David’s first job out of business school was working for Professor Irv Grousbeck, and his first job was to create the initial case material for the first two search funds. An entrepreneur at heart (in high school he imported jewelry from India and sold it door-to-door) it was obvious what to do next—raise the third search fund.
While he spent the next decade as an operator of five companies, he was also quick to give back when he was in a position to do so, serving as a director of many early search fund companies including Asurion (Kevin Taweel and Jim Ellis), Continental Fire & Safety (Jim Southern), and Carillon Assisted Living (Karen Moriarty and Ken Kirkham).
Along with his friends Irv Grousbeck, Peter Kelly, and Jim Ellis, at Stanford he helped create the first course on search fund—and he continues to teach the next generation of search fund entrepreneurs at Stanford and is a regular resource at Harvard Business School. David is the author of the best selling book, The Manager’s Handbook, the search fund textbook on becoming a leader.
In 2000 David co-founded Sanku, which has now operated in seven African countries with a sustainable business model to fortify foods with vital vitamins and minerals to the most vulnerable populations. In 2018 he founded StudentVotes with two search fund entrepreneurs, to harness technology to make voting more accessible to college students.
Susan started her career on a trading floor in New York City, a strange way to start a life as a search fund investor, except that the work made clear to Susan that she wanted to work directly with people, not computer screens. That realization eventually led her to Stanford's Graduate School of Business to find her north star.
Upon graduation she decided to follow the path of many early search fund entrepreneurs and become a case writer, and then raise a search fund herself.
Detour #1: One of the interviewers for the job was David, who instead pitched her on the idea of working on Stanford’s biennial Search Fund Study, and then working for Futaleufu while she prepared to raise a search fund.
Detour #2: David and Susan worked so well together, that David then pitched her to become his partner and help him build Futaleufu Partners as a place where search fund entrepreneurs come to find high-impact, old fashioned, mentorship.
Today Susan gets to make her living by coaching entrepreneurs throughout their search journey, and helping them become successful CEOs. It's safe to say she found her North Star.
Susan lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and their three boys (two humans, one dog). A competitive runner, she rarely races these days but still starts pick-up races with city buses (you'll have to ask her).
Jason spent his early years in a neighborhood with limited resources, which directly shaped how he wanted to serve similar communities. But he did not know how and when, until he was sitting in the pews in his church and his attention was drawn to a new face in the choir. Olaide Lawal was a tall newcomer with a wide smile. Jason thought, “What is he so happy about? I have to meet this guy someday.”
Someday happened a month later, when Jason gave a speech to the church youth group on community impact and Olaide had been in the audience. Soon thereafter, Jason heard a talk on search funds and said to Olaide, “I think I found the thing that we’re going to work on together.”
After a meeting with Irv Grousbeck at Stanford, they knew for certain the search fund model was ideal for their partnership. Two years later they acquired Unified Dental, a dental practice management group which operates in resource constrained communities in Michigan.
Susan was on their board, and through that relationship Jason once again “found the thing to work on together,” this time with us. Jason is now transitioning from his operating responsibilities at Unified Dental to Futaleufu. He brings a treasure of operating knowledge and is an expert resource in helping search fund entrepreneurs transition to the CEO role.
Jason now lives in Michigan with his wife and three children, and continues to look for ways to help search fund CEOs through different avenues including the Black Searcher Network, which he co-founded.
Meet Sam, the Vice President who's more excited about search than a dog is about a bone. He started his career as a consultant with Visa in San Francisco, working on technology projects. But the real magic happened when Sam learned about search funds and found his bone.
Sam left Visa and worked for Futaleufu, to later leave and get his MBA at Booth with the intent of raising a search fund after graduation. During the summer between first and second year, he worked for Emporos—a search fund company.
But like a boomerang, after graduating he bounced back to Futaleufu. Sam loves to quote Warren Buffet, who says, “Work for people you admire and do what you love,” and that said “Futaleufu.”
When asked what it is about Futaleufu, he references the mentorship model, and the joy of partnering with entrepreneurs on their journey to find, buy, and grow a high-potential business.
When he's not helping search fund entrepreneurs buy and run companies, Sam can be found exploring NYC on his electric cycle (only loosely following the traffic laws), and hanging with his feline companion.
