VC Varsity: The Best Athletes on Boston’s Private-Equity Circuit—the Roster

9/10/07Follow @bbuderi

With the Sox driving for the World Series, the Pats early Super Bowl favorites, and the invigorated Celtics waiting in the wings to bring Beantown back to the NBA playoffs, Xconomy thought it was a fitting time to determine the best athletes amongst Greater Boston’s top private equity investors. You can read about the hunt and our exacting methodology here. But below is our 2007 roster, grouped in five categories: Hall of Fame, First Team, Second Team, Third Team, and Honorable Mention.

Hall of Fame

Lane MacDonald, general partner, Alta Communications (Boston)

MacDonald easily tops our list as the New England VC Varsity’s MVP and was a shoo-in inaugural inductee for the Hall of Fame. The son of a 14-year National Hockey League veteran, Lane excelled as a left wing. He took a year off Harvard to play for the U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1988. “Unfortunately, we didn’t do as well as the 1980 team,” he says. “We lost to the Russians on a late goal.” After that heartbreaking defeat, the team couldn’t recover and finished seventh. MacDonald returned to school the following year, though, leading the Crimson to the national collegiate hockey championship (the team went 31-3). That same year, he won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top collegiate hockey player.

Drafted by the NHL’s Calgary Flames, MacDonald was quickly traded to the Hartford Whalers. Despite being offered the largest contract for any rookie in Whaler history, MacDonald was forced to forego an NHL career due to a series of head injuries that plagued him throughout college. He spent part of one year playing pro hockey in Switzerland, where the game is more wide open and far less physical, before another head injury led him to a career in business.

MacDonald, 41, tries to work out four or five times a week, spending time in the gym on the treadmill, stationary bike, and elliptical machine. He usually skates once a week, and in the winter joins other former collegiate players for hockey games at Harvard on Sunday mornings. “The pace gets slower each and every year,” he says.

In 2005, MacDonald was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. But playing in the Olympics was probably his crowning achievement. “After watching the 1980 team win the gold medal, that was absolutely my goal,” he says. “It’s an incredible experience to have the opportunity to represent your country and to play in the Olympics against some of the best players in the world.”

First Team

Tom Crotty, general partner, Battery Ventures (Waltham)

“I’ve been a soccer player all my life,” Crotty says. When living in Paris as a grade-schooler in the late 1960s, he took up le football by necessity because he “couldn’t play the U.S. sports.” He went on to star in soccer at his Connecticut high school, then lettered three years at Notre Dame, where he was MVP and captain his senior year. He’s been playing competitively ever since, and is currently in an over-40 league. “I stick with it. It’s kind of weekend warrior stuff now.”

Todd Dagres, founder and general partner, Spark Capital (Boston)

Baseball is the game for Dagres, although he also played basketball in high school and is known as a scrappy player in local hoops. The son of a Baltimore Orioles outfielder, Todd played center field all four years at Trinity College in Connecticut, where he set records in single-season and career home runs. “Somebody since has obliterated that record but I had it for about 10 years,” Dagres says. He played semi-pro ball for a time, “and then decided with the help of professionals that I was never going to make it to the big show and it was probably a good idea for me to do something else.” That would be venture capital, primarily, although he has also produced TV shows and movies. As far as sports goes these days, Dagres works out on the treadmill and with exercise bikes and plays golf. “So now I hit the little white ball that sits there and doesn’t move,” he says. “I think I’m better at hitting a baseball coming in at 90 miles per hour than a golf ball on a tee.”

While Dagres’ playing days are over, he still takes part in an annual Jimmy Fund event where you get 15 pitches at Fenway Park. “That scratches my itch every year. I get to go and bang a few off the green monster,” Dagres says. “Two years ago I hit one off the coke bottles in left field.” He’s also part owner of the West Virginia Power, a minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ed Kania, managing partner and chairman, Flagship Ventures (Cambridge)

Kania was All-American in 35 lb. hammer throw and weight throw (the indoor version of the hammer throw) at Dartmouth, and a three-time NCAA champion. While at Harvard Business School, he kept on competing for the Pacific Coast Club of Long Beach, CA. Kania set a national record in the weight throw and New England records in discus and hammer throw. He competed in the Olympic trials for the 1980 games (the one Jimmy Carter boycotted) but an injury prevented him from making the team.

