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Cleveland Christophe, MBA 67
  Cleveland Christophe,
MBA '67

The Adventurous Venture Capitalist - Cleveland Christophe, MBA '67

2/23/2004 --

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 five years.

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 nave 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:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847