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Stewart Kohl on Loving Your Job

Stewart Kohl is Co-CEO of The Riverside Company, a $10 billion global private equity firm with offices across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.   The Riverside Company was founded to invest in the smaller end of the middle market. Since 1988, Riverside has invested in more than 600 companies. The Riverside Company’s investors include pension […]

Stewart Kohl

Stewart Kohl is Co-CEO of The Riverside Company, a $10 billion global private equity firm with offices across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.  

The Riverside Company was founded to invest in the smaller end of the middle market. Since 1988, Riverside has invested in more than 600 companies. The Riverside Company’s investors include pension funds, endowments, funds-of-funds, insurance companies and banks. 

Stewart Kohl joined Riverside in 1993. Prior to that, he was a vice president of Citicorp Venture Capital, Ltd., the private equity arm of Citibank.

Stewart Kohl serves as an Honorary Trustee of Oberlin College and Co-Chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.  He is also on the Board of Trustees of Cleveland Clinic and Co-Chairs its $2 billion Power of Every One Capital Centennial Campaign. 

Stewart Kohl was inducted into the Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges Hall of Excellence in 2009.  He previously served as Co-Chair of the Building for Hope Capital Campaign of the Center for Families and Children.

Stewart Kohl earned the George S. Dively Entrepreneurship Award in 2018. He was inducted into the Northeast Ohio Business Hall of Fame in 2014. He founded VeloSano, that has raised more than $21 million to fund cancer research since 2014.

Stewart Kohl holds a BA from Oberlin College.

We recently had a chance to hear from Stewart Kohl about what he loves most about his job as co-CEO, along with Béla Szigethy, of one of the most successful private equity companies in the United States.

What do you love about your job?

I’ve got the world’s best job, and I’m ruined for life. It’s barely a job. If you’re curious about what makes the world work or what make industries tick, I’m a corporate voyeur. I get to wander around and stare in the windows of companies and learn all sorts of things about them, so it’s incredibly stimulating. Literally, every Monday we have our investment committee meetings that we call the MOMs, Meeting of the Minds. I’m going to sit in these MOMs, starting at 8 am and ending, depending on the Monday, somewhere between 7 and 8 pm. I’ll have gone around the world. We’ll have talked about several hundred companies, some for 30 seconds and some for an hour, and I’ll learn so much.

I’m pretty passionate about all of this, because that’s how we make money, and that’s how we help our employees have good jobs and to achieve their financial objectives, but I’m also passionate about it because when we help quote-unquote, “sellers,” to achieve their objectives, it’s one of the most rewarding parts of our jobs, and it’s typically not limited to just the seller. To make this all work, they’re going to typically get their management teams involved. We’re going to work to professionalize these management teams, and part of that is going to be aligning interests and giving the management team ownership, so when these deals work, there’s a kind of a cascading effect of success. There’s a lot of beneficiaries of success.

It works because when we get the alignment right and it flows down from our investors, who are our bosses, through Riverside, to the owners of these businesses who we work with, to the management teams of these businesses, sometimes even through the employee groups of these businesses, it’s enormously beneficial to the community, to the country, to the economy. One of the key parts of it being so successful is that it rewards the entrepreneur for the incredible risk and work they took to found the business, to grow the business.

My biggest takeaway over the 30 years I’ve been doing this, is there are so many ways to make money, far more than any of us ever appreciated, and new ones are being created every day. You’ve heard people talking about the impact of technology, and we’re seeing it on every company in every industry. 

We’re not technology investors. I used to say we weren’t, but today everybody’s a technology investor, because it’s affecting everything. People talk about the power of software, and we’re experiencing that firsthand. Cleveland is quietly creating a lot of great little software businesses that I hope someday will be big software businesses and will stay in Cleveland. I think we have a shot at that. All that is so refreshing.

I get to work with these amazing colleagues that keep me on my toes, challenge me every day. We select our folks very much for fit in culture. But that makes the work all the more rewarding because of them. 

I am an avid reader, or I should say skimmer. I look at every picture. I read every caption, and I selectively read the text, but I’m getting a lot of the content. I do look at three newspapers a day, two national and The Plain Dealer. I think reading, not just newspapers, but industry, local periodicals like Cleveland Magazine, industry periodicals. Obviously, today with the web, there’s so much to read, so much information. In fact, the problem today is not finding sources. It’s prioritizing it. It’s figuring out what’s true and what’s not, but it is I think, given what I do, very important to be aware of all that.

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