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Alumni Success Stories

Lloyd Greif, MBA '79
Greif & Co.

What kind of business did the entrepreneur start?

Perceiving the need for a top-notch investment banking firm to serve the corporate finance needs of entrepreneurially owned and operated middle-market growth companies, Lloyd Greif launched Greif & Co. in 1992. He has since built his firm into the leading purveyor of merger and acquisition advisory services to medium-sized businesses based in the western United States and has gained global recognition as the "Entrepreneur's Investment Bank," the company's trademark.

Greif & Co. is involved in a broad spectrum of corporate finance activities, including arranging mergers, acquisitions and leveraged buyouts, private placements of equity and debt securities -- including venture capital and senior and subordinated debt -- and providing such financial advisory services as rendering business valuations and fairness opinions, as well as financial restructuring assistance.

Just as the Great Horned Owl in the firm's insignia is known for being a "winged tiger," famed as a superb hunter for its immense strength, incredible ferocity and stealthy ability to fly without making a sound, so is Greif & Co. renowned industry-wide as a bastion of strength and professionalism for its clients.

Although Greif & Co. is a firm for the 21st Century, its mission statement dates back to the days of the Old Testament: "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You." Investment banking is a professional services business, and at Greif & Co. they treat all of their clients as if they, in fact, were the client. They pride themselves on a long-standing track record of not only meeting, but consistently beating their clients' performance expectations. The Company's professionals have developed a strong reputation for setting aggressive goals and doggedly achieving superior results for their clients. Their resolute objective is to make Greif & Co. the preeminent Los Angeles-based investment banking firm and, by so doing, bring the highest quality corporate finance expertise and services to a burgeoning middle market. "We consistently set a higher target than our clients in what we do for them," says Greif. "And as risk-takers themselves, they appreciate the fact it's my name on the door."

What is the background of the entrepreneur?

Greif's parents came to the United States from Europe, his father having survived both the Auschwitz and Dora-Nordhausen concentration camps; his mother spent World War II in hiding. Upon arrival in Los Angeles, they founded Paris Handbag Manufacturing Company, a producer of women's fashion accessories located in downtown Los Angeles. He was only six when his father died, leaving his mother to raise two young boys. Greif worked his way through UCLA undergraduate and USC graduate schools as a clerk and assistant store manager at a local grocery chain.

Greif's early work experience primarily comprised three jobs prior to founding Greif & Co. The first was during his undergraduate years at UCLA when he worked at Ralph's Grocery Company. Upon graduating, he worked at Touche Ross & Co. as a management consultant, a position he found very unfulfilling, as he disliked the idea of advising his clients but never having the opportunity to participate in the outcome or see the results of his work. Later he was offered a position at Sutro & Co., where he was the second youngest person to be hired, and from 1981 to 1988 was largely responsible for rebuilding the company, generating a 44% compounded annual growth rate. From November 1981 to March 1992, Greif was Sutro's top producer and was eventually promoted to Vice Chairman and Managing Director of the Investment Banking Division. Greif credits this time as invaluable to learning the ins and outs of the investment banking industry, as he was able to work on many projects that allowed him to attain the business acumen he now possesses.

Today Greif holds degrees in economics (BA - University of California at Los Angeles), entrepreneurship (MBA - University of Southern California) and law (JD - Loyola Law School). In addition to serving as chairman of the Advisory Council of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC, he is also a member of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC); chairman of the joint Milken Institute/LAEDC Capital Access Task Force; a member of the Young President's Organization (YPO); a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Police Foundation (LAPF); vice chairman of the Board and a member of the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles Area Council, Boy Scouts of America; a member of the Dean's Forum and the Board of Overseers of Loyola Law School; a member of the Board of Directors of USC Associates; and a member of the Board of Directors of the Florence Academy of Art.

How did the entrepreneur get the idea for starting this business?

Many things influenced Greif to start his own business. One of the first major influential factors occurred while working at Touche Ross & Co., where he learned that management consulting was not his passion. It was, however, as a result of this position that he was offered the opportunity to work in investment banking at Sutro & Co. Although he did not know a great deal about investment banking at that time, he took to it like a duck to water. Following many years of hard and very successful work, he began to wonder why he had not yet started his own company. Since he was already generating more than 60% of Sutro's investment banking business, he reached the conclusion that he could probably operate his own company and reap more of the rewards.

Before starting out on this new venture, however, Greif consulted with many of his past clients. He asked them whether they would still do business with him were he no longer a part of Sutro, that is to say, were he to start his own company. The response he received was a resounding "Yes!" Recognizing that his customers were loyal to him and the quality of his work -- not to a particular company -- was all the assurance he needed to launch Greif & Co.

What did the entrepreneur do to start this business? When did the entrepreneur do these activities?

