The ECO and nine students trekked to the NYC area over Winter Break to visit two power-house firms run by economics majors. First we visited private equity firm Kelso in Manhattan followed by a visit to W&P Design in Greenpoint, NYC an urban-industrial hot spot in Brooklyn. Details of our visit follow, but one important take away from both visits was the power of the UVA network. Our alumni discussed this directly and indirectly as benefiting them personally and in their professional work.
At Kelso, we met UVA economics alumnus CEO Frank Loverro and Managing Director, UVA History alumnus Frank Bynum in their plush offices on Park Ave. Firm V.P. Bill Frayer. (Colgate University) walked us through the recruiting process for PE and several deals that the firm has worked on. Kelso invests primarily in middle market companies in Energy, Healthcare, Financial Services, Consumer Goods, Industrial, and Media. We learned about the deal process from idea sourcing through valuation, purchasing, management, and selling. We also heard how both Frank and Frank acquired their jobs at Kelso and what their work is like at the senior level. We met UVA McIntire School alumnus Forrest Compton, who discussed his background at Credit Suisse before moving to Kelso and Dan Slutsky's (Brown) experiences with Kelso as an Associate after moving from M&A at Bank of America. The attending students made some great connections for future opportunities. Kelso looks forward to staying connected to the department.
Our next stop was W&P Design, "a unique full-stack product design company. The firm sees ideas through from design, to manufacturing and delivery. Economics alumnus Josh Williams gave us a tour of their open, contemporary multi-use space in an industrial section of Brooklyn overlooking the Hudson River. It offered a different office culture than Kelso and our UVA students had a chance to observe these very different work environments. The space houses a design team, sales team, operations and logistics, marketing, and production team. Manufacturing and most distribution are off-site. In just five years the company has grown from a staff of 2 (Josh and fellow UVA alumnus and long-time friend Eric Prum) to 80 employees in the states and 100 employees including their overseas staff. Their first round of major funding was for a particular product "the mason shaker" and was crowd-sourced through Kickstarter. It was one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns at the time seeking a goal of $5,000 and reaching $75,000. The company's products are in catalogs all over the world and in stores like Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and Williams-Sonoma. But even with that national and international reach, they keep much business close to home in NYC and in Central Virginia. Their primary distribution center is close to Lynchburg.
A new major project for Josh and Eric is the launch of their consumer goods incubator, Assembly. It is an innovative model where ideas are conceived through the company leadership and then teams are hired to build the products and launch the newly founded company. They are hiring summer interns in sales and design, and full time staff in sales, design and project management. They are also seeking Co-Founders of their newest brands.
Both Josh and Eric had other jobs before launching W&P, Josh with Lehman Brothers/Barclays and Eric working for a paintball manufacturing company. They got their first taste of owning their own business running a catering company in Charlottesville while they were students.
After leaving Barclay's, Josh attended Culinary School in New Orleans and soon after Eric and Josh launched W&PDesign, they brought on a former intern and friend, UVA alumna Elizabeth Tilton, to build out and run their marketing department. You can read more about all three UVA alumni and W&P Design here.
This first ECO trip was a huge success and we thank our alumni for making it so.