Coffee on the Third Floor: With Professor Scott Meadow

As I enter the office, looking at an array of accomplishments and carefully preserved pictures of cherished accolades, I think, “clearly, an office of someone who has had a distinguished career.”

Sharing his journey in detail, Prof. Scott Meadow, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship, says “A year after I graduated from HBS, there was a solicitation for someone to join a Venture Capital firm in town. It was competitive, but I came in second. Shortly afterward, through the legendary Stan Golder, I met my long-time partner Sam Guren who was starting the Private Equity Venture Capital Fund at William Blair in 1981. Sam asked me to join as his associate. 

By Shikha Kapoor ‘17

By Shikha Kapoor ‘17

"I developed my skillset watching him. We were wonderful partners; he was technically very sound, while my forte was seeing the big ideas. He made me better and I hope I made him better too.”

At that time every project was syndicated. So, I was lucky at a very young age, to focus on Healthcare Services and Consumer Services, rather than on 10 to 15 different sectors of the economy and remained from 1984 almost through my whole career on those two sectors. Healthcare Services became an enormous field, covering 10% of the GDP. I had a wonderful time and a reasonable amount of success; I was even voted one of the 5 outstanding investors in Healthcare Services in 1998.”

Prof. Scott Meadow and his dog.

Prof. Scott Meadow and his dog.

What made him stand out among his peers? “I tried to come up with one or two original concepts myself every year and syndicate those with my colleagues from other firms. They were grateful and generally paid me back with growth equity projects, which carried far less risk. That allowed me to close 4 to 5 deals per year, which is a higher degree of productivity. I became a partner at William Blair and a general partner of their venture fund when I was 30.”

He shares that leaving William Blair was one of the biggest regrets of his life.“The pace at my next job was slower than what I was looking for, and so I joined the Sprout Group, one of the leading Venture Capital firms in the industry.”

An interesting turn of events led him to come to Booth. “Around the 1999-2000 timeframe, my West Coast partners insisted on gaining exposure to internet and telecom deals. Sprout trained me to be analytically rigorous. But the pace of investment demanded by emerging internet companies highly valued in the VC arena, did not allow for that level of analysis. I found myself voting “No” on most of those ideas. Since I was one of five members of the investment committee, it felt like I was hurting the culture by constantly being negative on these very popular ideas. While speaking with Steve Kaplan about a variety of things, he offered me the opportunity to teach his class during the summer because he was going to teach at INSEAD, in Paris. I taught that class and absolutely loved it! And that’s how my experience at Booth started. Sprout allowed me to be a venture partner – which means that I would not introduce any new deals, but would manage my portfolio, and support any projects that needed help. I did that for several years. Later, Sprout broke up, and I just continued to teach.”

How do students get the most out of their experience in his class? “The more time students put in, the more they get out of the class. I hope that I’m teaching them a system that will help enhance their professionalism when they leave. The people who are getting educated here are responsible for many peoples’ lives, and even if a little bit of my material seeps in, I hope that will help them be impactful in businesses they are passionate about.

“You have to spend the time on Commercializing Innovation! If you want to come in and just sniff the air, it’s your money! Hopefully you will get something out of it, but it won’t be much.”

He is impressed with the quality of his students overall, though. “I try to make myself available to anyone who’s doing an MBA at Booth. I have taught over 8,000 students, and I would hire 75% of them to any firm where I was a partner. The culture at Booth creates students that have the self-discipline and intellectual integrity to be talented participants in the entrepreneurial world. 75% is a pretty good ratio!”

Prof. Scott Meadow receiving a standing ovation from his students.

Prof. Scott Meadow receiving a standing ovation from his students.

Besides leaving William Blair, what are his other regrets? He says, ”Oddly, the next one is not playing golf! It’s a great way to meet people, source deals, and it’s not very hard! Third, not looking at things more objectively has been another mistake! And a major one -- not staying close to the money! I always managed the portfolio. I was never involved in fund-raising. That was a monumental mistake!”

Why? “The golden rule! One who has the gold makes the rule.”

Moving away from work discussion, I ask him how he likes to spend time outside of his commitments at Booth and elsewhere. He says, “I am an avid cyclist, a big swimmer and love movies!”

What was the last movie he saw? “Carnage, for the tenth time. I am also a fanatic Ohio State fan, the state I was born in, even though I have no connection with the university. Other than that, at my age, I am worried about my parents, and how I can make their life as comfortable as possible.”

His parting advice to students is: (1)“Save 10% of your gross income; (2) Look at the world objectively; and (3)Remember that you have a professional duty to make your employees’ lives better. Doctors save lives. We make lives. People that work for you will have a better life and fewer heartaches based on your professionalism. So, the fact that you were able to go to Booth puts a fair amount of weight on your shoulders, because chances are, a fair number of people will depend on your competence. And most important: If yofu don’t like something, change it. To draw on Thoreau’s wisdom, don’t live an ‘affluent’ life of quiet desperation.

Shikha is a first year who is surprisingly enjoying the Chicago weather