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Kellogg’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship News

Kellogg’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship News

Read the latest entrepreneurship, growth and scaling and corporate innovation news from the Kellogg School of Management.


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Hear from Kellogg School faculty, alumni and students as they share insights and experiences launching and scaling startups, and igniting growth and innovation within established companies.

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Professor Craig Wortmann leads a lively and practical session on translating the high-performance sales foundation of knowledge, skill and discipline into a virtual environment.
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Fortune’s 40 Under 40

Kellogg alumna Cristina Junqueira ’08 was named to Fortune’s 40 under 40 for her efforts launching NuBank, an online Brazilian bank that’s served more than 25 million customers.

Fortune, 01 Sep 2020

Meet The MBA Class of 2022: The COVID Cohorts

Student profile features international 1Y student Roberto Chavez Flores ‘21, on his decision to attend Kellogg and his plans to return to his family business post-MBA.

Poets&Quants, 30 Aug 2020

Want Your Business To Survive the Pandemic? Facilitate Stories.

Article by Adjunct Lecturer Esther Choy describes why during Covid-19, listening to customers must come first in order to be successful in storytelling. Article also includes insight from Adjunct Lecturer, Gina Fong.

Forbes, 30 Aug 2020

Managing Loneliness and Anxiety During Quarantine

Article by Kellogg alumna, entrepreneur and Zell Fellow Brunna Seabra ’20 discusses how she was able to navigate uncertainty in her post-MBA plans during Covid-19 with the help of the Kellogg community.

HBR Ascend, 28 Aug 2020

    Kellogg Grads Find Success In "CEO-in-Training" Roles

    A growing number of private equity firms are crafting programs to hire top business school graduates directly into their portfolio companies as a key part of a broader strategy to groom their next generation of C-level executives. Kellogg is uniquely positioned to prepare our students to take on these challenging and highly-rewarding assignments, which are intended as a fast-track to a CEO role. Meet a few of our recent graduates and hear about their experiences below.

    AJ Brown ’17
    Alpine Investors CEO-in-Training Program

    Current Role: President and CEO at Apex Service Partners (an Alpine Investors portfolio company)
    Previous Role: Chief Financial Officer at Avitru (an Alpine Investors portfolio company)
    Prior to Kellogg: Manager at Deloitte; Analyst at Goldman Sachs

    How did you become interested in a career as an operating executive?
    I came to Kellogg deadset on recruiting for a PE investment role and loaded up on advanced finance classes. My summer internship at Benford Capital, a top lower mid-market firm, was an eye-opener, though. I had an opportunity to work with several of their newer acquisitions and spotted a massive opportunity to transform these businesses as an operator—also found that I had a knack for executing and building value quickly. I later met Matt Moore at Alpine through a contact at Goldman—was intrigued by their model and by the opportunity to quickly add value and see my personal impact on a business in real time—so I switched gears and signed on to the CIT program.

    Tell us about your experience at Alpine thus far.
    My finance background made the CFO role a natural entry point, as I knew it was important to add value right away. I decided to focus on being matched with a sales/marketing-oriented CEO to maximize both potential impact and my own learning. I joined Alpine’s construction software business, Avitru, about six months after the firm had acquired it. It turned out that there was some heavy lifting to do on the finance/operations side, so I was able to dig in quickly. I was also able to help the CEO inject a new culture, and he was willing to give me a lot of autonomy. We grew the business quickly—pretty much tripled revenue over the next two years— and then executed a highly successful exit.

    This led to my current role at Apex Service Partners, an HVAC, plumbing, and electrical services business that is growing very rapidly, both organically and via acquisition. Now, as President and CEO, I have a huge focus on culture and building out a strong team (including several recent Kellogg hires) to grow a scalable, multimarket, best-in-class organization.

    I really like the people and leadership aspect of my role—has been a great way for me to differentiate. Though day-to-day management comes with its headaches, the variety is really interesting!

    What advice would you give to Private Equity firms that are thinking about launching a CIT program?
    They need to be willing to live with a CIT “investment phase” of about six months or so, as the learning curve is steep, and mistakes will be made. The reward will come, though, after that, as the CIT can develop fullfledged operator skills quickly, and the rewards to the investor should ultimately be exponential.

    What would you like to say to Kellogg students who are interested in exploring this career path?
    To be successful as an operator, you need to be willing to throw your ego out the door. You have to be excited about working with a diverse work force and be willing to take on the mundane tasks, as well as the high level. Patience is also key. Be prepared to build your career over time and pay your dues—go where you can add value and focus on playing a long game.

