies that are highly regulated, where we think the government and the public will need to leverage private capital to address social problems. That kind of search leads to sectors such as education, health care, and financial services. We'll focus on finding opportunities where we can help CEOs and their management teams navigate in these highly regulated situations, and we'll also bring some entrepreneurial and operating expertise to help create transformational growth opportunities.
CBM: How did your earlier project, The Parking Spot, influence its market?
Nesbitt: We created a national brand and a sales and distribution system to get airport parking inventory into the travel space. We leveraged technology to enhance our services. For example, we introduced an internet-based reservation system and a frequent-parker program. We also can see, on a real-time basis, our occupancies and revenues and can therefore respond to the market dynamics in real time by changing rates and offering promotions. All this has resulted in 41 highly efficient locations at 25 airports, and there's a big opportunity to expand internationally.
CBM: You're an active alumnus - you participated in the September Alumni Day event, which brought accomplished alumni to Hyde Park to share their experiences with first-year students. What impressed you about this generation of students?
Nesbitt: They're much more entrepreneurial in their mindset than perhaps we were. We were driven by strategy and investment banking and finance back in the late 1980s.
CBM: You served as treasurer for both Obama presidential campaigns. Do you enjoy being on the circuit?
Nesbitt: I like competing, and I like winning. At the end of the day, it's interesting and there were really a lot of smart people. But politics in and of itself is a slugfest. Man, that's the toughest thing you'll ever do. There's no harder, more challenging thing to do than get elected president.
CBM: Have you ever considered politics, running for office, or joining the administration?
Nesbitt: No, that's not who I am. It takes a strong person to develop a plan, begin executing a strategy, and realize that half the people are against you, or will fashion a way to position themselves as your opposition. I'm not sure how many CEOs would ever get used to that. As a CEO, you're used to organizing people around a plan and a strategy. Once people agree, everybody's in and everybody's working in the same direction.
CBM: What keeps you up at night?
Nesbitt: I'm up every night at about 2 a.m. That's just the pattern I developed from having a wife who is an obstetrician. She messed me up early in her career when she was answering the phone and going in to deliver babies at late hours. It's a good thinking time. I'd say I spend 30 to 40 percent of that time thinking and the other 60 to 70 percent watching SportsCenter. - Edited by Judith Crown
Photo by Chris Strong
Meet the 25-Year Reunion Chair
Nicholas Alexos, '89, attended Booth as an Evening student in the mid-1980s, which didn't leave him much time to socialize.
"I worked all day, took the Michigan Avenue bus up to Delaware Place," he recalled. "Sometimes the room was too hot, sometimes it was too cold. Dinner was a cold bagel."
Now as chair of the 25-year Reunion Committee for RECONNECT 2013 - which includes reunions, Alumni Celebration, and Management Conference - he is making the most of social opportunities that he couldn't enjoy as a student. "Being involved gives me the chance to meet people I wouldn't otherwise get to meet."
Alexos is a cofounder and managing director at private equity giant Madison Dearborn Partners LLC in Chicago where he focuses on health-care investments. He became active at Booth about six years ago, when Steven Kaplan, Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, and a specialist in private equity, invited Alexos to speak to his students.
"It was a Business Forecast luncheon that I attended, along with the relationship with Steve Kaplan that motivated me to become active," Alexos said.
Alexos subsequently joined his 20-year reunion committee and also became a member of the Council on Chicago Booth. "It was unfortunate that I did not get reinvolved sooner," he said.
Alexos is confident that alumni who attend RECONNECT will find it worthwhile: "The stronger the celebration, the stronger the school, the greater the resources there will be for alumni." - Judith Crown
Photo courtesy of Nicholas Alexos
Nominations Open for 2014 Distinguished Alumni Awards
Alumni Affairs and Development is seeking nominations for the 2014 Distinguished Alumni Awards (DAA). The awards celebrate leaders who solve business problems by pursuing the best thinking and implementing creative solutions.
