Veteran Investor Learns and Leads

Veteran Investor Learns and Leads

Mel Lindsey (’99), founder of Nile Capital Group, joins UCLA Anderson Board
Mel Lindsey

Mel Lindsey (’99) is the founder and managing partner at Nile Capital Group and serves on the boards of Nile’s portfolio holding companies. At the urging of his lifelong friend, Senior Associate Dean Al Osborne, and the invitation of Dean Tony Bernardo, Lindsey became one of the newest members of the UCLA Anderson Board of Advisors. He serves on the boards of directors and investment committees of the California Community Foundation, Saint John’s Health Center Foundation and the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles.

Lindsey’s previous professional affiliations include Investec Asset Management and Artio Global Investors/Julius Baer Investment Management (JBIM). During his tenure at JBIM, assets under management grew from $800 million to a peak of $78 billion, ultimately resulting in an IPO and NYSE listing in 2009. Lindsey also held executive positions at Wells Capital and Shearson Lehman Brothers.

He started college at UC Irvine on a track scholarship but dropped out when his father fell ill and he had to take care of his family. He returned to college at closer proximity to his parents to complete the senior year of his undergraduate degree at California State University, Dominguez Hills. From there, he earned his CFA, later pursued his MBA at Anderson and launched his successful career as an investor and manager. He also attended IMD Business School’s Global Leadership Program in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Lindsey believes deeply in UCLA Anderson and its potential to be one of the best — if not the best — schools in the country, a place where technology and innovation come together. He says Southern California’s creative environment is an important part of that equation.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style… I endeavor to learn as much as I can about the different aspects of things that are important to me, and that informs my leadership style. I’m a firm believer that no one leads on their own. They need help. They need to find people around them that are smarter than they are.

That can really help get the ball across the goal line. So, when I when I think about leadership, I think, “Okay, can I develop a strategic vision and then get people around me to help execute that vision?”

Q: What do you think the people you lead add?

I’ve tried to put together a group of people who are a mosaic of unique talents so that they have uncoupled skill sets but, hopefully, wrapped around the same vision. My leadership style with one person is different than it is for someone else.

The people who are super detail-oriented would probably say that I’m not the most detail-oriented. And that’s why I want to work with them, because they can help me dot all the Is and cross all the Ts.

But I think, ultimately, they would all say that I am willing to learn new things.

Q: Let’s look back a bit. When you decided to earn an MBA, what drew you to UCLA?

When I decided to get an MBA, I had a senior position at Wells Capital. I was a portfolio manager and I had just earned my Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, which is a three-year minimum program. I felt like I had the training in terms of finance and investment management.

But I felt like I was missing some things in terms of frameworks for general management and leadership. I was promoted to a management position and, quite honestly, I felt like I was in over my head. I wanted a program that would allow me to stay local, but at the same time give me some great management frameworks. It was at a time — 1996, 1997 — when things were drastically changing as they related to technology and the internet. There were new, disruptive companies coming online with Google and Amazon. It was an exciting time about where tech-enabled companies were going and what emerging business models were poised to disrupt blue-chip companies and industry leaders. There were going to be winners and losers, based on who was the most innovative.

Q: You’ve kept in close touch with the recently retired Senior Associate Dean Al Osborne. He’s meant so much to so many at the school over the years. What is his role in your life and career?

I met Professor Osborne when I took my first venture initiation course. I was so fascinated — number one, by the way he taught the class. Number two, he made me think about entrepreneurship, not just starting your own company, but being an entrepreneur while working in a large company and effecting change there.

Whether you are working for a startup or an established company, you always must think like an entrepreneur. This way of thinking really helped me when I returned to Wells Capital after earning my MBA, and how I could change things at Wells.

I constantly kept in contact with Professor Osborne over the years. But more important, he kept in contact with me. He always reached out and asked, “Hey man, how are you doing? You know we're having this event; would you like to come?” I never really had a professor that took a liking to me like Professor Osborne did, and we became friends. I viewed him as a father figure, a mentor and a close friend. As I was going through different stages in my life, like learning to play golf, I let Professor Osborne know I was thinking about joining a club and he invited me to consider Bel Air Country Club. He introduced me to some members of the club and offered to sponsor my membership.

It ultimately led to my sponsoring his son, and then when his son was working at Snap, he mentored my son. I consider us family.