As the Rascal Flats song goes, Kirstin blesses the broken road that led her straight to search funds. Early in life she got a job in the yachting industry as a private chef, which gave her an intense curiosity about the world. That brought her to pursue a degree in anthropology and learn Russian, Arabic, and French in college—not conventional training for becoming a fund administrator, but it does mean she can talk behind our back and we don’t know what she’s saying about us. In a wonderful twist of fate, Kirstin came to Stanford and was assigned to the entrepreneurship through acquisition course. As Kirstin says, “I got to see all these wonderful search fund entrepreneurs come to class, and I wanted to play a role. So I left Stanford and found Futaleufu.”
Today Kirstin is Futaleufu’s fund manager, and in that role she is responsible for all back office functions, which include accounting, tax, compliance – more or less making sure the trains run on time. Put another way, at Futaleufu if you want something done, ask Kirstin!
When she’s not working on Futaleufu business, she takes care of a dog and four horses, and after they are fed, you are likely to find her scuba diving or ocean rowing. And if that’s not enough, she still has time for her favorite charity, Sprouts, which came out of the GSB.
When Phil graduated from the GSB he first became a rising star at Credit Suisse, and eventually rose to Co-Head of Leveraged Finance. But Phil couldn’t shake the entrepreneurial itch and so he left a certain career to start an investment bank with a classmate. That firm, originally named Headwaters and then merged with Capstone, became one of the top three M&A advisory firms in the sub-$250mm and sub-$100mm categories. It was also named multiple times as the top investment bank to work for, and he was recently named to the all-time list of Top 100 Stanford MBA Alumni in Finance and Investing.
Phil’s entrepreneurial roots never left him, and a few years ago he, Susan, and David designed a program to address the critical issue of how to support search fund entrepreneurs during the sale process. They both had observed how in the sale process, search fund entrepreneurs were leaving money on the table as they learned how to manage a sale process for the first time. Phil now spends his time at Futaleufu doing one thing: helping CEOs when it comes time to sell their business, making sure they get everything they deserve.
At Stanford, Phil got his undergraduate degree in sculpture and religious studies, which left him little choice but to become an entrepreneur. Phil founded an insurance agency in 1994 and eventually exited in 2021 after a sale and two rounds of private equity buyouts. When he left the business, North Risk Partners was one of the largest insurance agencies in the Upper Midwest.
In 2014 Phil was introduced to the search fund model and immediately gravitated towards mentoring new CEOs. Phil has served on multiple search fund boards, and at Futaleufu focuses on Risk Management, which begins with structuring the transaction correctly with the seller, and then extends into advising our portfolio companies on how to get the most out of their insurance providers. He uses his 30 years of insurance industry experience to coach our CEOs on how to structure comprehensive risk management and employee benefits programs. He brings a focused expertise in a critical aspect of running a search fund business.
When he’s not helping a search fund CEO, you’ll likely find Phil creating his latest piece of artwork, or getting in as many ski days as possible. He is equally happy skiing on water or snow. Phil lives in Minneapolis with his wife Tammie, of course they were married on waterskies.
Mary started her career at Arthur Andersen, but wanted to combine her skills as an accounting geek with entrepreneurship. Together with John O’Connell and David, they founded a search fund in 2000. Mary served as CFO, and together they built what was to eventually become the largest hauler and processor of non-hazardous liquid waste in the country.
Mary was eventually recruited to be the CFO of a public company, and with time broadened her operational scope to serve as the CFO and then COO of a large multinational health care company.
But her true love is helping entrepreneurial companies grow and prosper. So that’s what she does now through a carefully crafted portfolio of work at Futaleufu Partners. She consults with search fund entrepreneurs, specifically helping them quickly and correctly get their arms around the finance and accounting functions, board reporting, and investor reporting, so search fund entrepreneurs can focus on driving revenue and honing operations.
Mary also sits on multiple boards, and is the CFO for Sanku, the non-profit David co-founded. There she has helped manage a 50% CAGR, and Sanku’s expansion throughout East Africa. She’s still an accounting geek, a decent golfer, and an incredible UNO player.
SURVIVING IN A WORLD OF OVERLOAD
Values matter. Listen to how Susan suggests we use solitude as a tool to become not just better managers, but also better people. After all, life is not all about MOIC and IRR.
The Leap to Leadership
The podcast where David recounts his own on-the-job leadership learning experiences, engages in a bit of storytelling, and sheds light on the key steps to evolving as an individual performer to a leader.
Nobody Told Me!
A conversation with mother and daughter podcast stars, Jan Black and Laura Owens, about critical issues of leadership that no one told us!