Q&A: Willis Stein & Partners Managing Partner John Willis

Q&A: Willis Stein & Partners Managing Partner John Willis

November 20, 2007

CHICAGO - “ The Illinois Venture Capital Association has interviewed Willis Stein & Partners managing partner John Willis about the IVCA Political Action Committee and the emergence of a community locally.

Illinois Venture Capital Association: Please talk about your involvement historically in the IVCA and what we should look for in the future.
John Willis:
About five years ago, the IVCA leadership asked me if I would consider becoming vice chairman and head of its Political Action Committee (PAC).

I was very flattered by the invitation. I decided to accept not at all believing it would be a five-year assignment. As the PAC was small and underfunded at the time, the first task was to raise some money. In each of the last five years, the IVCA membership has contributed $60,000 to $70,000 a year to the PAC.

We were also able to recruit a new political adviser: Penny Cate. She has been really helpful in spearheading the development of the influence of the organization and disbursing the proceeds from the PAC in a way that has been most effective in getting us access to the political process in Illinois.

I decided that 2007 should be my last and we should turn the leadership of the PAC over to someone else who could put a fresh stamp on it and take it to the next level of importance and influence. That person is Keith Crandell. He is just concluding his reign as chairman of the IVCA. I think will to do a great job.

IVCA: In terms of spearheading a PAC in the political arena, please talk about your prior experience that made you particularly suited for this along with your personal and professional motivation to address this area.
As I had no experience whatsoever with politics in the state, I approached it with trepidation, fear and lack of trust of the entire process. I think all of those concerns served me well. Illinois politics, wow!

IVCA: Please talk about what you have seen over the last 20 years in terms of the evolution of the private equity industry locally and the community that has developed around it.
It has been amazing to watch the industry as it continues to grow and prosper. It is exploring new reaches in terms of size, degree of specialization and the quality of talent.

It also continues to evolve in terms of the acceptance of the asset class by a broader array of institutional investors. The IVCA has been instrumental in increasing the support of the industry from state and local pensions in the state.

IVCA: When you did first start seeing the emergence of a community locally? Please talk about the advantages and disadvantages to more firms in Chicago.
The IVCA has fostered improved communication within the industry. In doing so, it has allowed all of us to have a much more effective voice locally and across the state. The coordinated efforts have been meaningful particularly as an influence in the legislative process, helping to get good law into place and modifying other legislative efforts that could have been very harmful.

IVCA: Please tell us about some of your philanthropic endeavors.
The IVCA is an important outlet for me. A couple of other commitments I feel are equally important include my involvement with Rush University Medical Center and the Legacy Charter School in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

IVCA: What is Willis Stein focusing on today?
We continue to work hard on developing our existing portfolio, attaining liquidity of the mature companies in that portfolio and in the near term embarking on fundraising. We've had a great run thus far and are really looking forward to the next chapter.