Marty Mannion, managing partner, Summit Partners (Boston)

Mannion is a local legend when it comes to VC basketball—and beyond. “He’s just an elite athlete across the board,” says fellow cager Bob Forlenza of Tudor Ventures (see below). Mannion played four years on the famous Princeton University varsity that regularly took the Ivy League and seemed to always upset someone in the NCAA tourney.

He’s kept playing and at 48 still does it all, squaring off for the bounds, drilling the open shot, shutting down his opponent. Beyond basketball, he keeps himself in shape (joining several others on our roster, among them Forlenza and his fellow Tudor partners Rick Ganong and Carmen Scarpa,) in working out regularly with Boston Celtics strength and conditioning coach Walter Norton.

People are still talking about the 24-year-old Summit associate who about a year ago decided he could take Mannion in a one-on-one hoops game. “Said he’d beat me. I beat him 24-4,” Mannion relates. “The losing bet was that on Patriots day he had to dress up like Derek Jeter and go into the Rattlesnake bar.”

Peter Palandjian, chairman and CEO, Intercontinental Real Estate (Boston)

For a while there, if you said Harvard and tennis, you meant Palandjian, whose company, Intercontinental Real Estate, runs real-eastate-oriented private equity funds among its other activities. He was two-year captain of the Crimson team, playing No. 1. “I beat [Patrick] McEnroe my senior year at the NCAA’s and decided to turn pro,” Palandjian relates. As a singles player, he rose as high as 283 in the world rankings and played in five Grand Prix tournaments. But it was in doubles where Palandjian really shined. He played in all four grand slam events and peaked at 162 in the world rankings. Along the way, he garnered six ATP doubles titles, including one in Helsinki with Luke Jensen, the writer and sportscaster for ESPN.

Palandjian says he put down the game for a long time, taking up the natural post-tennis activities of ice hockey and yoga, but started playing tennis again a few years ago. As far as competition goes, he recently “came out of retirement” to join his 16-year-old daughter in the national father-daughter grass courts championships held last month at Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill. They came in fifth.

Second Team

Jeff Fagnan, partner, Atlas Venture (Waltham)

Oregonian Fagnan went off to the University of Alaska to study marine biology and swim butterfly and individual medley for the Seawolves. During Fagnan’s tenure, the Division 2 team ranked in the top 10 nationally, and he made all-conference. His competitive weight was 170. Fast-forward to his days in business, working as a consultant, on the road and eating fatty foods, “I blew up to about 215.”

In 2000, he and his wife attended golf school in Florida. One evening, their group was reviewing videotapes of the students’ swings. “I turned to her: ‘Who is that fat kid with the flat swing? She said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I realized it was me.”

That, says Fagnan, “was just an epiphany.” He started working out again, brought his weight down to 175, and for the last five years has been doing triathlons, including Escape From Alcatraz last June. “I’ve not done the Iron Man distance, but want to try and do that next year,” he says.

Fagnan says he’s often up at 4:30 to get his workout in early. But he tries to supplement his solo training with some business workouts, running or biking with Atlas colleagues or execs from his portfolio companies. “It’s unique, and it’s a heck of a lot less time and better for you than going to spend five hours on a golf course,” he says.

Bob Forlenza, managing general partner, Tudor Ventures (Boston)

A crafty guard with devastating outside range who keeps defenders honest with the occasional drive and dish, Forlenza played hoops at Division 3 Virginia school Washington and Lee, where he handled point alongside All American Pat Dennis. Forlenza is hoops all the way. “Since then I have played in about a thousand different leagues. No triathlons, none of that stuff.”

