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The ACG Legend: Robert Landis

Landis, Founding Partner, Origination, The Riverside Company, honored by inaugural MAX Awards

The ACG Legend: Robert Landis

In today’s fast-paced private equity world, limited partners will often turn their noses up at firms that don’t employ a business development professional.

But that wasn’t always the case. Twenty years ago, when Robert “Bob” Landis was one of the very first business development professionals in the industry, he and the handful of others who were tasked with finding solid investment prospects for their firms had to justify their existence to everyone, including LPs.

In the early 2000s most of the industry didn’t understand or appreciate the role of business development.

This section of the report originally appeared in the special edition Middle Market Growth: the 2023 MAX Awards issue.

Pictured above: Robert Landis, Founding Partner, Origination, The Riverside Company

“There was just a handful of us. We would get together and talk about why we thought we were important to our firms, even when no one else thought we were. LPs would often ask why we had a BD function,” recalls Landis, founding partner of origination at The Riverside Company. “The partners are smart, no question, but they were focused inward, and didn’t always have the right temperament to generate relationships. Sometimes they did not relate well and know how to talk to founders who had put their heart and souls into building a company. We, on the other hand, had the know-how to make the connections between the business owners and our teams. It’s an acquired skill.”

Despite not being appreciated in his role immediately, today Landis is highly regarded as a father of private equity deal origination nationally. The business development role is now a must-have position at private equity firms.

“Bob was a pioneer as the dedicated BD person. He was always great at building relationships and telling companies honestly what the story was. People also knew that when Bob spoke, he spoke for the firm. It’s hard to replace the credibility he brings to the table,” says Mark Jones, a partner with River Associates, who is in charge of finding deal opportunities at his firm. Jones was one of the few business development professionals in the industry with Landis 20 years ago.

Landis joined Riverside in 2002 as a one-man department. Over the years, he has originated more than 5,600 deal opportunities for the firm, and the Riverside origination team has grown to 18 full-time deal originators.

Bob was a pioneer as the dedicated BD person. He was always great at building relationships and telling companies honestly what the story was.

Mark Jones

River Associates

Humble Beginnings

This isn’t what Landis expected for his life. He grew up in the Midwest with a modest background. Hoping to keep him out of trouble in his teen years, his parents sent him to a camp in Colorado. That’s when Landis’ spark for adventure and his love of the mountains came to life. “It was transformative,” he recalls. “That’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t know about elite schools or much about college at all, but I knew I wanted to be out West.” Landis headed to the University of Colorado and joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to pay the tuition. (Today, an avid skier, Landis was in Colorado during our interview and still spends a significant amount of time in the state. He even convinced Riverside to set up an office there.)

“This was during Vietnam and everyone on campus knew if you had short hair, you were ROTC. When I graduated, they sent me to Germany. I was there for six years of active duty. Vietnam was ending, it was a rough time for soldiers coming back to the U.S., and I didn’t know what I was going to do,” says Landis.

Landis thought about staying in the military but didn’t ultimately like the idea of everything being planned out for him as it would be with a government job. Instead, Landis applied and was accepted to grad school with the loose idea that he felt he was good at marketing and finance, and there may be a way to connect those two disciplines. Landis headed to the American Graduate School of International Management in Phoenix, Arizona, and was recruited to Chemical Bank in New York upon graduation. “I never thought I would wind up in New York, but there I was on the 80th floor of the World Trade Center,” he says.

Liftoff in Banking

After a series of M&A deals, promotions and job changes, Landis landed at Deutsche Bank, where he saw an opportunity for the bank to establish a successful aerospace and defense business. “In the 1990s, there were a lot of companies in aerospace, and it was a great business with steady government contracts,” he remembers. “That said, Deutsche didn’t have interest in focusing on this sector. I had to convince the board in Germany running the business how important aerospace and defense was in America and that it was a growing industry globally.”

