VC Varsity: The Best Athletes on Boston’s Private-Equity Circuit
[Executive editor's note: Bob's about to wax philosophical about sports. It could take a while. To cut to the chase and see the roster, click here.]
The hoops game is serious. Invitation only. Two “runs” a week, at 6 a.m.—when it can be tough to get the juices flowing. And if I told you the gym’s location, they’d have to kill me. At least that’s the impression I got from a venture capitalist friend of mine (I actually posted him up for years before I knew he was a VC), who grew instantly alarmed when I told him I was writing this article. “Do not tell anyone where the game is,” he ordered (I like to think of it as “begged” or “pleaded”).
Welcome to the world of serious venture-capitalist athleticism. And it can be serious, indeed. “With all the type A’s in this business, I’m not surprised you’re finding a lot of athletes,” says Tom Crotty, a general partner at Waltham’s Battery Ventures and himself no slouch on the soccer field. “It’s a cry for help. Definitely a cry for help,” pronounces Tim Dibble, managing general partner at Boston’s Alta Communications. “It’s a compensatory behavior. We were all picked last for the softball team in eighth grade. Trying to make up for it now.”
Whatever the motivation, the game is on in the Boston private-equity community. It’s one thing to be playing with other people’s money, risking millions or tens of millions to make hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. It’s another thing to actually play, to experience anew the sheer joy of physical exertion, pain, sweat, and competition. Sure, you might pull down a few mil’ a year. But can you go to your left? Outmaneuver a McEnroe at the net? Finish the Iron Man? Put that young pup associate—the one who thinks you’re old—in his place? These, it turns out, are the serious questions that give many VCs and other private-equity investors a reason to bound out of bed each morning, rain or shine, boiling summer or icy winter.
Ultimately, of course, we all slow down. As I developed the roster, I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “He was an athlete?” Some go gracefully, some remain in denial, and some definitely have plenty of gas left in the tank. So who are—or were—the best athletes among venture capitalists and other private-equity pros in the Greater Boston region? My quest was to find out. I scoured gym, rink, track, tennis court, ball field, river, and pool (okay, I made a few phone calls and fired off a bunch of e-mails) to come up with the answers.
Twenty-four of Boston’s best private equity gurus made the cut. I then sorted these VC varsity all-stars into five classes: Hall of Fame, First Team, Second Team, Third Team, and Honorable Mention. It’s a totally unscientific, subjective ranking—based on a combination of how good they were in their heyday, and how good they are now. Weight was given to playing professionally or at Division 1 colleges. Those who made an Olympic team garnered double points because I’m partial to the Olympics.
In the end, then, it’s far from a perfect sampling. Regrettably, I found no women for the list (although a nod must be given to Anne Martin of Yale’s investment office, outside our hunting grounds, who was an Olympic rower). This is a sad testament to the New England private-equity scene, which includes very few women in its ranks. I’m sure, too, that I missed some stars of both sexes. And, while I caught up with most of my quarry, I couldn’t quite track down everyone to hear their personal accounts and to verify the record. In that case, I had no other choice but to rely on the words of their peers and competitors. Who better, though, to judge us than our peers?
One final word on methodology: golf. Several times in my discussions, the VCs asked that age-old question: does golf count as a sport? Sure, was my executive decision…if you’re a VC version of Tiger Woods. Otherwise, nope—you have to break a sweat to make this team.