In recent years Forlenza’s been benched by hip replacement surgery, “but I’m back playing slightly,” he says He tries to attend the twice-weekly game at the undisclosed location mentioned in my intro to this list. “There’s a lot of young guys, unfortunately, especially in the summer.”

Wyc Grousbeck, managing partner, governor, and CEO, Boston Celtics, venture partner, Highland Capital Partners (Lexington)

Wycliffe, aka Wyc, Grousbeck rowed at Princeton (class of ’83), where his team claimed the national lightweight championship. He’s still rowing, in fact. To raise money for the Perkins School for the Blind, he’s taking part in the upcoming Head of the Charles. His four-person “quad” will include fellow VC David Fialkow of General Catalyst, and two U.S. national team rowers, Mary Mazzio and Cindy Matthes.

Grousbeck reports he works out “nearly every day, running hills, stadiums and on the beach in the summer.” We also hear he puts in time at the Celts’ training facility, and playing some hoops (“I play terrible hoops. I was last man off the bench in high school,” he reports). Often times, he’ll drop his car off at an undisclosed location, run into the office, put in a few hours at his desk, run back to get his car, and return again to work.

“But my appetite for food still wins out,” Grousbeck says. “I’m still a size xl.”

Ted Philip, managing general partner, Highland Capital Partners (Lexington)

A co-founder—and later president—of Lycos, Philip sold the company to a Telefonica subsidiary in 2000, and then tried to get back into shape after a long stretch of putting in too many hours in the office. He started triathlons in 2001 and has now done six official Iron Man events (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon run of 26.2 miles), among other triathlons. Why Iron Man? “I had already earned my black belt in Tae Kwon Do and was looking for my next athletic challenge…Iron Man seemed to make a lot of sense as one of the toughest challenges out there.” His best performance came at the 2005 Iron Man in Coeur d’Alene, ID, where his time was 10:26:56, enough to win the over-40 category of the CEO Challenge portion of the event and qualify for the world championship event in Hawaii.

According to Philip’s web site, his other sporting interests include racing cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and ATVs. Sounds like he could do a vehicle triathlon.

Rick Williams, managing partner, WestView Capital Partners (Boston)

Word is that Williams ground it out as a lineman at Yale. These days he puts in a lot of time lifting weights, and, according to our scouts, “is very aware of his bench press record,” which he tries to break regularly. His wife evidently acts as his spotter (a role not everyone we know would be comfortable trusting their spouse with).

Third Team

Tim Dibble, managing general partner, Alta Communications (Boston)

“A serious triathlete” was what we heard about Dibble. The Alta partner is more modest. “You’ve hit the bottom of the barrel,” he says. But Dibble is a two-time competitor (“I was only 3.5 hours behind the winner, shows you how competitive I was”) in the Speight’s Coast to Coast, a biking, running, and white water kayaking triathlon across New Zealand hosted by a local beermaker. It’s my kind of triathlon. “Finish the race,” Dibble reports, “and instead of water or Gatorade they have cans of Speight’s beer.”

Two years ago, to celebrate his 40th birthday and concurrent “mid-life crisis” (Tim, that’s a 40-percent life crisis), Dibble also did an 80-mile trail run in Canada. Had to bring his own Molson’s, I gather.

David Fialkow, co-founder and managing director, General Catalyst Partners (Cambridge)

General Catalyst’s Fialkow is known around town for doing an Iron Man event and other triathlons, always for charity. He’ll be rowing with Wyc Grousbeck in the Head of the Charles next month.

Rick Ganong, partner, Tudor Ventures (Boston)

Ganong was a tri-sport college athlete, playing football, baseball, and hockey at Maine’s Bowdoin College. He’s still active in “biking and stuff like that,” but downplays his status as an elite: “Anybody can play Division 3.”

Bob Metcalfe, general partner, Polaris Venture Partners (Waltham)

We all know Dr. Bob as a mental all-star, a quip-meister extraordinaire. But who’d have known he was a serious tennis player, captain of “a very winning MIT varsity tennis team” in 1968-69. He also played varsity squash.

