Financier Got His Start on a Commune

Posted on June 4, 2008 by

Here’s an interesting one from Investment News: a very successful financier who says “his best business lessons came from a commune”.

Malon Wilkus now manages a $21 billion private-equity firm but he got his start at East Wind, an income sharing commune in southern Missouri.

Returning to the United States and college in 1974, he joined the East Wind commune in Missouri.

“I think my parents were distressed by that,” Mr. Wilkus said ruefully. He spent the next nine years at the commune, where he made hammocks, sandals and nut butters that were sold to food co-ops and Pier 1 Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas.

“I learned most of what I know about business today from that experience,” Mr. Wilkus said, explaining that he grew to understand the motivation of customers and investors.

In 1983, he left the commune for a job in marketing at the Calvert Group, an asset management firm in Bethesda, where he learned how to gather assets.

Three years later, Mr. Wilkus launched American Capital from the living room of his two-bedroom condo, which he shared with his wife, Susan, and their three children. He got a $75,000 loan from people he had known from his commune days and maxed out his credit cards for an additional $75,000.

Initially, American Capital focused on helping workers at small- and medium-sized companies acquire their employers by using employee stock ownership plans.

In 1997, he took American Capital public as a business development company, offering debt financing or taking equity stakes in buyout situations. Today the company boasts 700 employees with offices in 13 cities around the world.

“We built a private-equity firm that the average American can invest in,” Mr. Wilkus said. “We’ve democratized private equity.”

Its not often you hear stories of a former communard turned high-powered capitalist but he is surely not the only one (maybe just the only one willing to admit it).

Read the entire article

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