Creating a Corporate Culture that Gives Back
Discover how Ascendant Capital CEO Jeffry Schneider is building a corporate culture of success, unlimited potential and charitable giving.
foundingAustin: How did Ascendant Capital get started?
Jeffry: I came to Austin on vacation in 2007 and fell in love with the vibe of the city. Austin was full of down-to-earth entrepreneurs with big hearts—the perfect fit for me. I made Austin home and started my first company raising capital for alternative investments. In 2009, I teamed up with Virtus Real Estate, and we raised six funds together. In a way, this was really the beginning of Ascendant Capital. As the Austin real estate market boomed, I thought it would be a good idea to diversify into other alternative investments. I reached out to a friend of mine, David Gentile, who had been buying and expanding companies for over 25 years. Throughout my relationship with Dave, I had witnessed the tremendous growth of companies he purchased and partnered with. It was fascinating. I approached him with the idea of partnering on an income-producing private equity fund. Ultimately, investors need income, and I knew that if we could buy companies and generate income, there would be huge demand. In 2013, I helped him launch an income-producing private equity fund called GPB Holdings, and in 2015, I dedicated my company, Ascendant Capital, to structuring funds and raising capital exclusively for GPB. So far we have raised nearly $1.5 billion dollars for six different funds.
fA: Why alternative investments?
Jeffry: Almost twenty years ago when I was an advisor, I noticed that unique alternative investments weren’t available at big financial institutions. Stocks, bonds and cash were king, but very few people were looking outside that box for investment opportunities. I did a lot of research on hedge funds and fund-of-funds and realized they had the potential to increase returns and lower the risk profile of a traditional investment portfolio, regardless of ups and downs in the market.
fA: How does this work fit into your passion?
Jeffry: On my desktop at work I keep the words, “Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.” Helping others is my passion and the mantra of my business. I found a business partner in Dave Gentile who shares this view. I do this by providing the individuals in my company with a challenging yet supportive environment where they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. Dave does this by funding and advising other entrepreneurs. When many of the larger private equity firms buy a company, they often fire key executives—the same people who created the company’s success—and replace them with their own people. We actually partner with the entrepreneur and his or her staff, offering them the capital and guidance they need to expand and achieve their dreams.
fA: How do you keep your team so tight-knit?
Jeffry: My priority is finding people who are a cultural fit. If someone is amazing on paper but they don’t fit with our philosophy or our group dynamic, it doesn't work. Culture is everything. I look for people who make personal growth a priority, people who strive for excellence and people who express gratitude. Our typical employee is someone who knows how to work hard and enjoy life at the same time. When you hire a team that shares these values, you can’t help but succeed.
And once we’ve hired a great team, we work hard to keep it that way. It is my goal to create an environment where people find limitless opportunities for personal and professional growth. For instance, on Mondays a mindfulness coach leads us in meditation—we call him Meditation Bob. A local wellness center, Rising Spiral Massage, brings in an acupuncturist on Wednesdays and massage therapists on Thursdays and Fridays. Everyone has access to an amazing life and professional coach, Marianne MacKenzie. So it's a really enriching environment, but it's also very intense in terms of the expectation level. At Ascendant, people actually enjoy coming to work—not just because of the amenities we offer, but because of the challenges as well.
fA: What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome while building your company?
Jeffry: My biggest challenges have always centered on accountability. When you own your own business, you are accountable for every error, even if you delegated that job to someone else. But accountability doesn’t mean doing everything by yourself—quite the opposite. To be fully accountable, you need a solid team to cover your blind spots. It only works if everyone is accountable for everyone else.
When our team was less than twenty-five people, we didn’t have enough infrastructure in place because I was trying to manage too much myself. I figured the more hands-on I could be, the less margin for error. But as we grew, so did my blind spots. Without the right infrastructure, I didn’t have the bandwidth to hear everyone’s needs. When I almost lost a vital member of our team because of this, I realized I needed help. We created an executive committee made up of five key people in the company who make all the major decisions now. I have veto rights, but I don't make impactful decisions without consulting the committee. With each of us taking full accountability for the business, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.
fA: What's your vision for the next five years?
Jeffry: Over the next five years we plan to raise $10 billion in a variety of asset classes. The goal is to build a full suite of alternative products that fills all the needs of the advisor community. But more importantly, I want to create a team where corporate politics are replaced by camaraderie, where people are challenged to become their best and where they are paid extraordinarily well for a job well done.
fA: Raising $10 billion means putting some lofty goals out there. How does one start?
Jeffry: It all starts with a mindset. You can’t waste time wondering, “Will it happen?” A better question is, “What do I need to do to get there?” When I set out, I already have the end in mind, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make it happen. It takes perseverance, but more importantly it requires the right team of people persevering with you. The truth of the matter is that we have a team of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met.
fA: Tell us about how you’re supporting charities through Ascendant Capital.
Jeffry: I mentioned earlier that Meditation Bob offers meditation every week. Rather than accepting payment for his services, he suggested donating to the Cherokee Home for Children—a home for abused, neglected or abandoned kids—instead.
This struck a chord with me. Charitable giving has always been a personal priority, but I had never considered making charity a part of my business model. I decided it was time to fix that. In February we launched Ascendant Cares, an office-wide volunteer program that serves the greater Austin area through quarterly donation drives, semi-annual volunteer programs, semi-annual wellness events and countless contributions focusing on children’s needs and community building.
We want to do more than just write checks, so we’re committing our time too. This year we have scheduled team volunteer events in support of the Jeremiah Program, which provides assistance to single mothers and their kids, and the Ronald McDonald House at Dell Children’s Hospital, which keeps families close to their hospitalized children. These events are wonderful for the community and also provide a great opportunity for team building. Our employees have also pledged over 400 annual hours of community service to local charities of their choosing. Austin has done so much for us, and we are honored to give back in whatever way we can.
To find out more about Ascendant Capital, visit their website at www.ascendant-cap.com.