    Mick Doyle ’17
    TJM Capital Partners
    Vice President

    Current Role: Vice President at TJM Capital Partners
    Prior to Kellogg: Chief of Staff, High School Cube, LLC (start up)
    Investment Banking Analyst, William Blair and Company

    How did you become interested in a career as an operating executive?
    After my first post-college job as an analyst at William Blair, I had an opportunity to join a San Francisco-based start-up as Chief of Staff. I loved the hands-on aspect of the role but felt that I personally could add more value at a company that was at a somewhat later stage. While at Kellogg, I was introduced to Tom McDonough ’87, TJM’s Managing Partner, and found the firm’s model and structure intriguing. TJM invests in lower mid-market manufacturing and service businesses in which it believes it can add value quickly via both operational improvements and growth strategies. We are a “fundless sponsor”—raising capital on a deal-bydeal basis—with minimal internal structure of our own and a willingness to be flexible and try out new ideas. I loved the idea of essentially “creating my own adventure”, and Tom brought me on as his first CXO hire—he saw this as an opportunity to inject an MBA toolkit and younger perspective into the portfolio.

    Tell us about your experience at TJM thus far.
    The original plan was that I would be assigned to a specific portfolio company. When we didn’t find the right full-time fit right away, we decided that I would tackle special projects across several of our investments. I continue to do some of this work (most recently assisted several of our companies with liquidity planning and accessing funding during the Covid pandemic), though my role has segued more onto the investing side.

    TJM is a unique firm that is in many ways a “growth stage” story in itself. In addition to the operational work with do with portfolio companies, we also build an investor base and advisory team around each investment. My role touches on all of these areas; for someone people and relationship-focused like myself, it is a great match.

    I should also say that I’m excited about a number of strong next step options for me here, including potentially joining one of the portcos. There is clearly a difference between the breadth I have in my current role and the depth I’d have at a single company. Great learning to be had either way!

    What advice would you give to Private Equity firms that are thinking about launching a CXO program?
    I’d encourage them to work with the CXO and the portco CEO to structure the role up front in a way that gets everyone on the same page and gives the CXO an opportunity to put up some early wins. One way to do this would be to assign the CXO some initial project-based work that plays directly to MBA skill sets—e.g. financial reporting and analysis or evaluating CRM or ERP systems. Projects that require them to a) interact with a large number of people at the company and b) learn the ins and outs of the business tend to work well. Then start handing off more ongoing management duties so that the CXO can lead people and teams, take on increasing responsibility, and grow into a real complement to the CEO over time.

    Being transparent about expectations here helps align goals, and having a true partnership between a highlyexperienced executive and an energetic younger one is a real value-add when it comes time to exit. We’ve seen buyers place a premium on a well thought-out succession plan, and showcasing a talented CXO during the sale process creates a win-win-win for 1) the buyer (smooth transition, long term leadership), 2) the seller (increased valuation, higher likelihood to close) and 3) the CXO (potential for larger role and responsibility).

    What would you like to say to Kellogg students who are interested in exploring this career path?
    They need to ask themselves, “What is really important to me?” At TJM, we work with a lot of Midwest industrial companies—far from glamorous but can really be hidden gems—if you are willing to put in the hard work to get them there. You need to be comfortable working in an unstructured environment and without a lot of support or resources. For someone who gets excited about this, it is a great place to be!

    Celeste Miles ’17
    Alpine Investors CEO-in-Training Program

    Current Role: Chief People Officer at Riverside Insights (an Alpine Investors portfolio company)
    Previous Role: Director, Strategy and People Operations at Ingenio (an Alpine Investors portfolio company)
    Prior to Kellogg: Manager at Cambridge Associates

    How did you become interested in a career as an operating executive?
    Prior to Kellogg, I was an Operations Manager at a financial consulting firm and was asked to help open our new office in Singapore. It was a great opportunity to assemble a team and pull together resources to get a new operation off the ground, and I loved the hands-on aspect. While at Kellogg, I initially considered the corporate leadership development track and roles in consulting. Then a classmate introduced me to the Alpine CIT program, which I thought had the best of both the leadership and strategy roles while also letting me get my hands dirty operationally to create value.

    Tell us about your experience at Alpine thus far.
    I’m currently in my second CIT assignment. During my first role at Ingenio, I joined an experienced leadership team a few years into the Alpine acquisition. Over an eighteen-month period, we accomplished a lot, and I built a pretty robust toolkit in the people management space. The transition to newly-acquired Riverside Insights was an opportunity for me to put these skills to work in an entirely new industry and in a company that was both at a more formative stage and operating at a larger scale; I really felt that I could make a difference here.

    Both of my CEO’s have been terrific mentors and also huge advocates of the important role that people and culture play in building enterprise value. I feel fortunate that I have been able to contribute and develop expertise in the HR area while also gaining great exposure into other functional areas of the business. At Riverside, we run our leadership team as a rotation, so am starting to think about “next step” opportunities with my CEO and am looking forward to expanding my leadership skillset and broadening my experiences.

    What advice would you give to Private Equity firms that are thinking about launching a CIT program?
    It is really important that company leadership, investment firm partners, and aspiring CITs are all excited about bringing on a CIT and committed to working as a team to make the role successful. In my opinion, this has been a big part of the Alpine experience. For portcos in which injecting hungry young talent to take on important roles makes sense, there is huge potential for results.

    What would you like to say to Kellogg students who are interested in exploring this career path?
    They should do some serious self-reflection about what they want to get out of a program like this and what they are willing to put in. Rewards can be great, but the day-to-day reality of this work is not always glamorous. You need a balance of confidence and humility to be successful, because you have both a lot to contribute and a lot to learn.

