SHE SAW A NEED AND SOLVED THE PROBLEM: THE STORY OF KINZIE CAPITAL
Suzanne Yoon, founder of Kinzie Capital in Chicago, noticed that the biggest challenges for middle market industries were around operational enhancements caused by limited resources, particularly in technology. Suzanne would find herself stepping out of strategy meetings and identifying what was inherently wrong with companies who were trying to stay in the game: the lack of operational and technical solutions and advancements.
This gap in the market ignited her entrepreneurial fire and ultimately motivated her to start Kinzie Capital, which not only helps fund middle market companies, but also helps them with operational challenges. We sat down with Suzanne Yoon, featured in our Top 19 in 19 Buyout Firms with Women Founders, to learn more about what drives her, starting a business, and her advice to others.
Tell us how you came up with your firm’s name. What does your firm’s name mean to you?
Although a big chunk of my 20+ year career was built in the East Coast, prior to Kinzie, I grew up in Chicago where most of my family members reside. I always felt strong ties to Chicago and wanted my firm named after one of Chicago’s iconic landmarks. Kinzie is named after the “Kinzie Street Railroad Bridge,” the first bridge over the Chicago river. It also happens to be one of the most iconic and beautiful views of the city looking down the Chicago river where the landscape has changed dramatically due to development over time.
Tell us about how the idea of Kinzie started. What were the qualities you looked for in a partner?
The idea of Kinzie started as I envisioned a private equity firm, investing in underserved lower middle market companies and finding a true strategic partner that provided not only capital, but also operational expertise to accelerate value creation and elevate the companies to the next level. After determining the need for this kind of firm, my next step was to line up operating advisors with various backgrounds, focusing on technology implementation. Companies typically pay consulting firms for stunning reports that outline issues identified during the assessment and potential solutions to mitigate such issues, and ultimately must bring the reports through RFP process to identify a technology implementation firm that could execute it.
David Namkung, who I have known now for over 10 years through a nonprofit board, was an obvious choice as a founding partner for Kinzie. He co-founded and built a 150-plus person technology consulting and implementation firm, Clarity Partners (“Clarity”), with his partner, Rod Zech. As entrepreneurs, we found many things in common. For example, understanding the need for technology in the target market, and more importantly sharing similar investment philosophy and process. David, Rod, and their team at Clarity continually impress me with their capacity for acquisition, portfolio management, and technology consulting. We all feel strongly that combining the right capital partner with a focus on operational excellence and technological innovation will drive accelerated value creation and growth. Equally important, we shared the same vision around work culture. This was the final piece that guided us to creating a diverse team with integrity not only inside, but outside of the firm.
What advice would you give to a class of 11th grade girls interested in business, finance, or entrepreneurship?
Stay authentic and embrace diverse perspectives. As the only woman and minority in most of the meetings throughout my career, I’ve encountered plenty of situations where people questioned my ability due to unconscious biases. I experienced several instances as a young VP leading deal execution, where I walked into management meetings where I was assumed to be the secretary or junior associate. Regardless, I pitched and asked questions without fear of judgement. I believe when you are underestimated, there is a unique opportunity to make people notice and respect you when you over-deliver. I broke bias by speaking for myself rather than trying to fit in while respecting the environment and the people around me. I encourage girls to be bold when facing the bias, but also remain open-minded; respect others and their opinions as well, no matter how heavy the crown of doubt and insecurity press them.
It takes courage to grow up and become who you are meant to be.
How do you continue to develop yourself?
It is important to be around others in the industry and learn from them. We are all very busy, but conferences like Kayo provides a platform where you are surrounded by very talented and smart women that share their ideas, and are an incredible resource. I feel very fortunate to have an incredible network of friends, investors, and colleagues through Kinzie and believe continued development comes from sharing ideas and reading A LOT. In addition, I see enormous self development by serving on nonprofit boards. Being around other motivated, hard-working, mission-driven people, you are exposed to diversity and an array of experiences. It is also a great way to develop emotional intelligence, exert influence, and increase self awareness, which are all extremely important to professional and personal development.
Where do you find your inspiration?
In terms of inspiration, I find it everywhere around me. From my partners, to my friends in the industry who have braved this path before me, to my children whom I know I am setting an example for, to all the great entrepreneurial success stories that we all see and read about every day. Every private equity firm and company out there started as a start-up. Finally, I’m very fortunate to have grown up with immigrant parents who believed in the American dream – where hard work and determination make anything possible.