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  Kendrick White '90
  Kendrick White '90

Alumni Profile: Kendrick White '90

White sees opportunity in Russia

Look beyond Moscow, and don't be put off by 'rough' government policies, Kellogg alum tells investors

By Ed Finkel

Kendrick White '90 wrote his economics thesis at Stetson University in 1984 on how and why Marx's economic theories were wrong, and why communism would eventually go bankrupt.

Years later, the Soviet Union did collapse, and new Russian leader Boris Yeltsin stood atop a tank during a failed coup and declared a new day for his country. "I was like, 'Oh my God, it's all true,'" White recalls.

By 1992, the Kellogg graduate took a two-year leave from his strategic planning role at ABN Amro in Chicago to join the Peace Corps in Russia. But it wasn't the typical tour of duty, digging ditches or dispensing medicine.

"I found myself teaching corporate finance and advanced principles of debt financing and technology commercialization classes," he says. "I then began, step by step, working with entrepreneurs and helping them to set up companies and work with western partners."

White never returned to Chicago. Instead, he took a position with Price Waterhouse, based in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's third-largest city and the central node of its military-industrial complex. There, he developed a team of 22 Russian consultants that helped large-scale commercial enterprises and former defense contractors decide how to re-tool themselves in the Cold War's aftermath.

From 1998 to 2005, White worked as director of a $50 million private equity fund for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, where he invested in various successful regional enterprises. The fund was key in helping Russia move beyond the currency crisis of 1998, he says.

Two years ago, White became an entrepreneur himself, founding Marchmont Capital Partners LLC, which has a two-pronged business plan: to help regional entrepreneurs develop their companies, and to publish investment guides that highlight the potential of Russia's provincial territories. The goal is to stimulate investment into the rapidly growing markets of the Russia Federation and commonwealth, like Nizhny Novgorod.

"There's a lot of technology, a lot of innovation, but there's very little start-up and expansion financing capital," he says.

That's partly because of the country's less than stellar public relations image. Western media tend to focus on the aggressive new energy policies developed under Vladimir Putin that "come across as rough," White says. But that masks the overall investment potential in the rapidly growing local consumer markets. "You have to be in Russia to catch this wave of development. I got into publishing to help tell a different story from the one you see in headlines. These regions are like black boxes as far as the availability of open information, with few people really understanding what's going on here."

White believes that if Russia continues to develop economically, political reforms will eventually follow. "There are a lot of things that you and I can point to and say, 'Oh, that's awful. Look what [Putin] did to those media companies or that oil conglomerate. But the population isn't actually demanding freedom of the press. There simply isn't a history of that level of freedom here for people to look back on."

But the country is evolving, he says, and the emerging middle class and entrepreneurs will finance a new generation of politicians.

Looking back, White appreciates the chance the president of ABN Amro gave him in granting his leave of absence in 1992. "He was a very insightful man to give me such an opportunity. When you face interesting challenges and new opportunities in life, take them."

White also appreciates his Kellogg education. "I'm using everything I learned every day," he says, while giving back by establishing a 20-person-strong Russian alumni club based in Moscow. "I'm a big supporter of Kellogg. I loved every minute of it."

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