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Cleveland Christophe

Venture capitalist and accomplished businessman Cleveland A. Christophe was born on January 1, 1946 in Savannah, Georgia. The son of a college professor and public school teacher, Christophe grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Christophe was studious growing up and received a National Science Foundation summer grant to study at Howard University after his junior year in high school. He went on to attend and graduate from Howard University in 1966 with his B.S. degree in business administration. He subsequently obtained his M.B.A. from the University of Michigan Business School in 1967. He was the only Black among the School’s 800 M.B.A. students.

Christophe began his career with First National City Bank (now Citicorp) in the firm’s prestigious Investment Research Department. Less than two years later, at the age of 22, he became one of First National City Bank’s (FNCB) youngest officers ever. Christophe left FNCB in 1969 to join Kenton Corporation, a retail conglomerate. There, he worked for the company’s chairman and gained his initial experience in acquiring businesses. In 1970, Christophe became chairman and CEO of his own restaurant called Soul Stop located in New York’s Harlem. He and his partners had plans to open multiple restaurant units and expand by franchising. A year later, Christophe decided the restaurant business was not his forte. He and his attorney, Reginald F. Lewis, succeeded in selling Soul Stop to another restaurant chain.

Christophe returned to FNCB in January of 1971, this time as an officer in FNCB Capital Corporation, the Bank’s venture capital subsidiary. In 1974, Christophe was promoted to Vice President of FNCB, having rejoined the Investment Research Department. In 1975, he told the head of FNCB’s International Bank that he wanted to obtain experience in commercial banking including operations, treasury, and credit -- preferably abroad so as to concomitantly gain cross cultural experience. Later that year, he moved to FNCB’s office in Paris, France, where he worked for four years. He was the Bank’s Country Operations Head for France for the latter two years. In 1980, Christophe relocated to FNCB’s (now Citibank) San Francisco office, where he became a credit officer and head of corporate banking for the high technology industries, notably Silicon Valley. In 1983, Christophe again moved abroad, this time to Kingston, Jamaica, as Citibank’s Country Head in charge of all the Bank’s business in Jamaica. In 1985, having succeeded in restructuring Citibank’s Jamaican business during the height of the third world debt crisis, he was awarded a larger and more complex assignment as Country Head for Colombia located in Bogota.

In 1987, Christophe left banking to join his friend and former attorney, Reginald F. Lewis. Several days after joining Lewis’s TLC Group as Senior Vice President, the two partners bid one billion dollars to acquire the Beatrice International Food Company, a transaction successfully consummated later that year.

Christophe left TLC in 1988 to pursue a vision of building his own company. In 1990, he joined Equico Capital Corp. the venture capital subsidiary of Equitable Life Assurance Company. On May 14, 1992, a day Christophe calls Emancipation Day, Christophe and his partners Duane E. Hill, Lawrence C. Morse and Divakar R. Kamath acquired control of Equico and changed the name to TSG Ventures, Inc. A Specialized Small Business Investment Company licensed by the US Small Business Administration, TSG Ventures was among the largest and most successful firms investing in minority controlled businesses. In 1994, Christophe and Hill organized TSG Capital Group and raised a $225 million buyout fund. A subsequent $515 million fund was raised in 1998. TSG Capital Group’s investment strategy focused on underserved ethnic markets (African Americans and Hispanics) and the company's access to ethnic entrepreneurs and managers who represent a largely untapped base of talent. By February of 1999, TSG Capital could invest up to $100 million of equity in single deals with all decision making coming from inside the firm. TSG had become one of the largest minority-run firms in the United States.

Christophe resides in Stamford, Connecticut.

Christophe was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 20, 2006.

Accession Number

A2006.146

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/20/2006

Last Name

Christophe

Maker Category
Marital Status

married

Schools

St Peter Catholic School

Merrill Junior High School

University of Michigan

Indiana Street School

Southeast Middle School

J.C. Corbin Laboratory School

Howard University

First Name

Cleveland

Birth City, State, Country

Savannah

HM ID

CHR02

Favorite Season

September, October

State

Georgia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

I Can, I Will, I Must.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

South Carolina

Interview Description
Birth Date

1/1/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Greenville

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Barbecue Ribs

Short Description

Bank executive and investment executive Cleveland Christophe (1946 - ) co-founded the TSG Capital Group, one of the largest minority-run firms in the United States.

Employment

First National City Corporation

Soul Stop, Inc.

Kenton Corporation

Citibank

Citibank, N.A.

TLC Group

TSG Ventures, Inc.

Favorite Color

Light Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Cleveland Christophe's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe describes his maternal grandparents' occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe describes his mother's family farm

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe talks about his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe describes his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe talks about his father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christophe describes his parents' move to Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Cleveland Christophe remembers his neighborhood in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe describes his paper route

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his mother's social life in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe describes his parents' political philosophies

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his father's friendship with Wiley Branton

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe remembers visiting his father in South Dakota

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe describes segregation in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe shares his perspective on integration

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christophe describes his father's teaching career

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe describes his early education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe remembers the Indiana Street School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe recalls transferring to Southeast Junior-Senior High School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe remembers his early aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe talks about his early experiences of religion

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe recalls the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his decision to attend Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe remembers Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christophe remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Cleveland Christophe recalls developing an interest in economics

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his experiences at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe remembers his summer work experiences

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe recalls joining the Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe remembers H. Naylor Fitzhugh

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe describes his business education at Howard University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his decision to apply to M.B.A. programs

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe reflects upon his success as a student and businessman

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his decision to enroll at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his social life at the University of Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe remembers the advice of Wiley Branton

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe explains his decision to pursue investment research

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe recalls being offered a position at J.P. Morgan and Co.

