Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Winter 2009

Paying it forward

T. Bon French devotes time, service and capital to help companies and communities grow

By Kari Richardson

In the world of venture capital and private equity investing, there's no doubt that Adams Street Partners CEO T. Bondurant "Bon" French '76 has been a part of history.

  Bon French '76
  Photo © Callie Lipkin

French joined the Chicago-based company in 1980, just a year after the firm had established the world's first private equity fund of funds. In 1986, Adams Street was one of the first firms to begin secondary investing. Three years later, it led the effort to put together the industry's first private equity valuation guidelines, and in 1992, it worked with the CFA Institute to produce the first private equity performance reporting guidelines.

Adams Street was also one of four institutions whose early data helped information provider Venture Economics establish benchmarks in 1986 for the growing private equity and venture capital field. And through the last 30 years, the company has continued to surpass those standards, earning an average 23 percent compound return versus the industry benchmark of 13 percent.

In recognition of these accomplishments, Adams Street Partners was inducted into the Private Equity Hall of Fame in 2000 (the year French became CEO) at the annual Private Equity Analyst Conference. The company was the first limited partner to receive such an honor.

Still, when asked about his most important accomplishments, the down-to-earth French ranks contributions to his church, local schools and scouting groups among the most significant.

"I would define success as one's ability to help people and give back to the community," says French, who has been found selling hotdogs at his kids' high school football games or painting a radiator at a north Chicago homeless shelter.

Credit French's desire to help others to his upbringing: In his childhood home in Peoria, Ill., volunteerism was a way of life. "To me it was very natural to do the same thing," he says. Today, his parents, who are in their 80s, are still active volunteers for a host of museums, school and charities.

French, too, is not afraid to roll up his shirtsleeves and get to work when something needs to be done. He is a trustee of the Chicago History Museum and was a member of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee. He is also a trustee of Northwestern University, a member of the Kellogg School Private Equity Advisory Council and an active participant in five other Northwestern-affiliated committees.

At Adams Street Partners, he's most proud of the investment performance the firm has delivered to its clients and its reputation for being responsive, professional and committed to integrity. Through the years, the firm has invested in hundreds of venture capital and buyout partnerships that in turn have invested in thousands of businesses, including some well-known entities such as Facebook, Twitter, eBay and medical companies seeking cures for cancer and other critical diseases.

The recent economic downturn has only heightened French's desire to do good. He regularly spends time helping out-of-work financial professionals fine-tune their résumés or brainstorm job-search ideas.

"When times are tough, contributing money is helpful," French says. "But I believe that contributing your time is the most helpful thing you can do."

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