    Tom Romanczuk ’16
    Shore Capital Partners CXO Program

    Current Role: Executive VP, Global Finance and Strategy, Innovia Medical, LLC (a Shore Capital portfolio company)
    Previous Role: VP Finance, Hub Group
    Prior to Kellogg: Associate, Morgan Stanley; Analyst, JP Morgan Chase

    How did you become interested in a career as an operating executive?
    I was originally focused on returning to investment banking post-MBA, but exposure to the various entrepreneurship offerings at Kellogg (and the fact that my Dad is an entrepreneur) made me start to think about an operating role. I didn’t have a big start up idea and didn’t feel ready to execute on my own search, so I decided to join an established transportation management company, Hub Group, and used that time to familiarize myself with operations and process. Two years later, I was ready to take on something more formative and found out that Shore Capital was launching a CXO program—ended up signing on as its first recruit!

    Tell us about your experience at Shore thus far.
    Innovia is a manufacturer of specialty surgical devices. I chose my role here largely because I struck up a strong early relationship with our CEO, Terry Meredith, who has been a huge advocate of the CXO concept. I felt that he would be a terrific mentor, and that this relationship would be key to my experience here. That has definitely been the case!

    I was the first CXO at Shore Capital (there are now eleven), and there is certainly a fair amount of ambiguity around this career path and how it will evolve—no set trajectory, which is not for everyone, but to me is part of the appeal. The key is in the ability to learn and grow in real time—having a strong operator skill set provides plenty of optionality as one’s career develops—can take off in a number of exciting directions over time.

    What advice would you give to Private Equity firms that are thinking about launching a CXO program?
    I would imagine that looking at the more established programs like ours can be overwhelming—mainly in terms of the investment in bandwidth. But a program doesn’t have to be elaborate or complex to be really useful. When Shore brought on its second group of CXOs, for example, we started doing a monthly call to share ideas and discuss challenges. Not a lot of effort to organize that, but it has proved hugely valuable to us.

    What would you like to say to Kellogg students who are interested in exploring this career path?
    Take a close look at the personalities and track records of the CEOs the firm attracts and focus on finding a match that will give you support, great mentoring, and the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. In my view, this is far more important than industry, company size, or title.

    Laura Walsh ’15
    Alpine Investors CEO-in-Training Program

    Current Role: CEO at YDesign Group (an Alpine Investors portfolio company) 
    Previous Role: Chief Revenue Offier at YDesign Group (an Alpine Investors portfolio company); COO; VP Marketing; Director, Planning and Strategy at Ingenio (an Alpine Investors portfolio company)
     
    How did you become interested in a career as an operating executive?
    I come from a family of business owners and actually never saw myself as part of a large corporation long term. However, I liked my job at Beam Suntory and came to Kellogg planning to return there. I wasn’t formally recruiting at all but happened to attend the Alpine Investors information session (their first one at Kellogg!) and saw the CIT program as an opportunity for a meaty, meaningful experience right away and a fast-track to something I had thought I would do later. So, even though it was a big step and involved both a relocation for my husband and me and paying back my employer sponsorship funding, I decided to take the plunge. I’ve been part of the program for five years now, and it is everything I expected and more.

    Tell us about your experience at Alpine thus far.
    I ended up with my top-choice initial placement—at Alpine’s online advice company Ingenio. Though I wasn’t crazy about the role itself—basically an internal consulting function—I hit it off immediately with CEO Warren Heffelfinger ’97 and knew that he would be a terrific mentor and that my role would evolve and grow over time. That turned out to be the case; not quite a year in, I was named VP Marketing, and I became COO a couple of years after that.

    Earlier this year, I joined my second company, YDesign Group, a family of online lighting and home furniture retailers. I’ve just been named CEO and am excited about leading the business through its next phase of growth!

    One other thing I appreciate about Alpine is its commitment to diversity and to supporting the need for work/life balance among its portco execs. I now have two small children, and, though my role is demanding and I work a lot, I have a good amount of control over how I spend my time. I believe that I’ve found a path that not only works well for me personally, but where I can also play a key part in building tangible value and get rewarded for it.

    What advice would you give to Private Equity firms that are thinking about launching a CIT program?
    Alpine’s program is pretty large now, but it is important to remember that this wasn’t always the case. In the beginning, a number of our CEO’s weren’t quite sure how these roles would play out in their companies. But, once the first couple of CITs started turning in results, everyone wanted one.

    They should also give some thought to ways they can help their CITs build out a robust support network. My CIT peers at Alpine are an amazing group. We genuinely enjoy being with each other, and we are all there to perk each other up on days when things aren’t going well. This has been hugely valuable!

    What would you like to say to Kellogg students who are interested in exploring this career path?
    The key to success in a mid-market leadership role is the ability to motivate diverse teams toward a common goal. Specific technical skills are less important—you can generally get these with help from the PE firm or by hiring them in. My experience has been personally and professionally transformative, and I’m so thankful I found this path. If you feel personally drawn to this type of opportunity, you should definitely explore it!

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