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50 Most Admired Companies of The Year 2018

An interview with Graham Weaver, Founding Partner of Alpine Investors: ‘I define my job as being in the talent business. We put people first.’

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I started Alpine Investors because while I thought private equity was an amazing business, I wanted to build a  firm that had an inspiring culture: Graham Weaver

The private equity industry is often vilified and accused of stripping companies of their assets and burdening them with debt. However, Graham Weaver, the founder of Alpine Investors, viewed private equity as an amazing industry that had the potential to create jobs, grow businesses, distribute wealth, increase employee engagement, and affect positive change in the world. Thus, he set out to demonstrate that pursuing and investing in passionate individuals is the key driver of building enduring companies.

Alpine Investors is a private equity firm that specializes in majority buy-outs or corporate carve-outs of companies that are seeking management transition. With its world-class CEO-In-Training (CIT) program, Alpine sets itself apart from other private equity firms by providing companies with growth-oriented, values-driven CEOs who will work with founders to ensure that their legacies will continue.

Alpine Investors typically invests in companies operating in the software, online, consumer services and business services sectors. It has $1.3 billion of assets under management across 6 funds.

Alpine Investors was founded in 2001 and is headquartered in San Francisco, California.

The following is an excerpt from a conversation with Graham Weaver:

Q. What kind of organizations do you think will survive and thrive in the distant future?

I believe there are two things that organizations must do in order to thrive in the future:

First: They need to be able to attract and retain the best people in the world. Creating great products or services will follow only if you have world-class people. Organizations that win the talent game have the opportunity to win at everything else.

Second: Organizations need to be dynamic in adapting to changes in the world. They need to assume the world will change and dedicate time and people to think. They have to be unafraid to experiment and fail in testing these ideas, and also to scale ideas that work.

Q. Why did you start Alpine Investors?

I started Alpine Investors because, while I thought private equity was an amazing business, I wanted to build a firm that had an inspiring culture. I didn’t want people to have to choose between being great at their work and having an amazing personal life. I wanted to create a place that would allow people to have wildly successful careers without having to sacrifice family and other personal interests.

The second reason I started Alpine Investors is that I have a competitive drive and really want to win. I wanted to create the best private equity firm of our generation, both in terms of how we treat people and in terms of strong financial performance.

Q. How successful was your first fund? 

Our first fund was honestly a disaster. I was an ambitious 28-year-old who finally had a chance to pursue his dream of starting a private equity fund, and I nearly watched that dream slip right through my fingers. We made many mistakes in our first fund and were at risk of losing investors’ money. My partners and I personally took over management of each of our first four investments, in several instances moving across the country. That experience was foundational and defining for us. It taught us that we needed to get better at an accelerated rate, and it was the seed of our core value of continuous improvement. We’ve never lost the intensity for improvement that came with that experience; in fact, that intensity has only increased over time. That first fund also taught us the value of humility, something we strive to maintain today. Throughout much of private equity, the common cycle is that success leads to larger funds, and larger funds tend to lead to worse results. With growth, most firms tend to regress towards mediocrity over time. At Alpine, we strive for continuous improvement.

Q. How is Alpine Investors affecting positive change in the world?

At Alpine, we set a goal of having CEOs of our companies be at least 50% women and 30% minorities. We realized that we couldn’t achieve that goal by recruiting from the existing CEO market, so we set out to create our own pool of CEOs through our CEO-In-Training (CIT) program. At Alpine, we believe that our differences in background and life experience are as important as the things we hold in common in making a strong team.

Alpine Investors’ CIT program has proved to be an important channel for bringing minority and female leadership into our portfolio companies. By hiring talented women and minorities straight out of MBA programs into our CIT program, we can help develop future female and minority CEOs in an environment free from many of the biases and disadvantages of the broader business world that have inhibited them from becoming CEOs. Our latest class of CEOs-In-Training is 45% women and 31% minorities, and we are continuing to increase these percentages.

Q. Where do you see you and your company a couple of years from now?

What we’re doing is working, so we want to continue to do the things that make us unique. We want to continue to grow, we want to continue to test our operational and investment model on larger companies, we want to impact more lives by investing in larger businesses. We want to be able to prove that you can be a firm that puts up strong results and treats people well. And we want to show that you’re winning financially because of that philosophy, not in spite of it. We hope other firms will realize this too and follow in our footsteps.

A Brief Background on Graham Weaver:

Graham Weaver has been in the Private Equity industry for 24 years and started buying companies from his dorm room at Stanford GSB. He loved private equity and wanted to create a PE firm that reflected his own core values. So in 2001, he set out to create Alpine Investors, with two goals: make Alpine the best company to work for and generate strong returns.

“We can show the world that you can be a PE firm that puts up strong results and treats people well. And we can show that you’re winning financially because of that philosophy, not in spite of it.”