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Chairman's Corner

Chairman’s Corner: March 2002

March 07, 2002

Full Steam Ahead With Our First Investment

by Mario Morino, Co-founder of VPP

Near the end of February, it was my great pleasure to sign VPP’s first Strategic Investment Letter of Agreement with Heads Up, a mentoring and tutoring program in Washington, DC.  It was gratifying to see a year’s worth of work culminate in an investment that won the enthusiastic support of our investment partner, Heads Up, as well as VPP’s executive committee.

Over that year we have become quite familiar with Heads Up.  VPP funded an extensive four-month planning phase that was facilitated by McKinsey & Company.  During that process, Heads Up’s leaders refined their mission and vision, honed their programmatic focus, addressed tough management issues, and set clear goals and milestones for themselves to guide their growth over the next five years.  VPP and Heads Up have agreed to a five-year partnership in which VPP will provide significant funding over the first four years and strategic management assistance and other forms of support over the full five years.  The multi-year agreement is contingent upon Heads Up achieving their established goals and milestones.

This first experience with Heads Up provided many important lessons and confirmations for the VPP team.  We learned that taking the time to develop a relationship with a candidate organization is critical and that building that trust and working through the process took even more time than we imagined.  We confirmed our faith in the leadership abilities of Heads Up co-founders Vincent Pan and Darin McKeever—and confirmed that strong leadership is critical to creating a viable partnership.  And we saw just how important a thoughtful and far-reaching planning process is.  Participation by the management and key board members was essential for arriving at a plan that is truly owned by Heads Up.  VPP’s participation in this planning process gave our team invaluable insight that is already benefiting our next investment partners

In a recent conversation, Vin Pan said that the benefit to his organization has been worth the work. But he added that at the outset, he was not prepared for the intensity of the engagement or the time it would take to arrive at an investment agreement.  And, he said, it was not easy to open to the VPP partners and consultants who were observing his organization.  Now that the plan is complete, he is excited about rolling up his sleeves to get on with the new work outlined in the plan.   He has new ideas about funding strategies and is heartened that “we’re getting traction in the broader community and seeing real opportunities for advancing the out-of-school sector and showing that young people can be agents of social change.”

Jennifer Brown Simon, the general partner who leads the Heads Up investment partnership for VPP, carefully nurtured that relationship.  “There is natural suspicion of an investor that really wants to get involved,” Jennifer notes. “I found that a good way to build trust and respect was to work together, even on little projects and errands.  This showed that we were really were there to help.”

I am proud of the way Jennifer has shepherded this process and appreciate all of the hard work of others, including VPP investor and board member Jack Davies, who has become directly involved with Heads Up, and VPP advisors Bob Templin and Fred Bollerer.  Fred helped Heads Up find and furnish its new office space.  Special thanks goes to Vin, Darin, and their board members, all of whom exhibited great leadership and fortitude in taking this journey with us. We are grateful to them for partnering with us and allowing us to learn and refine our investment approach.  Now the real work begins. We look forward to helping them accomplish their ambitious but achievable goals.