THE VISTRIA GROUP COFOUNDER AND CO-CEO TALKS ABOUT THE VALUE OF BOLD ACTION, THE MENTORS WHO LEFT A PROFOUND INFLUENCE, AND THE REASON WHY HE SAYS “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.”
Entrepreneur and civic leader Martin Nesbitt, ’89, is five years into his latest co-venture, Chicago-based Vistria Group, a $1.7 billion private equity firm that invests at the intersection of public and private sectors in healthcare, education, and financial services.
Before that, he was CEO and cofounder of the Parking Spot, the first nationally branded airport parking company, which has grown into a business worth more than $1 billion. The public good is always on his plate: he was recently named to the transition team for newly elected Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker; he’s chairman of the Obama Foundation; and he served on the board of the Chicago Housing Authority. Dubbed “the first friend,” Nesbitt raised funds and weathered the campaign trail from the very beginning of former president Barack Obama’s political career. Said Nesbitt: “Going to the White House never got old: it was awe-inspiring every time.”
The one thing I bring to business and civics: “It’s not about me.” It’s about the capacity to put the interests of others (the institution, the company, and the people) ahead of my own. People empower you with leadership opportunities when they trust that you have their best interest in mind. That’s what leads to success, and it’s one of the fundamentals of Vistria, the firm I started with my partner, Kip Kirkpatrick. We thought to ourselves, “What if we started a firm that’s not about us? What if it’s about Us—our partners, our investors, our portfolio of companies, and their employees?” We thought there was a value proposition at the intersection of private and public interest, in doing the right thing for the broader community. For example, we bought an online high-school completion program for adults. There’s a skills gap in this country—we have people who are undereducated and undertrained. Our investment serves the students, the corporate community, and our broader society. That company fits squarely into Vistria’s mission.