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Jan 17, 2017 2017-01 Accountancy Alumni Student

Steven Taslitz Gives 2016 Cozad Lecture

On November 14, 2016, students and faculty gathered in the Deloitte Auditorium to listen to the 2016 V. Dale Cozad Lecture on Entrepreneurship, presented by Steven Taslitz ACCY ’81. Taslitz is the chairman and co‐founder of Sterling Partners, a private equity firm with offices in Chicago, Miami, and Baltimore. He leads Sterling’s Operating Committee as co‐chairman and serves as a member of the Investment Committee. He works on all aspects of the deal process, including identification and due diligence of prospective acquisitions, and management and oversight of the active portfolio. Taslitz’s 30-year career as an investor and entrepreneur have provided a number of interesting and instructive anecdotes. The high points and the low points have all taught him valuable lessons on his path to success Taslitz’s talk was filled with anecdotes from his long career as a serial entrepreneur, stories he felt provided insight into those aspects of his personality and experiences that have helped him achieve success. These stories gave valuable lessons to those in attendance. Taslitz first entered the entrepreneurial realm after college when he and some friends learned about some new technology that could potentially store the equivalent of hundreds of pages’ worth of information on a chip that could be kept on something the size of a credit card. Realizing the potential that this could have for storing medical information, Taslitz and his young colleagues contacted Blue Cross Blue Shield to see if they could develop the technology and incorporate it into members’ health cards. Blue Cross gave them funding of several million dollars to start the company and develop the company, and also became a partner in the new company. Blue Cross put out a press release on the new technology being developed, and word quickly spread. Taslitz and his partners soon found themselves featured in the New York Times and pursued by other media outlets for interviews and features. There was a great fascination with this company started by young entrepreneurs that was developing cutting edge technology. As work progressed, so did the realization that it was going to require more funding than originally anticipated to fully develop the technology. A year after the start and initial notoriety of their company, Blue Cross became nervous about how young these business leaders were, took over the company, and bought out Taslitz and his colleagues. Although Taslitz and his partners were disappointed that they were not able to continue to develop the technology—which they believed had great potential but that Blue Cross in the end was unable to fully develop—they had developed a taste for entrepreneurship. After regrouping, they were soon on to new ventures. “We started on a number of other projects, and between 1985 and 1999 we bought and started maybe forty businesses. . . . It was everything from manufacturing businesses to distribution businesses and mail order businesses and broadcasting businesses,” said Taslitz. Taslitz focused on those examples that would illustrate successful ventures and that would help show what led to their success. Among some of the key attributes that he felt were key to their success. All of the stories revolve around some specific lessons that boil down to some key themes. In describing a venture into a new area, radio, Taslitz said, “We didn’t know anything about radio. So we read, and read, and read. And we found advisors. We were curious. We reached out to older people who had more experience. We had some theses or points of view about where we thought the world was going, and we went for it.” This theme of recognizing when outside help is needed, and then seeking out that outside help was a key lesson that Taslitz came back to. It had been a key to the initial success they had with the project with Blue Cross, and it was something that reappeared throughout his career in a number of differing ventures. He also reiterated the importance of not just reaching out for advice, but also gaining some credibility in a new field through ties and networking. As Taslitz explained, “Those were some of the smartest things we did: we reached out for help, and we brought credulity to the table.” Among the many companies that Taslitz has helped bring to profitability are Sylvan, the tutoring company, and KinderCare, a chain of daycare centers. Though Sterling Partners no longer has ownership of these particular companies, Taslitz maintains an interest in education and its advancement. He has also been active in a number of nonprofit organizations and educational charities, including the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the Glencoe Educational Foundation (where he served as board president), and the Investment Committee of the Jewish United Fund.