The new company began almost immediately and was basically in business the day after Greif left Sutro. He had ensured that he had enough capital to run his business for two years, and a few of the professionals with whom he worked closely at Sutro followed him to his new company. Thus, with his team and finances in place, it was time to get down to business. The company was virtually launched on March 2, 1992, the day he resigned from Sutro, and Greif & Co. had its first client by March 5. In addition to soliciting clients, Greif & Co. incorporated, became a NASD-licensed broker-dealer and leased office space. From that day forward, Greif & Co. has experienced substantial growth and success.

What major problems did the entrepreneur encounter during the startup of this business?

Greif initially projected that it would take less than a year for his company to turn a profit. Thus, he had sufficient capital for a one-year timeframe and, as an added measure of security, doubled the figure. This turned out to be an astute decision since as a result of the cyclical nature of the economy it was eighteen months before the company became profitable. In fact, Greif did not pay himself until a year-and-a-half later when the economy began to revitalize and Greif & Co. began to flourish.

Although starting a company, especially an investment bank, when the market is experiencing a down cycle can be risky, it was perfect timing for Greif. With his competitors leaving due to the recession and market pressures, Greif & Co. was able to more prominently establish its niche with middle-market entrepreneurs. By the time the economy turned around, Greif & Co. had built both a name and a growing client base, and had taken root during a period of weakened competition.

How were those problems solved?

Greif had projected the amount of capital that would be necessary during the company's first year of business and built in a safety net, doubling that amount. In so doing, he avoided the typical financial pitfalls of many start-up businesses. "We treated it as business-as-usual and kept plugging away at deals until we built up a full head of steam of deal closings," remarks Greif.

Who did the entrepreneur use for help and guidance during the startup of this business?

It was ultimately his former customers' positive response toward Greif starting his own company that "sealed the deal." Other guidance came from business associates, some of whom had been in the industry longer than he and who willingly shared their insight. A final source of mutual inspiration came via the Greif & Co. team.

What advice would the entrepreneur give to someone thinking about starting a business?

When it comes to life, Greif doesn't believe in taking no for an answer. "Entrepreneurs are alchemists," he explains. "They add value to existence -- turning iron into gold -- through strength of will, intelligence and a determination to succeed."

Why was this entrepreneur successful at getting into business?

There are obviously many reasons why Greif has achieved so much through the years. Even after only a brief interview, one can see how his intelligence, wisdom and diligence have contributed to the success of his company.

To arrive where he is today, it is apparent that Greif followed a couple of different search styles. His move from Touche Ross & Co. to Sutro & Co. can be viewed as a cultivated chance approach. These two companies, while not in the same line of work, were similar enough for Greif to seamlessly transition from one company to the other. By demonstrating his expertise in management consulting, and with a little bit of luck, Greif was able to discover his passion and land a job as an investment banker.

The creation of Greif & Co. is a style of search known as a safe bet. Since he had gained expertise in the field of investment banking, had acquired many contacts, and had learned the ins and outs of the business, it was only logical that starting an investment banking firm of his own would likely be a successful undertaking. Another aspect that pointed toward the future success of Greif & Co. was that Greif's former customers were so supportive and indicated they would continue working with him were he to start his own firm.

Clearly, several methods of search were used to lead Greif where he is today. Although the company has achieved much in a short period of time, careful planning and a lengthy search process played an important role. Moreover, Greif's life and work experiences prior to launching Greif & Co. helped him to reach, and even exceed, his goals. Finally, Greif's success can be attributed to a social context, as one constantly finds him in business meetings, on conference calls or at social events, meeting people and establishing relationships. Greif has built a strong company team and counts many friends in the industry. As has been highlighted in numerous books and journals, success is not derived from isolation, and Greif certainly exemplifies this principle.

Greif's attitude is also key to his ongoing success. As stated earlier, he is intelligent and hardworking, as well as tenacious. On a cognitive level, Greif is extremely keen, articulate and to the point, always striving to do his best on behalf of the client.

From a psychological standpoint, Greif is level-headed, able to visualize his goals and knows how best to get the job done. He sticks to the basics and does what he knows how to do well. In so doing, he has crafted a very successful company.

Education also plays a significant role in the success of an individual. Thus, another reason that can be accredited to Greif's success is his educational background. An extremely bright and well-read man, Greif has earned degrees from three universities. He also constantly gains invaluable knowledge through his day-to-day work experiences.

As can be seen, there are many reasons why Lloyd Greif is a successful entrepreneur. Although no two entrepreneurs' stories are the same, many commonalties can be found, the most significant being that the life of the entrepreneur is filled with a lot of hard work. Greif concurs that there are no "shortcuts" to success.

While Greif believes the tools that make an entrepreneur successful can be taught, he contends that the drive, passion achievement-orientation and love of entrepreneurship are innate qualities. "When I talk to students coming through the program, I recognize that twinkle in their eyes," says Greif. "They're all vying to come up with the next great idea or successful product."

- Aric Davison