But it didn’t end there, as Metcalfe diversified his athletic skills with his move west to California, where he co-invented the Ethernet at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and co-founded 3Com. As he relates, “Went on to play finals of Menlo Park flag football A league as offensive eligible guard.”

Carmen Scarpa, partner, Tudor Ventures (Boston)

Scarpa was a high school baseball, football, and basketball star at Andover. “His moment of glory in high school was playing against Patrick Ewing,” says partner Bob Forlenza. Scarpa went on to play varsity hoops at Harvard, and is rumored to be a devotee of fantasy camps, through which he is said to have become friends with Michael Jordan and Coach K, Duke head hoops coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Honorable Mention

Howard Anderson, founder of now-closed YankeeTek Ventures (Cambridge)

The ever-fit, sports-car driving Anderson, an Xconomist, was a competitive rower. How competitive? “The older I get, the better I was,” Anderson relates. “To hear me tell it, I was THIS close to making the Olympic team.”

Editor’s note: We’re keeping Anderson on the list, even though he closed down YankeeTek Ventures two years ago, saying venture capital was dead.

Joshua Bekenstein, managing director, Bain Capital Private Equity (Boston)

Repeat after me, Bain’s Bekenstein bounced basketballs at Yale.

Mike Hirshland, general partner, Polaris Venture Partners (Waltham)

A defensive end on the Harvard Crimson’s 1987 Ivy League championship squad, Hirshland—who also clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy—now spends his time trying to help his portfolio companies avoid being sacked.

Ryan Moore, co-founder and general partner, GrandBanks Capital (Newton Center)

Moore played linebacker on the Princeton Tigers’ 1995 Ivy League championship football team. He plays hoops now.

Ben Nye, managing director, Bain Capital Ventures (Boston)

Nye played lacrosse at Harvard, we are told.

Stephen Pagliuca, managing director, Bain Capital Private Equity (Boston)

A freshman hoops player at Duke, Pagliuca rode his love of the game to become a managing partner and executive committee member of the Boston Celtics.

Jeff Schwartz, managing director, Bain Capital Ventures (Boston)

Another Bain athlete I couldn’t reach, Schwartz reportedly played lacrosse at Dartmouth, leading me to ask: What is it with Bain and lacrosse?

Who did I miss? What records need to be corrected? Who embellished their athletic achievements? Let us know.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • Bill Aulet

    Nice job chasing down this vital info. Mannion, Forlenza and Scarpa deserve some special recognition for the Basketball Methuselah factor as well. While partial to basketball, I would suggest that someone research Bill Fitzgerald at GC (his kid is a tremendous hockey player and he played in college) and John Simon of GC as well who was a Rhodes Scholar Tennis player out of Harvard.

  • Robert Buderi

    Just heard about our first major omission: David Flaschen, operating partner at Newton’s Castanea Partners.

    His impressive credentials include playing soccer for four years at Brown, with the team winning the Ivy League crown every year; two NCAA Final Fours (third place both times); and being a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Sting. Flaschen played three seasons in the North American Soccer League.

  • Robert Buderi

    Here’s another one that came via e-mail into the editors’ bin:

    Rufus Clark of Bunker Hill Capital, ex-Harvard lacrosse player, has run numerous marathons and triathlons, and is currently ‘the ageless wonder.’

  • Rich Young

    Don’t forget Christopher Young, general partner, New England Partners (http://www.nepartners.com/team.html).

    He was a stud LAX player at Babson College in the late 80s. In the early 90s, he founded the Wellesley High School (Wellesley, MA) boys lacrosse team, coaching it for several years and handed over the reigns. Last few years the team has been the one to beat..

    Oh yeah, Chris can be found running the Charles training for the Boston Athletic Association half marathon Columbus Day weekend.

    (full disclose: I’m Chris’ younger brother!)