Cup 18

Person: Vince Foster

Drink: Grande Americano from Starbucks on Grand River

 

Academic advisors are supposed to be a support for students.  Not for Vince Foster, his career as an accountant was motivated by an advisor who told him he couldn’t.   

 During Vince’s undergraduate career-and probably still today- accounting was considered the toughest major within the business college.  When it came time to claim his major, Vince decided on accounting to challenge himself. 

His academic advisor thought otherwise. This was back when the drinking age was 18 and, well, let’s just say he enjoyed his first few semesters of college. His advisor took a look at his transcript and concluded he didn’t have the chops to be accepted, let alone survive the program. The advisor wasn’t afraid to tell Vince exactly how he felt. But that wasn’t what Vince wanted to hear. He left the meeting with a silent resolve to prove he could get into the Accounting program.

And he did. He was accepted, earned his degree, and took a position in Houston with Arthur Andersen.

It was amusing to listen as Vince relived his college experience—everyone loves an underdog story—but what really had me captivated was the story about how he left Arthur Andersen after 19 years (long before the company dissolved due to legal issues) to start his own venture, Main Street Capital Corporation.

Main Street Capital—according to their website profile—is a principal investment firm that provides long-term debt and equity capital to businesses with annual revenues ranging from $10 million to $100 million. In non-business lingo, Main Street invests in small to medium sized companies. For many 22-year-olds, spending an hour talking about portfolios, dividends, and asset inventory would be worse than sitting through an 8 am lecture on a Friday morning. But as a marketing major and avid reader of behind the scenes business magazines like Fast Company and Inc.—I loved it.

But I will spare you those details.

Starting Main Street Capital was a risky decision. He had a wife and three kids relying on his success in addition to the friends and family that were willing to invest their savings into his company. With so much interest at stake, failing wasn’t an option. But with 20 years of experience, a strong business plan, he had the confidence to make it work.

12 years later, the company is a success. Main St. Capital now has a few dozen employees, manages a portfolio of 40 businesses, and has big growth plans for the future.

I asked him about how he had made it successful, and this is what he told me:

“I hire people that are smarter than me, that are more talented than me.”

Vince has figured out where his strengths are, which has allowed him to identify employees with strengths that balance out his weaknesses. Due to his hiring philosophy, he has surrounded himself with good people.

It’s not the first time a group of good people has led to his success.

While getting into the business college was a step in the right direction for Vince, the real magic happened when Vince joined a business fraternity where he quickly became good friends with many of the members. It was a group of ambitious students who worked hard and still managed to find time for a social life. It was a transformative group for Vince. He had always had close friends, but there was something powerful about surrounding himself with supportive, motivated, and intelligent students interested in the same topics.

I could relate. In a big way. My transition to college was relatively easy. I had joined the cross country team, which meant I had a ready-made group of friends the day I started school. I also had two coaches keeping an eye on me—a comforting feeling when you’re 1,000 miles from home. I still had to find my place within that group, but instantly surrounding myself with good people was a way to get college started on the right foot.

I took that for granted. It wasn’t until I left the team and found myself without that support system that I realized how important it was in my life. I still had great friends on the team, but I no longer had a three-hour block of time I spent with them every day. Suddenly life was lonely, I felt lost, entirely unmotivated. Of course, there were many factors involved—but those factors combined with the loss of a social network made for a rough sophomore year.

Then—about the same time Vince found the business fraternity—I stumbled into a group of students who had a transformative effect on me. It was much less formal than Vince’s business fraternity—we were just a group of student entrepreneurs getting together once a week to have a beer and talk business. Before we knew it, the group started to grow. There was something magical about getting a bunch of passionate, like-minded, people in one place. And in 30 years, when I reminisce on my time at Michigan State, it will be this group of people that I talk about.

I knew the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. But Cup 18 with Vince was a nice reinforcement.