IVCA Profile: Walter C. Florence, Recipient of the 2018 Fellows Award at the  upcoming IVCA Awards Dinner

November 21, 2018

The 2018 IVCA Awards Dinner is coming soon... December 3rd at the Four Seasons Hotel... and the recipients of those upcoming awards have been named. The Fellows Award – which honors individuals for their outstanding contributions to the VC/PE industries through their work with the Illinois Venture Capital Association (IVCA) – will be presented to Walter C. Florence, Managing Partner of the Frontenac Company and veteran IVCA contributor, who first joined the Board of Directors in 2005.

Prior to joining Frontenac in 1994, Walter Florence graduated from Dartmouth College and received an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. He had previously worked for Bears, Stearns & Co., where he was an Analyst in the investment banking division. Through Frontenac, he is a director of Salient CRGT, Schlotterbeck & Foss, Spice Chain Corporation and Whitebridge Pet Products. His prior investments and directorships include Alfalfa’s, Aspire Media, F+W Media, H-E Parts, Health Valley Foods, Mercer Foods LLC, Sigma Corporation, SI International and Wenner Bread Products. 

He joined the Board of Directors at the IVCA in 2005, served as a Vice Chairman in 2015 and ’16, and was Chairman in 2017 and ’18. Florence and his wife are founders of “A Good Walk Spoiled” Foundation, which supports the IVCA Scholar Program and The Michael J. Fox Foundation. He also is a Board Member of the Lurie’s Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

Maura O’Hara, the Executive Director of the IVCA, said this in nominating Walter Florence, “Walter is an optimist who always offers a good idea and a way forward whenever needed. It was an extreme pleasure to work with him over the past several years. His most lasting impact at the IVCA will be his commitment to creating more gender and racial diversity in our industry.”

The IVCA got the opportunity to get some insight from Walter Florence himself, in the following Q&A profile.

IVCA:You have been on the IVCA Board of Directors since 2005. What has made you most proud of the association’s impact, and how do you think it will continue to support VC and PE members in the future?

Walter Florence: The IVCA works to educate legislators on the positive economic impact of our industry, and to promote pro-growth public policy in our City & State... providing educational programming and facilitating networking. I am proud to see participation by virtually every firm in our industry, proud to see that membership participation cuts across all career levels and job descriptions at our member firms, and proud that the IVCA has taken action to promote diversity in our industry. If you or your firm is not already involved, you should be.

IVCA:As a Chairman of the IVCA, you’ve advocated gender and racial diversity and expansion. Why did you choose to focus on diversity and how can general business and the VC/PE industries encourage more diversity, and in turn lead the rest of society towards a more equitable opportunity base?

Florence: When I was asked to serve as Chairman, I was honored but intimidated. The IVCA was already very well run, and like many others, I have limited time for things outside work and family. If I was going to allocate the time, I wanted to make sure I had an impact. I was guarding against spreading myself too thin. I decided to pick one initiative and focus on it. I sat down with Maura and we came up with a few ideas. 

With those few ideas in hand, I made a point to get out and embark on a listening tour. I met with many of our member firms. It was clear that diversity was important to our members, but diversity itself was not the goal, successful investing was the goal. Diversity of people, input and ideas was viewed by most firms as a critical element of a successful investment organization.

Less obvious to me – and I heard from virtually every one of the leaders in our industry,  who themselves are diverse – there are not enough diverse candidates in the applicant pools. This input is what led to the IVCA Scholars summer intern program.  All we had to do was find a way to fund the program.

IVCA:To amplify that funding, what is the origin of the creation of ‘A Good Walk Spoiled,' your family foundation, and why you decided to create a golf event to benefit the IVCA Scholar program?

Florence: In 2016, my wife and I decided to establish a small foundation to invest in causes and issues that meant something to us. Beyond that, we had very little figured out, but we jumped in and figured we’d learn as we go. 

In the course of our research, we learned that most PGA Tour events are managed and hosted by foundations, and thought, what a great business model. At the same time, as we were researching these elements, the IVCA decided to relaunch the IVCA Scholars summer intern program. The executive committee gave us the green light, provided we could fund it. Maura took the lead on recruiting interns and developing content for the summer, and I agreed to organize and manage a summer Golf Invitational which in turn would help fund the IVCA Scholar Program.

IVCA:Since your foundation has been a vital supporter to the IVCA Scholar Program, what element of that Program has been most satisfying to you, and how do you see it contributing to the PE and VC industries?

Florence: From 2007 through 2012, the IVCA Scholar Program hosted two or three Scholars a year... so we’ve seen 12 students move through the program. But in the last two years, the IVCA Scholars program has recruited, trained and provided summer internships for 18 students with diverse backgrounds. That is a lot of students.  

The internships last ten weeks. In addition, IVCA organizes weekly ‘field trips’ for students to get exposed to all different sides of the industry. Interns also are required to participation in a Dale Carnegie Course. At the end of the summer, there is a ceremony where each intern makes a short presentation about their summer. Students are encouraged to invite their families. For me, having participated in the ceremony in each of the last two years, this ceremony has been the most gratifying event of the summer.

IVCA:In your evolution in the IVCA, from sitting on the board to serving as Chairman, what have you learned about the machinations of working with legislators in Springfield, and what contribution has it made to your education about politics and policies there? Why do you believe that staying engaged in politics is so important?

Florence: I have learned two things. First, which is no different than in any other business, relationships matter. Having good relationships in Springfield when issues arise that impact our industry, and our state, makes a difference. Second, we should all be thankful for all the work Maura and IVCA do on our behalf in Springfield, and in many other places.

IVCA:With the 2018 IVCA Fellows Award, you are recognized by your peers. What does that recognition mean to you, in your life with the PE industry and the IVCA?

Florence: I am very grateful for the Fellows Award. Among the things that I appreciate about the Private Equity business is the people we get to work with and meet, as well as the impact we can have on the companies we invest in. The IVCA has been no different. It has allowed me to work with and meet some great people, and in a small way – through programs like IVCA Scholars – I believe we are helping raise awareness for the positive impact our industry has for our investors, our partners, our portfolio companies, and especially for the IVCA Scholars themselves.

For more information regarding the 2018 IVCA Annual Awards Dinner, click ww.illinoisvc.org/featured-event-2014-ivca-annual-awards-dinner