Ultimately, Landis was successful in making his case. “Once I finally got them on board, it was off to the races, and we built an empire. All the big names were merging—like Lockheed and Martin Marietta, Northrop Aircraft and Grumman Aerospace, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas—and all were interested in having a foreign bank finance them in Europe. I created a group and we became a huge profit center across capital markets services,” says Landis. “I created a lot of contacts throughout my time in banking.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Deutsche Bank was stressed and its global aerospace group was eliminated. “It was a real eye-opener,” Landis says. “We had generated over $20 million in fees, but just being good doesn’t mean you’re great.”

With the group he built now dismantled, Landis found himself in search of a new opportunity. “I started calling everyone I knew from all my years of work. I had known Béla [Szigethy] and Stewart [Kohl] from our days at Citibank together. We had kept in touch,” says Landis. “They had started Riverside as a fundless sponsor and I would talk with them about aerospace deals. When I called Béla, he said, ‘We need to think more about deal origination. This could be a good fit for you.’”

Transition to Private Equity

Also trailblazers, Riverside’s founders and co-CEOs, Szigethy and Kohl, realized early on that when you are always chasing deals, it leaves little time to make improvements at previously purchased companies. Riverside wanted someone full-time who could analyze deal opportunities and keep the deal pipeline flowing while they spent time nurturing their investments. “I didn’t know a thing about private equity, but I knew about marketing,” says Landis.

Three weeks later, Landis was on board at Riverside with a database of 4,000 companies to call on and four email addresses. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I just went in there and started to create connections between groups I had met over the years and people at the firm. I had connections at UPS, FedEx and all the big aerospace companies and beyond. My new job was to be the connector at the lower end of the middle market, and I became good at that,” he says.

Landis made an art out of connecting people. He brought together not only people who could create business opportunities for Riverside but also all the new originators who were popping up in the industry as the role was growing. “There weren’t that many people to talk to. We were already becoming a big firm. I would talk with the others in the same role and share best practices,” Landis recalls. “We were sort of competitors, but I didn’t look at it like that. I would say, ‘Don’t reinvent the wheel, do what we did.’ For me, it is all about paying it forward.”

The Godfather of Business Development

Gretchen Perkins, a partner with Avance Investment Management, remembers her early days as a BD professional with Landis. “He’s the godfather of our role,” says Perkins, who selected Landis as her mentor many years ago. Perkins was at Long Point Capital, tasked with trying to get private equity firms to use her firm’s debt in 2002. Long Point sent her to a conference with the advice, “Find the best people who do this kind of thing and copy them.”

“Detroit firms are practical. They said, ‘Find someone to emulate.’ Well, Bob was at every event I attended and everyone appeared to know him. It was from him that I learned boots-on-the-ground tactics and the importance of genuine and intentional relationship building,” says Perkins. “He set the standard for all of us in the BD position. He is always so gracious and generous with his time, contacts and best practices. He has repeatedly sent email intros for me and connected me with people even though we are considered competitors. He has always asked, ‘How can I help you? Who can I put you in touch with?’”

In addition to his work at Riverside, Landis is also widely credited with growing the ACG New York chapter to what it is today. “When I joined ACG, we didn’t even have a board. We were just a few volunteers with $20,000 in the bank. We just had one part-time woman who would travel in from the Bronx and help set up small meetings at the Union Club,” says Landis.

This was until Mark Opel, who was with American Capital at the time, suggested hosting a wine event and inviting more people. Without hesitation, Landis was on board. Eight years later, Bobby Blumenfeld came on as president and executive director of ACG New York, and the event grew even larger. The annual wine tasting is now the chapter’s largest and most successful event and is held at Tavern on the Green. Landis spent countless volunteer hours as a board member of ACG New York and remains active today.

In addition to contributing his time to ACG, Landis also raises money for research into glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, by organizing an annual ice hockey game at Madison Square Garden between private equity professionals and bankers.

“Bob is just a wonderful human and someone you want to be around,” says Perkins. “Over the years, he’s become a friend to many in the industry. We’ve been lucky to have him and learn from him.”


Danielle Fugazey is a freelance writer who has covered private equity for more than 20 years. She is based in Glen Cove, New York.

View additional MAX Awards recipients here.