Speaker Event

Bill Mulligan of Primus Capital: From Venture Capital to Private Equity Investing

March 15, 2019 2:30 AM


3:50 am

Bill Mulligan of Primus Capital: From Venture Capital to Private Equity Investing

Cleveland Racquet Club



Event Recap:

The Center For Free Enterprise hosted its latest sold out program on Friday, March 15, 2019 at The Racquet Club in Pepper Pike.

With 145 registrants, this was our most popular program yet. The momentum continues to build, as over 40 of the attendees indicated that they were attending their first CFE program!

Ben Calkins, of The Calkins Law Firm, Ltd., was the master of ceremonies and, after thanking the program’s sponsors, notably JP Morgan Wealth Management and Mixed Media & Design, Inc., and all attendees were given the opportunity to briefly introduce themselves, Ben Calkins turned the microphone over to the program’s host, David Brown of Red Hawk Associates.

Our featured guest and speaker was Bill Mulligan, Managing Partner of Primus Capital. Bill is a graduate of Denison University and received his MBA from the University of Chicago.

Bill recalled how in the early 1980’s he worked first for First Chicago and thereafter for McKinsey and Company in its Cleveland office. At that time, Cleveland Tomorrow, a group of Cleveland area based public companies and with a board comprised of their CEO’s, had recommended that the Cleveland Tomorrow member companies form a Cleveland based venture capital fund and that became Primus Venture Partners.

Primus raised $10 M from the Cleveland Tomorrow member companies and another $20 M from Ohio’s public employee pension funds. These pension funds had not invested in this type of vehicle before.

Loyal Wilson was brought in from First Chicago to run Primus, and one day he ran into Bill Mulligan on Concourse C at Cleveland Airport and they talked about the new fund that Loyal Wilson had been brought in to run. When Loyal Wilson’s initial hire backed out, after his wife refused to move from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Loyal Wilson hired Bill Mulligan to work with him at Primus.

Fund 1 had $30 M in it, and invested about $1 M in each of 30 companies, some startups and some more venture capital type investments. During the first 18 months, Primus had to make investments in Ohio but since then has not been geographically limited.

Well, so much for history. Recently Primus raised its Fund 8, with $540 M.

  • When Primus was started, $30 M was considered a mid sized fund. Today, $540 M is considered a relatively small fund.
  • When Primus started, it invested about $1 M per company. Today, Primus will invest about $30 M, the size of all of Fund 1, per company.
  • When Primus started, it had a geographical focus, on Ohio for the first 18 months, but no longer.
  • When Primus started, they made early stage investments. But no longer, as today they make growth stage investments in more established companies poised for growth.

Primus is typically a controlling investor, in 2/3 of its investments, and a minority investor in the other third. Typically Primus will have two of its representatives on the board of a business in which it invests. Primus does have industry focuses, including health care (Steris was an early investment), and has offices in Cleveland and Atlanta.

The story of Primus is to some extent a story of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio and to some extent a story about venture capital and private equity investing and how it has changed over the past several decades. And change it has…

At Primus’ inception, venture and private investing were relatively new, investors were wary, investments modest in size, etc. Today, by contrast, venture capital and private equity investing is important. Pensions and other asset managers routinely allocate a portion of their capital to such investments, and investment funds are awash in vast amounts of uncommitted capital.

Windom Ratchford, Owner and Creative Director of Creative Gold Media, was kind enough to video tape this fascinating discussion, which you can see above. Don’t miss this exciting story!

Original Event Post:

A Discussion with Bill Mulligan of Primus Capital: From Venture Capital to Private Equity Investing

William “Bill” C. Mulligan joined Primus in 1985. He is one of the founders of Cleveland’s VC and Private Equity investment industry. Bill now focuses on the firm’s business services and healthcare investment activities. His historical investments include American Steel & Wire, Inc. (acquired by Birmingham Steel, Inc.), Bioanalytical Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:BASI), Golf Galaxy, Inc. (acquired by Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc., NYSE:DKS), InSiteOne, Inc. (acquired by Dell, Inc.), Installed Building Products, LLC, PartsSource, Inc. (acquired by Great Hill Partners), Petzazz, Inc. (acquired by PETsMART, Inc., NASDAQ:PETM), SPARTA Insurance Holdings, Inc., and Universal Electronics, Inc. (NASDAQ:UEIC).

Prior to joining Primus, Bill served in various management and operating roles at McKinsey & Company, Deere and Company and First Chicago Corporation. He earned a BA in Economics from Denison University and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Bill serves on the Board of Trustees of The Cleveland Clinic, Denison University and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.

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