Since 1971, the annual awards have honored 160 alumni for distinguishing themselves in four categories: corporate achievement, entrepreneurship, public service, and young achievement. Past winners include William Conway Jr., '74, cofounder and co-CEO, The Carlyle Group; Patrick Doyle Jr., '88, president and CEO, Domino's Pizza Inc.; Joseph Mansueto, AB '78, MBA '80, chairman and CEO, Morningstar Inc., and a member of the Council on Chicago Booth; Thomas Ricketts, AB '88, MBA '93, cofounder and chairman, Incapital LLC, and chairman of the board of directors of the Chicago Cubs; and Mary A. Tolan, '92 (XP-61), founder and CEO, Accretive Health, and a member of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees and the Council on Chicago Booth.
The DAA honorees are selected each year by a committee of alumni from all over the world who meet via video conferencing to deliberate over the nominations and choose the four winners.
Women's Group Expands under New Leadership
Chicago Booth's organization dedicated to connecting women graduates is reaching out to a more diverse audience.
Chicago Women in Business Alumnae Network (CWIBAN) started as a grassroots organization more than 10 years ago to help alumnae foster connections for their professional and private lives and support admission of women to Booth. Now under new leadership, CWIBAN has greater resources and renewed energy to serve all alumnae.
Women represent more than 20 percent of Booth alumni, a network that is expected to expand as their numbers grow in MBA classes. While women are breaking consistently higher ground in the workplace, they lack the informal network that men have developed over decades of corporate lunching and golf. Additionally, women professionals face the challenge of balancing work and family as they progress in their careers.
Under founder Zina Markevicius, '02, a Los Angeles management consultant, CWIBAN started as a largely virtual group, connecting women around the world through a monthly electronic newsletter. Alumnae connected during live events such as holiday teas, summer socials, and the organization's flagship event, Women's Week. They also participated in Booth panels and forums.
These networking events present opportunities to forge business connections - find a client, a supplier, or even a new full-time job, said Jennifer Tobin, associate director, Alumni Affairs and Development, who handles communications for CWIBAN. The connections also can be personal - they can lead to a recommendation for a realtor or a good tailor. Colleagues share advice on subjects ranging from navigating office politics to charting a career change. "These women support each other so much," Tobin said.
Now, Gila Vadnai-Tolub, '11, who became president last summer, and Sari Kaganoff, '12, vice president of CWIBAN, are expanding the mission of the group. Vadnai-Tolub, engagement manager for McKinsey & Company in Chicago, wants to step up CWIBAN's international presence. She envisions regional hubs that will allow CWIBAN chapters in cities around the world to operate autonomously and serve alumnae more efficiently.
The organization plans to change its name to Booth Women's Network this spring. The new name is more pronounceable as well as more transparent. "We wanted all alumnae to feel this was their group, including alumnae from the Evening and Weekend as well as the Executive programs who never heard of the original CWIB student organization geared to women in the Full-Time program," Vadnai-Tolub said.
The organization initially could target only recent graduates through its newsletter. Alumni Affairs has now given CWIBAN access to all alumnae, including those who graduated prior to 1996. "We're very excited to be able to reach out to those alumnae. Many of them do not know our group exists and we look forward to having them share their experiences with recent grads and prospective students," Vadnai-Tolub added.
CWIBAN's premiere event remains Women's Week, which brings together alumnae with prospective students and admitted students. The 2013 program is headed by CWIBAN board member Jill Nisson, '04, marketing manager at Yes To Inc., a San Francisco skin care company.
Events this year are scheduled in at least 30 cities including Chicago, New York, Kiev, and Rio de Janeiro. "Women's Week is a great way for prospective students to go beyond Booth's fantastic statistics and hear about alumnae experiences," Nisson said.
CWIBAN member Oisze Lam, '11, a market risk analyst for Citibank NA in Hong Kong, calls Women's Week one of the most successful CWIBAN events she's attended. Lam cohosted last year's informal gathering, which gave 14 prospective students an opportunity to hear from graduates about their MBA experience and the ways Booth has helped them excel in their careers. "We got a lot of positive feedback," Lam said.
Markevicius said the new leadership is on the right track. "They're making smart decisions, asking smart questions, and working well together," she said. "Obviously they paid attention in class." - Lisa Bertagnoli and Judith Crown
Photo of Markevicius (top left) courtesy of Zina Markevicius. Photo of Vadnai-Tolub (bottom right) courtesy of Gila Vadnai-Tolub.