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Renaissance Man Remembers Lessons of Giving Back

Alexander L. Cappello, Founder, Cappello Group

Alex Cappello was in second grade when he decided what he wanted to be a "renaissance man and all that could mean" when he grew up. Encouraged by parents who were themselves entrepreneurs, he grew up believing that the only limits were those he might impose on himself.

Today, Cappello is chairman and CEO of the Cappello Group, Inc., the company he started during his freshman year at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC). A merchant bank that has done $50 billion worth of business in 40 countries, the Cappello Group specializes in the private placement of capital and merger/acquisition/strategic advisory services for public companies with market capitalizations from $250 million to $20 billion.

Born and raised in Bakersfield, California, Cappello was 13 when he set up a fruit stand by the highway with his brother and assumed he would go into his father's farm business. At the same time, he would gaze over the mountain range and dream of making his fortune in the big city of Los Angeles. He also gave serious consideration to becoming a priest.

Ultimately, it came down to a question posed by his father: Do you want to follow the path other people have cut through the forest of life, or do you want to lead and cut your own path where a path does not exist? Cappello decided he wanted to lead.

At USC he got his chance, thanks largely to professors whose mentoring helped him start and grow the business that evolved into the Cappello Group. Cappello has never forgotten USC or those professors, what they taught him about entrepreneurship and what they taught him about giving back.

Passing the Baton

He once asked a professor how he could ever thank him. "Young man," he replied, "what I'm doing for you is what others did for me. I'm opening doors. It's up to you to walk through them. Think of it like me handing you a baton, expecting you to pass it on."

Cappello accepted the challenge. Recently elected to USC's Board of Governors, he has returned every year since graduating in 1977 to lecture at USC and, for the past several years, to judge undergraduate and graduate business plan competitions.

He spearheaded the endowment of scholarships for first-year MBA students in the entrepreneur programs at USC and UCLA by his Young Presidents' Organization (YPO) chapter. He has guest lectured at YPO, World President’s Organization and Chief Executives' Organization universities, as well as Harvard, on topics ranging from global finance, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic planning to communications and nonprofit fundraising.

Cappello's philanthropic impulses also permeate his company, which has provided numerous internships to USC and UCLA business students. Cappello himself mentored one of the Cappello Group's current top executives. The Cappello Group website at www.cappellocorp.com lists and provides links to the charities in which managing directors of the company have leadership roles.

"We encourage everyone to be involved in the community and philanthropy," says Cappello, "because being a successful entrepreneur means being part of your community and helping to solve its problems."

Chairing a Global Network

Cappello is also nearing the end of a two-year term as international chair of YPO. While the role consumes about 100 hours a week or 80 percent of his time – traveling, recruiting and inspiring others to join and get involved – Cappello says serving as chair of this global network is the best job in the world and the greatest experience of his life.

"Where else can you belong to an organization where people are most like you?" he asks. ”A true peer group of people all over the world that share your problems, interests, needs and issues?

"YPO is such a positive force in the world for good," he says, noting the disproportionate number of current and former YPOers around the world who have served as ambassadors from their countries and on boards of trustees and who provide the lion’s share of philanthropic support for major nonprofit organizations.

Believing YPO to be the very embodiment of capitalism and entrepreneurship and a potentially powerful instrument for fostering east-west relations, Cappello has helped establish YPO chapters in Portugal, Russia, and several eastern European and Asian countries.

"I've been so impressed with the entrepreneurs I've met in places like Russia, Poland, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, China, and Latin American countries," he says. "These men and women deal in many cases with corrupt and unstable governments, major currency devaluations, unreliable infrastructure and lack of debt capital, and still manage to build companies, make a profit and create employment. These entrepreneurs are superstars."

Cappello's tenure as international chair coincides with the implementation of YPO’s long-term strategic plan called The Renaissance. (Cappello admits to have influenced the plan's title, as well as its symbol, Leonardo's Vitruvian Man.) He is also overseeing growth unprecedented in the organization's 54-year history. YPO now operates in 90 nations with more than 10,000 members. In the past, on average, there have been three to five chapters at a time developing around the world. Now there are nearly 50.

Cappello attributes the growth to modified but stricter membership standards and to efforts of YPO staff, volunteers and members to "build a better YPO."

Despite significant challenges to his health from degenerative spine disease, Cappello has every intention of continuing not only to build a better YPO but to build a better environment throughout the world for entrepreneurship to thrive and change lives.

