Cleveland Christophe, |
The Adventurous Venture Capitalist - Cleveland Christophe, MBA '67
Cleveland Christophe, MBA '67, sits on the Dean's Visiting Committee, is a
board member of the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for
Entrepreneurial Studies and is one of the founding trustees of the Business
School's Growth Fund. He's also co-founder and managing partner of the TSG Capital Group in
Stamford, Connecticut, one of the largest
minority-run firm in the U.S.
Christophe grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and went to Howard University
after receiving a National Science Foundation grant to study there the summer
before his senior year in high school.
"When I had to declare a major, I found some business law classes that led to
other classes, I interned and I was hooked," says Christophe.
Christophe had a summer internship at Lazarus Department Stores in Columbus,
Ohio, and they wanted him after graduation. "I knew little about MBA studies,
and was considering various workplace alternatives," says Christophe. One
professor asked him to speak with a visiting dean from Harvard. "After that,"
laughs Christophe, "I was interested in an MBA but not at Harvard. A store
personnel manager told me to put Michigan at the top of my list. It was the only
school I applied to."
"Of some 800 students, I was the only one who looked like me. I tell today's
students I found my support structure when I looked in the mirror every morning.
The significant increase in the desire to have minority representation in
business schools came in the early 1970s. I arrived in Ann Arbor questioning
whether I was sufficiently prepared, but I never felt out of place. I was able
to easily build friendships."
Christophe was interested in the style of investing, investment research and
the buy side. He interviewed with 13 companies and went with First National City
Bank (Citicorp). "They had an entrepreneurial style. I was the first black in a
high-powered group of 45 MBAs. I was in investment research for two years, went
to a retail conglomerate for one year and then was persuaded by three young MBAs
who had started an inner-city fast food restaurant chain to join them as
chairman and CEO."
Later, Christophe was approached by Phil Smith, president of Citibank's
venture capital subsidiary, about returning to the bank. Christophe started in January 1971 and was vice president in less than
He then returned to investment research; but in April 1975, "I told the head
of the international banking group I wanted experience at credit, marketing,
operations and treasury management to give me crosscultural experience and
develop a sense of mastery so I would be able to run some area of significance
to the bank. Four months later I was in Paris."
Christophe was chief of staff for the head of operations for six months, then
built an offshore asset domiciliation center in Monte Carlo and returned to
Paris as country operations head. He then moved to San Francisco with
responsibility for corporate banking for hightech industries. In 1983 he went to
Kingston, Jamaica, and was running all of Citibank's business there. He then
took a similar but larger assignment in Bogota, Colombia.
"I now had accomplished everything at the bank I cared to. I left in 1987 and
went to Connecticut with the naïve view I was going to take my savings, find a
small company I could acquire and build," says Christophe. "Instead, I joined my
attorney, Reginald Lewis, as his partner. He had already purchased the McCall
Pattern Company and made a tremendous profit. That gave us the reputation to
convince Michael Milken to back us in buying the Beatrice Foods conglomerate for
$1 billion. I became a founding partner of TSG Ventures in May 1992. We buy
companies, work with management to build value in them and return significant
value to our investors."
For more information, contact:
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847