IVCA Profile: 2013 Daley Award Recipient Jim O’Connor, Managing Director of MVC Capital

IVCA Profile: 2013 Daley Award Recipient Jim O’Connor, Managing Director of MVC Capital

November 20, 2013

Completing the profiles of individual honorees for the 2013 IVCA Annual Awards Dinner, the recipient of the Richard J. Daley Award is James J. “Jim” O’Connor, Jr., the Managing Director of MVC Capital. The Award is named for Richard J. Daley – Mayor of Chicago from 1955-1976 –historically the most influential leader of the city in the 20th Century. Mr. O’Connor represents the defining principle of the award, as an “individual who has given direct and extraordinary support to the State of Illinois by participating in or being an advocate for the venture capital and private equity industry.”

James J. “Jim”  O'Connor, Jr. is a senior investment professional with over a decade of private equity and venture capital experience. Laura Ferris Anderson, Chief of Staff at the Midwest Region of J.P. Morgan Chase, said this in her nominating letter...”Jim is imminently qualified for this distinguished award. He has directed significant effort toward improving our city, our state and the country. Importantly, as a member of the industry, he has participated in venture capital and private equity as an investor, service provider and academic. His investments of his time, energy and treasure to our community are substantial.”

Prior to joining MVC Capital as Managing Director in 2008, Jim O'Connor held senior management positions within Motorola, Inc. He was Co-Founder and Managing Director of Motorola Ventures – the venture capital and private equity investment arm for Motorola – where he led numerous global transactions. In his most recent role, Mr. O’Connor also led Motorola’s Innovation Program, where he built several high growth businesses for the corporation, including the initial successful launch of the development team for the Google/Motorola ‘Droid’ product.

Before Motorola, he worked for A.T. Kearney as a management consultant and at the U.S. Treasury Department in the areas of Domestic and International Finance as a White House Fellow. Additionally, he held roles at Ariel Capital Management, Sidley & Austin, the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee and the City of Chicago Finance Committee. Mr. O’Connor is Co-Chair of the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) and a Board member of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Chicago Urban League, Kohl Children’s Museum, Children’s Home + Aid, the Big Shoulders Fund for the Archdiocese of Chicago's inner-city school fund and serves as a Trustee on the Board of the Field Museum of National History.

Jim O’ Connor is a Henry Crown Leadership Fellow of the Aspen Institute. In 2006, he was named to the American Ventures Magazine "40 UNDER 40" list. He holds a BA in Government and a JD from Georgetown University and an MBA from the Northwestern University J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

The IVCA spoke with Jim O’Connor on the occasion of his receipt of the Richard J. Daley Award, and he talked about the honor and his perspective on the industry and his career.

IVCA: Given the name on the Daley Award, Richard J. Daley, what does the honor mean to you in context to the history of Chicago and your contributions to that business community in both the city and the state?

Jim O’Connor:  Mayor Richard J. Daley developed a marvelous relationship with the business community and was sympathetic to their needs.  He always looked to achieve economic growth through entrepreneurship initiatives and strong public and private partnerships. He was truly a legend to me as a young man and represented the grit associated with Chicago and our will to succeed locally and on the world stage. I have fond memories of the mayor as a young boy and recall what an inspiration he was because of his ever present pride in this great City and State.  This is truly a humbling honor to receive an award named after him.

IVCA: Your undergraduate degree was in government studies. How was that useful – in both a perspective and business sense – in your law and MBA pursuit later?

O’Connor: Good government is essential to the well-being of any community and critical to the success of business and entrepreneurship.  I chose to focus my studies on government, law and business so that I could develop a wide skill-set to prepare me for my career.  Multi-disciplinary studies are always beneficial to a private equity or venture capital professional as deal skills, relationship skills and operational skills.  All are grounded in fundamentals and sharpened through experience.

IVCA: Part of your early career was in the U.S. Treasury Department. Given the criticism of government from so many circles, even ordinary Americans, what are your observations about government operations given your previous insider status?

