With this post, I’m kicking-off a series of blog entries that aim to give the readers a ringside view of Tuck’s venerated alumni network. You’ve heard it all along –the school’s close-knit network, its highly-accomplished alumni, how much they care about the school and its students, and how they demonstrate their support to the school, year in and year out. My endeavor is to shed some light on this enviable network that everyone talks about in such revered tones. To that end, I’ll be interviewing Tuckies across generations on this platform, showcasing their personal and professional accomplishments, and sharing the advice they have for readers. So read on! And please don’t forget to leave a comment on what you think about this series and any suggestions you may have for future such posts.
Jack Tankersley, T’74.
The medium of conversation is irrelevant. There’s an unmistakable elevation in the energy levels and enthusiasm in the room as soon as Jack starts talking. I’ve experienced it myself – in person, on the phone, over video – Jack’s excitement for life is infectious. Equally enthusiastic is he, about all things Tuck (he serves on the Executive Advisory Board of Tuck’s Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship). All I did was propose the idea of this blog series to him and he signed up immediately, no questions asked. After an hour-and-a-half of riveting discussion, I came away wiser and with a pep in my step, his energy levels having rubbed off on me.
“Steve [Jobs] was successful in spite of the way he treated people and not because of it,” he said, “I hope people who read his biography understand that.” Jack should know. During the formative years of his long and wildly successful career as a venture capitalist, he had interacted with Steve Jobs during Apple’s board meetings.
Life has come a long way since then. He co-founded Centennial Funds with another Tuckie, Steve Halstedt, T’73, in 1981. He has raised more than $1B in the past 30 years, has given some fantastic returns to his investors, has co-founded another growth equity fund called Meritage Funds which he currently manages (with assets under management of $600M). He also invests in a personal capacity as a limited partner in select VC and PE funds.
At Meritage’s inception, Jack introduced the idea of having “operating partners” – experienced industry players who get involved deeply in the portfolio companies and help chart their growth. Meritage was one of the earliest funds to have institutionalized this approach, long before it became a staple term in the broader venture community. His team at Meritage has expanded and due to several recent exits, for the first time in memory he is not currently serving on portfolio company boards, a situation that will change with the pending closing of a new investment.  
Nonetheless, he is fully involved with each Meritage portfolio company – conducting one-on-one sessions with the management teams to identify challenges and opportunities, overseeing strategy development, and guiding the investments to successful exits. Some of the exits Jack has orchestrated over the years include Brooks Fiber Properties (acquired by Worldcom at valuation of $3.4B), Crown Castle International (current market value of more than $17B), Paris-based Completel (acquired by Altice B2B at valuation of $1.1B), Masergy Communications (acquired by ABRY Partners at valuation of $210M), and, New Path Networks (acquired by Crown Castle International at valuation of $115M).
Perhaps not so surprisingly, Jack’s peers – specifically Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson who are themselves very successful venture capital investors in their own right through their fund, the Foundry Group – acknowledged Jack as the father of Colorado’s venture capital industry, in their highly acclaimed book “Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist.”
It all started in 1974. As a part of the course work in the entrepreneurship course, Jack was in the middle of a presenting a business idea to a panel that included Tuck’s iconic professor of entrepreneurial innovation and strategy, James Brian Quinn, and a venture capitalist. While the presentation was all about pitching a company’s business plan in order to raise VC funding, Jack had a moment of epiphany and made up his mind right then, that he wanted to be the one funding companies – as a venture capitalist. After the presentation, he approached Prof. Quinn with his thoughts. Prof. Quinn and Jack developed a 5-year plan to get him into VC business. Within 4 years of graduation, Jack was well on his way to making a mark in the industry of his choice.
Needless to say, Jack’s passion is to build. Building companies (loves to work with talented entrepreneurs), building character and community (involved closely with Boy Scouts; spends a significant amount of time and effort towards community initiatives), building future (on the board of a high school in Virginia, serves on its investment committee), and building a collection of rare fine wines (includes occasional consuming; is also on the board of Cakebread Cellars, a winery in Napa Valley, to which he got introduced by Tuck classmate Vandy Van Wagener). He is also a voracious reader. In addition to Steve Job’s biography, he just finished reading ‘Escape from Camp 14’ – the account of the only known escapee from a North Korean prison camp, ‘Unbroken’ – about a former US Olympic track star who is captured by the Japanese during World War II, ‘Boys Adrift’ and ‘Girls on the Edge’ – about current issues facing young boys and girls and how parents can address them.
True to the topography of the region where he lives, Jack enjoys the outdoors. Jack’s younger son Andy is a world class outdoorsman, having led expeditions to climb mountains around the world including Shishapangma – the last of the 8000 meter peaks to be climbed because of the remoteness of its location within Tibet. Having done his masters in education, Andy currently teaches in the public school system in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jack’s older son, Jay, is a Tuckie as well, having graduated in 2007. He is an entrepreneur and runs a company called Vital Learning, which delivers online training to companies in the areas of leadership, productivity, and customer service. As do many Tuckies, Jay met his life partner at Tuck, fellow classmate, Lauren.
Jack strongly believes that in order to be successful as a VC/PE investor, one must demonstrate the ability to lead without necessarily having control, and the ability to make judgment calls without the benefit of having all the necessary information. He says if one is able to back her/his leadership and judgment with the ability and the willingness to work hard, she/he will be able to achieve any seemingly impossible goal.
He has a word of advice for those of us aspiring to be in venture capital/private equity: to be successful in VC/PE, you have to be skeptical, but you cannot be cynical. He also believes it’s very important in every transaction that you leave something on the table – a fair deal is better than the perfect deal. He signs off quoting an early industry mentor, John Foster, T’67: “The sin in our business [VC/PE] is not losing money. It’s making 4 times when you could have made 10!” 

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