Alex Cappello was in second grade when he decided what he wanted to be a "renaissance man and all that could mean" when he grew up. Encouraged by parents who were themselves entrepreneurs, he grew up believing that the only limits were those he might impose on himself.

Today, Cappello is chairman and CEO of the Cappello Group, Inc., the company he started during his freshman year at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC). A merchant bank that has done $50 billion worth of business in 40 countries, the Cappello Group specializes in the private placement of capital and merger/acquisition/strategic advisory services for public companies with market capitalizations from $250 million to $20 billion.

Born and raised in Bakersfield, California, Cappello was 13 when he set up a fruit stand by the highway with his brother and assumed he would go into his father's farm business. At the same time, he would gaze over the mountain range and dream of making his fortune in the big city of Los Angeles. He also gave serious consideration to becoming a priest.

Ultimately, it came down to a question posed by his father: Do you want to follow the path other people have cut through the forest of life, or do you want to lead and cut your own path where a path does not exist? Cappello decided he wanted to lead.

At USC he got his chance, thanks largely to professors whose mentoring helped him start and grow the business that evolved into the Cappello Group. Cappello has never forgotten USC or those professors, what they taught him about entrepreneurship and what they taught him about giving back.

Passing the Baton

He once asked a professor how he could ever thank him. "Young man," he replied, "what I’m doing for you is what others did for me. I'm opening doors. It's up to you to walk through them. Think of it like me handing you a baton, expecting you to pass it on."

Cappello accepted the challenge. Recently elected to USC's Board of Governors, he has returned every year since graduating in 1977 to lecture at USC and, for the past several years, to judge undergraduate and graduate business plan competitions.

He spearheaded the endowment of scholarships for first-year MBA students in the entrepreneur programs at USC and UCLA by his Young Presidents' Organization (YPO) chapter. He has guest lectured at YPO, World President's Organization and Chief Executives' Organization universities, as well as Harvard, on topics ranging from global finance, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic planning to communications and nonprofit fundraising.

Cappello's philanthropic impulses also permeate his company, which has provided numerous internships to USC and UCLA business students. Cappello himself mentored one of the Cappello Group’s current top executives. The Cappello Group website at www.cappellocorp.com lists and provides links to the charities in which managing directors of the company have leadership roles.

"We encourage everyone to be involved in the community and philanthropy," says Cappello, "because being a successful entrepreneur means being part of your community and helping to solve its problems."

Chairing a Global Network

Cappello is also nearing the end of a two-year term as international chair of YPO. While the role consumes about 100 hours a week or 80 percent of his time – traveling, recruiting and inspiring others to join and get involved – Cappello says serving as chair of this global network is the best job in the world and the greatest experience of his life.

"Where else can you belong to an organization where people are most like you?" he asks. "A true peer group of people all over the world that share your problems, interests, needs and issues?

"YPO is such a positive force in the world for good," he says, noting the disproportionate number of current and former YPOers around the world who have served as ambassadors from their countries and on boards of trustees and who provide the lion’s share of philanthropic support for major nonprofit organizations.

Believing YPO to be the very embodiment of capitalism and entrepreneurship and a potentially powerful instrument for fostering east-west relations, Cappello has helped establish YPO chapters in Portugal, Russia, and several eastern European and Asian countries.

"I've been so impressed with the entrepreneurs I've met in places like Russia, Poland, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, China, and Latin American countries," he says. "These men and women deal in many cases with corrupt and unstable governments, major currency devaluations, unreliable infrastructure and lack of debt capital, and still manage to build companies, make a profit and create employment. These entrepreneurs are superstars."

Cappello's tenure as international chair coincides with the implementation of YPO's long-term strategic plan called The Renaissance. (Cappello admits to have influenced the plan's title, as well as its symbol, Leonardo's Vitruvian Man.) He is also overseeing growth unprecedented in the organization's 54-year history. YPO now operates in 90 nations with more than 10,000 members. In the past, on average, there have been three to five chapters at a time developing around the world. Now there are nearly 50.

Cappello attributes the growth to modified but stricter membership standards and to efforts of YPO staff, volunteers and members to "build a better YPO."

Despite significant challenges to his health from degenerative spine disease, Cappello has every intention of continuing not only to build a better YPO but to build a better environment throughout the world for entrepreneurship to thrive and change lives.

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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