University of Pittsburgh

Private Equity Investor a Passionate Entrepreneur

Even though he was very successful as a mergers and acquisitions specialist at one of Chicago's largest privately held food companies, Joe Campolo couldn't shake his desire to start something of his own.

So in January 1999, Campolo (MBA '93) risked everything to launch Arbor Investments, a private equity firm, with business partner Gregory Purcell. Thirteen consecutive years of growth later, the company manages $700 million in capital across three private equity funds, acquiring, building and then selling winning companies across the food and beverage industry. Their specialty: entrepreneurial middle-market businesses. It figures. Campolo is an entrepreneur himself.

"We're the American success story," Campolo says, recalling the decision to break out on his own. "We were two young guys. I was 30, my business partner 33. Combined, we had five kids and neither of our wives worked. We had very comfortable incomes. But we had this bug to build something that was our own."

A native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Churchill, Campolo began his career working for Andersen Consulting, the forerunner to Accenture Consulting. After getting some work experience, he enrolled in the Katz Graduate School of Business one-year MBA program. "I loved the idea of only being out of the workforce for one year. The program was a good value and had national acclaim," Campolo says.

Armed with his Katz MBA business expertise, Campolo left his hometown to take a job in Chicago at American National Bank, the middle market commercial bank of First Chicago Corporation, which at the time was the fifth-largest bank in the country.

This is where he met Purcell. The two subsequently left the bank to lead the M&A efforts of a large family business. When they created Arbor Investments, they combined the experience gained there with their food and beverage expertise - knowledge spanning everything from bakeries to bottling to food packaging and processing - to define the unique niche Arbor dominates today.

Arbor helps middle market companies, most of which are entrepreneurial, family owned, or both, get to the next level of growth by leveraging industry relationships and making strategic investments to open new markets and build strong brands. The firm currently has 23 employees. Even during the economic downturn, Arbor continued to grow its employee and capital base - the fact that Campolo is most proud of. "We truly built something from an idea generated in our family rooms into a full-fledged business that continues to succeed," Campolo says.

Maybe that's why he does so well with the entrepreneurs who sell him their businesses - he understands them because he's one of them.

Campolo's advice for recent college graduates? Above all else, find a job at the right company. "The compensation, the title, the position - that should be secondary. Your early career years are not about making money. They're about building a résumé, a network, and base of experience you can leverage."

He encourages graduates to be willing to pursue the best job wherever it leads. "Be open-minded. Don't be afraid to leave a city you love. Don't limit the focus of your job search to your hometown," he says.

Finally, Campolo says that you should listen to your entrepreneurial spirit. "At heart, we were entrepreneurs. In our professional careers, we always found ourselves associating with business owners. It was only natural that we decided to build our own business by working with entrepreneurs to build theirs," Campolo says.