O’Connor: I have always felt that Government should and does attract some of the best and brightest.  I was fortunate enough to be a White House Fellow [1998-99] and had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in our nation, including Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, as well as my direct boss, Sheryl Sandberg – who has gone on to great things as the COO of Facebook.  The whole team at Treasury, whether it was political appointments or career civil service, were some of the most dedicated and smartest people I ever worked with – it was a privilege and honor to work in the Treasury Department.

IVCA: You were involved in the founding of Motorola Ventures. Since this organization came out of a corporate culture, what were the challenges of an investment arm from a board room versus a fund?

O’Connor: I was fortunate enough to work with several great Motorola leaders who had the foresight to launch and develop this group which became one of the foremost Corporate Venture Capital arms in the world.  We had to start from scratch in a culture not necessarily driven to look outside the corporate walls for innovation. But with my Partner Warren Holtsberg, we were able to drive significant growth for our corporation during some challenging economic times. 

Working in a traditional private equity firm is similar. The teams may be smaller but the same disciplines apply – find good deals, don’t overpay, transact them well and build great companies through sustained long term partnerships. Motorola Ventures taught me that culture and it continues with me today at MVC Capital.

IVCA: What did MVC Capital offer you, in a career challenge sense, when you decided to join them in 2008?

O’Connor: I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work with Warren Holtsberg and Michael Tokarz on the evolution and growth of MVC Capital. Both Warren and Mike provided me an entrée into the private equity world and I will be forever grateful for their support.  MVC was a natural step for me in my business career as it allowed me to focus on a very specific set of investments outside of a large corporate culture.  We have had success here because of this discipline and focus built off the team’s strong experience.

IVCA: One of the more humbling aspects of business success is the ability to give back to the community. What personal give-backs are closest to your heart, and how has that involvement changed your life?

O’Connor: I have been lucky to live in this great State of Illinois, where there is an imbued sense of ‘giving back.’  It's not just about money or time, but a true commitment to reach out and help other members of our business and entrepreneurship community to succeed, and then celebrating each other's wins in an authentic way. I call this ‘Chicagoness.’ This is a unique and differentiating feature of our culture whereby the business community knows it has to continually be part of the overall eco-system to constantly improve our community on multiple levels – through improvement of schools, hospitals, and business.  

Support for entrepreneurship has always been my passion at the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC) and ‘1871’ where we have affected successes for many entrepreneurs.  On a more personal level though, my greatest love is working to support the Big Shoulders Fund, an organization my father started 25 years ago, which serves the needs of thousands of inner city students through innovative educational programs. This Fund has delivered incredible results in an area so critical to the foundation of Chicago, and the future of so many young citizens.

IVCA: Given your high profile in the venture capital and private equity industries – and your busy outside charity and business associations you pursue – what personal hobby, interest or activity would your industry colleagues be surprised to hear about?

O’Connor: Spending time with my family is my priority and passion. Family is everything to me and always has been. I have an incredible wife, Julie, who supports me in dealing with all the crazy curveballs I throw her. I could not do any of these things without her. At this phase of my life, family also means a lot of driving to games and coaching of kids, but it gives me a chance to pass on the lessons my parents passed on to me such as hard work, results, commitment to community and being in the Jesuit phraseology ‘men and women for others.’

IVCA: Finally, what does the IVCA mean to you and the City of Chicago?

O’Connor: Organizations such as the IVCA, under the leadership of Maura O’Hara, are critical to the lifeblood of the entrepreneurial eco-system in Chicago. The IVCA is a unique convener and aggregator of the business community, and makes an impact on Illinois not just in public policy, but in the mere act of bringing us together as a community and unified force. Without the IVCA, I truly believe we as a business community would be more fragmented and have less impact.

The 2013 IVCA Awards Dinner, presented by Kirkland and Ellis LLP, will take place on December 9th, 2013, at The Four Seasons, 120 E. Delaware Street, Chicago. Individual tickets are still available, click here for information.