If I called him right now and said, “Hey, I got a business idea I want to run by you, I got a thought for my company” — he would literally drop what he was doing, meet me at the club and give me as much time as I needed. I don’t think he does this just for me, by the way, but it makes me feel special.

UCLA has not just been a place where I got an MBA it’s been a place where I’ve met some great friends, whether it’s Price Center director Elaine Hagan (’91) or Fink Center director Lori Santikian. They have all been part of this thing that has shaped me to think about how I run my company in business.

Q: What led to you join the Board of Advisors?

A couple of things. Al approached me unofficially, and then Dean Tony Bernardo made the official offer to join the board. I had served on a couple of other boards before, though never an educational board. I was on the boards of California Community Foundation and the YMCA.

My dad grew up in the segregated South and didn’t have much opportunity for education or respectable employment. He wasn’t allowed to register for certain schools because of their policies, so he migrated to California. He never gave up his hope of getting an education and learning. When I was growing up, he constantly said, “You know, your life should be about three things: learning, earning and returning.”

In the first part of your life, you don’t know much. So, to establish yourself, you’ve got to learn as much as you can. Don’t worry about how much you’re making, don’t worry about your title. Just learn as much as you can. And if you do that, you’ll earn a premium over your peers. Not because you will ask for raises every time you learn, but because people will recognize the value that you add.

He also taught me that you should never spend all the money that you have because you need to give back. And not only give back financially, but give back to your community, your church or school.

I feel like I’m in that returning phase, and I couldn’t think of a better place than Anderson to give back.

As a board member, I’d like to add a little bit of a different angle, based on my experience compared to what some of the other board members have experienced. That’s one of the main reasons I joined.

Q: Is Anderson’s board meeting your expectations?

The way the board is shaping up for Anderson is very much like the atmosphere I would love for my own business, one where there is a diverse group of opinions. I think the best way to move something forward is having diverse opinions.

A I think there are three types of diversity, and two are good, one is bad.

There’s information diversity: Where do you get information that’s different than the cookie cutter version of an industry or academia? If you can bring together different approaches of how to do things, you can put together a superior organization.

I think demographic diversity is good, too. You want to have people of different ages, different ethnic backgrounds, different upbringings, different genders.

The one type of diversity that is unproductive is when people have different values or different missions. If you have people who value growth at any cost and others saying no, we want to focus on excellence, it could lead to lack of resource allocation to the organization’s stated values or mission.

Q: How do values influence investment strategy?

It really boils down to whether you’re short-term greedy or long-term greedy (laughs). If you’re short-term greedy, you maximize profits in the short term. If you are long-term greedy, you think about what’s going to happen over a cycle and try to position the portfolio to do well over the mid-to-long-term time horizon. You’re going to have a diversified set of uncorrelated opportunities optimized for the future mid- and long-term environments.

Q: Why is it important to give back, to support philanthropic causes through board service?

If not me, who’s going to support those causes?

You’ve got to have a seat at the table, or someone else’s vision gets implemented. If you don’t have your own goals and your own plans, you’re going to be living out someone else’s goals and plans. It just makes sense to have a seat at the table and be heard.

It’s not that I have the best ideas, I want to hear what everyone else is thinking and give my input, and these boards allow me to do that.

Q: At UCLA Anderson, we do our best to attract a diverse student body. If you were talking to a student from an underrepresented group, what you would you tell them about Anderson to convince them to consider the school?

I had a unique experience, because I became so close with Al Osborne and always felt like I had this great mentor. But I also had a great relationship with Professor Dominique (Mike) Hanssens, who really taught me some important things about marketing and about using technology. Marketing is not just having some great campaign ad, it’s also about how you measure it. Professor Bill Cockrum taught me to never run out of cash and how to structure deals. I also learned from Ed Leamer on the economic forecasting side, and he really taught me about what story the data might be telling versus what people are saying.

I want to be able to tell that incoming student, you will be surrounded by people who care about you. In addition to my great relationship with Professor Osborne, I felt like Professor Hanssens, Professor Cockrum and Professor Leamer really cared about me.

I do wish UCLA were more diverse and I wish they had a more diverse faculty, because I think when you go to school, you want to see more people who look like you at all levels.

But when I think about Anderson, no matter who you are, you’re going to leave with certain lifelong skills that will take you wherever you want to go.