Boston Celtics Managing Partner and CEO Wycliffe “Wyc” Grousbeck '83 and Berkshire Partners Managing Director Kevin Callaghan '83 discussed how their experience at the University shaped their careers and helped them understand the meaning of life.
Grousbeck is also the Chairman of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, a hospital specializing in blindness and deafness research. He is on the board of Formula E Holdings, an electric powered auto racing championship being held around the world. The Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO), which manages the University’s endowment, invests in Callaghan's company, Berkshire Partners.
Grousbeck and Callaghan first discussed how they arrived at the University. Callaghan explained that he was the second person in his extended family to go away to college, and that the University's financial aid policy enabled him to do so. He explained that on his first day, he realized the University's personal touch when he was chatting with Kirk Unruh '70, an admissions officer who knew everything about Callaghan's background and high school experience.
"[His memory] was encyclopedic, and all of a sudden Princeton felt family-like," Callaghan said.
Grousbeck explained that he grew up in Boston and was very interested in Boston sports from an early age. He then asked if anyone in the audience was a fan of the New York Knicks, and proceeded to needle the Knicks supporters.
"I want to make sure that [the Knicks fans] have a chance to see an NBA Championship ring," Grousbeck said, pulling out his 2008 championship ring. "It's a once-in-your-life showing."
During his time at the University, Grousbeck noted that he really loved his teammates on the rowing team and enjoyed being on the water, and said that a highlight was winning a gold medal in the 1983 lightweight college championships.
Grousbeck and Callaghan then discussed how they chose their different career paths. Callaghan explained that he majored in engineering, but after a few summer internships in the engineering field, he decided that he didn't want to pursue this career path. After graduating, Callaghan worked at Lehman Brothers in New York City, but after a few years he decided he didn't want to pursue this path either. Grousbeck asked him if he felt embarrassed that he didn't know what he wanted to do, and Callaghan responded that he saw this as a learning experience.
"I felt like I was learning enough and that I could be proficient enough to understand those worlds," Callaghan said. "I call them 'nuggets,' people you meet, things you learn, and that helps shape your worldview a little bit."
Callaghan decided to pursue an MBA degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he coincidentally met Grousbeck again. He discovered that he really loved being an investor, and wanted to become more involved with a private equity company. He joined Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm in Boston, because he really liked the people and thought he could learn a lot there, and he has been there ever since.
"I just tried to figure out where I could learn the most each time from people I really respected," Callaghan said, referencing his career path over the years.
Grousbeck explained that he initially went to the University of Michigan Law School, and worked in a law firm for a few years in Silicon Valley practicing venture capital and securities law. Describing himself as a "recovering lawyer," Grousbeck noted that his father's background as an entrepreneur and his time working with businesses in Silicon Valley reminded him of the enjoyment of being in a startup. After graduating from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Grousbeck planned on entering the business field, but his plans changed after the birth of his son Campbell.
He explained that Campbell was born blind, and he had to put his business and career on the back burner. Grousbeck said that his overarching goal was to make sure that his son would be happy, and so he moved his family back to Boston so his son could attend the Perkins School for the Blind.
In 2002, Campbell was doing very well in school, and Grousbeck noted that he finally felt the freedom to do what he wanted with his life.
"At that moment, I thought of getting back to the feeling that I first found at Princeton, which was going for a championship," he said. "Buying control of the Celtics was never about money, but it was 'what if I could take control of the Celtics and win a championship?'"
After buying the team, Grousbeck explained that he had to make several tough decisions if he wanted to ultimately win a championship. He started by firing the entire coaching staff, the PR firm, and the team doctor within the first year. He noted that the Celtics hadn't won a championship since 1986, so he undertook four steps to transform the team, which were: setting the goal high and aiming for the most desired goal, figuring out exactly what it takes to achieve that goal, achieving the goal no matter how painful it is, and enduring whatever misery may arise. He noted that these steps weren't easy, but he truly wanted to win a championship.
"You see how easy it is to take an easier road," he said.
After hiring some Harvard and MIT data scientists to analyze the composition of championship teams, Grousbeck managed to structure a team that eventually went on to win the NBA Championship in 2008.
Finally, Grousbeck and Callaghan tackled the "meaning of life." Callaghan explained that people should pursue what they are passionate about, and that he has been lucky in that he loves what he does for work.
"I would do it for far less or even nothing, and I would probably enjoy it," he said.
He added that receiving guidance from great mentors is also important, and that he enjoys being able to interact on a personal level with young people and help shape them. He noted that he sees this as the purpose of existence, along with being involved with the community and charities.
Grousbeck agreed, and added that the meaning of life can be explained with banners. He noted that he got to raise a banner after the Celtics won the NBA Championships in 2008, and that he sees banners as a symbol of accomplishment.
"Everybody in this room, just to get here to this amazing institution, are all champions," he said. "You all have the power and the capability to raise a banner."
Referencing his involvement with the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, he added that he is now working on raising two new banners: one reading "We Beat Blindness," and the other reading "We Beat Deafness."
"What kind of banners will you hang, because the world needs you to do that?" Grousbeck asked the audience. "We need champions, we need to make the world a better place, and I look forward to celebrating your banners with you."
The event was part of the G.S. Beckwith Gilbert '63 Lectures in Finance and was sponsored by the Keller Center for Entrepreneurship, the Bendheim Center for Finance, and the Athletics department. The event took place at 4:30 p.m. in the Friend Center Convocation Room.