Alpine is a middle market private equity firm focused on software and services businesses up to $500m of EV. We closed our seventh fund at $1 billion in November 2019. Our CEO-in-Residence (CIR) model allows proven operators to step into leadership roles within our portfolio while our CEO-in-Training (CIT) program has helped more than 20 newly graduated MBAs from the world’s top business schools accelerate into the CEO chair. Alpine has deployed 35 CEOs in total since 2013.
The summer between my two years at HBS, I took an internship at a private equity fund in Charlotte, a hybrid role between portfolio operations and investing. I got involved in some deal flow and I realized that working in PE didn’t always mean investing. Similar to the way I could feel direct impact on my students when teaching, I was interested in getting into portfolio companies and driving change. So I started focusing on a place where I could have a lot of autonomy and impact.
The trust factor really came from actions that I took with the team. I made it a priority to get to know everyone on a pretty personal level. I wanted to build a fundamental relationship that had nothing to do with the outcomes we were trying to drive in the business. A mentor of mine in business school advised me not to change much in the first six months. So I sat, listened, learned, and asked questions. I’m a big proponent of servant leadership, of getting your hands dirty, and leading from the front.
That listening and learning approach was really put to the test when it came time to write a major RFP last year. We were pitching the Forcht Group, one of the larger companies in Lexington and in the state of Kentucky. To make sure we were successful and won the business, I held the team to a pretty high editorial standard when it came to the RFP. This was a moment where I decided I could help us win and benefit everyone, but I couldn’t stand by and watch. If I could apply my skills on the margin or in the gaps of the rest of the team’s skills, I knew we could put together a really awesome presentation. I held nearly daily scrums with the team for a month. We honed our approach and really got an understanding of the business outcomes we were going to be driving. Those RFP processes can be brutal and a lot of back and forth, but I got really involved and it was a great opportunity for me to get to know a lot of different people on the team. We eventually submitted the RFP, made it to the final round, and signed our largest client to date. It was a big win for the entire team.
I spent a ton of time thinking about the reports I needed to put in place. What’s the strategy for decision-making from this point forward? How do I need to think about cash management? How do I need to think about personnel changes? How do I message all of this to the team in a way that makes them feel like they’re on board with the decision? My coach helped talk through a lot of those key decisions.
Ultimately, we were swift in our action and the way that we addressed a lot of those challenges. Now we’re back to basically 100 percent of our initial year budget. We were not even close to that in March and April, and I’ve just seen a major turnaround due in large part to the changes we made. We have delivered more cash to our shareholders this year by a pretty decent margin than we did year to date last year. The business is growing, the business is performing well, and I truly believe that my coach was instrumental in helping me think through a lot of those challenges.
I’m also really focused on service excellence. There’s a virtuous cycle that can exist inside of a managed service provider, where you have a defined technology stack or series of technologies that you train your people on. Then, you bring on clients and implement those technologies. The clients are incredibly satisfied because you’re doing what you know, then they refer you to their other contacts in the community. It’s my goal to help us reach this virtuous cycle over time.
On the team side, this is a traumatic time. People are having to cope with things that they don’t typically cope with. Mental health is something I think about all the time. Our team doesn’t have the camaraderie they used to have in the office. I want to make days feel unique so that our team doesn’t feel like it’s Groundhog Day every day. I often ask myself how we can continue to create an environment that is attractive for the best talent, and how to make sure we’re bringing on smart and capable individuals so that they can be highly effective at their job.