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe recalls joining the First National City Corporation

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe describes his work at the First National City Corporation

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe describes his values

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe remembers working for the Kenton Corporation

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe remembers being hired by Soul Stop, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe describes the business model of Soul Stop, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe talks about his first attempt at entrepreneurship

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe remembers his leadership of Soul Stop, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe describes lessons he learned at Soul Stop, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe remembers meeting Reginald F. Lewis

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe remembers selling Soul Stop, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe recalls being rehired at First National City Corporation

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe recalls working in venture capital at the First National City Corporation

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christophe remembers writing 'Competition and Financial Services,' pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Cleveland Christophe remembers writing 'Competition and Financial Services,' pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe describes the success of his research

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe remembers being promoted at the First National City Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe describes his mentorship of junior colleagues

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe reflects upon his career at the First National City Corporation, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe reflects upon his career at the First National City Corporation, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe talks about interracial dating

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe recalls working abroad for the First National City Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe remembers moving to San Francisco, California

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christophe recalls considering leaving the First National City Corporation, pt.1

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Cleveland Christophe recalls considering leaving the First National City Corporation, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his leadership of Citibank, N.A. in Jamaica

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe describes his leadership of Citibank, N.A. in Colombia

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his decision to leave Citibank, N.A.

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe remembers resigning from Citibank, N.A.

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe describes his relationship with Reginald F. Lewis

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe remembers concealing his intent to resign

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe recalls Reginald F. Lewis' business proposition

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe talks about his move to Stamford, Connecticut

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his business partnership with Reginald F. Lewis

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe describes Reginald F. Lewis' law career

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe recalls Reginald F. Lewis' start in venture capitalism

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe recalls Reginald F. Lewis' acquisition of McCall Pattern Company, Inc.

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe describes his partnership with Reginald F. Lewis

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his acquisition of Beatrice Foods TLC, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his acquisition of Beatrice Foods TLC, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe recalls ending his partnership with Reginald F. Lewis, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe recalls ending his partnership with Reginald F. Lewis, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe remembers parting ways with Reginald F. Lewis

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe remembers limiting his contact with Reginald F. Lewis

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe recalls joining the Equico Capital Corporation

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe talks about his decision to join the Equico Capital Corporation

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe recalls his offer to buy the Equico Capital Corporation

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe describes his relationships with supervisors

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe remembers acquiring the Equico Capital Corporation

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe talks about his loan from the Boston Bank of Commerce

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christopher describes his strategy for acquiring the Equico Capital Corporation

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Cleveland Christophe describes the history of the Equico Capital Corporation

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Cleveland Christophe talks about the early years of TSG Ventures, Inc.

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Cleveland Christophe lists the initial acquisitions by TSG Ventures Inc.

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Cleveland Christophe describes the life of his investments with TSG Ventures, Inc.

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Cleveland Christophe describes his work with Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Cleveland Christophe describes his involvement with the Waterside School in Stamford, Connecticut

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Cleveland Christophe talks about the Business Council of Fairfield County

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Cleveland Christophe describes his pastimes

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - Cleveland Christophe remembers the death of his oldest son

Tape: 11 Story: 10 - Cleveland Christophe describes his children

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$8

DAStory

4$9

DATitle
Cleveland Christophe remembers H. Naylor Fitzhugh
Cleveland Christophe recalls his business partnership with Reginald F. Lewis
Transcript
So during that time, you had--during the time you were at Howard [Howard University, Washington D.C.], the influences. Who became your, your role models? Who were you looking up to at the time?$$The person that most singularly impacted me was Naylor Fitzhugh [H. Naylor Fitzhugh]. Naylor was a professor of marketing, and again unlike anyone that I had ever been exposed to. Fitz as we called him, and after I had graduated and he was no longer Professor Fitzhugh, Fitz impacted a lot of lives over the years. It's a name that you'll hear time and time again. Fitz was a Harvard Business School [Boston, Massachusetts] grad and he graduated from Harvard when, you know, blacks didn't go there. I wanna say it may have been in the '40s [1940s], but Fitz was just, he was a student of business, he was an outstanding professor. He cared deeply about his students. And he inspired a number of us to pursue careers in, in, in, in business. And Fitz just had a way of--he carried himself that he was the first African American that I had ever been exposed to who you had a sense that, that he was--could be a part of and was comfortable in interacting with the broader business community. And, and, and not simply the, the segregated African American business community. So Fitz more than anybody else, just had a very profound impact on me.$The following day I went back into the city to meet with Reg [Reginald F. Lewis], and we're now into the very early part of June of 1987, and on June 15, 1987 I joined Reg at 99 Wall Street [New York, New York]. Three days later, he walked into--I could, I could dignify what was my office by calling it an office, but really it was the mail room where I had a card table as a desk. And Reg walked in and tossed over a sheaf of papers that was a Xerox copy of the divestiture memorandum for Beatrice International [Beatrice Foods TLC; Beatrice International Foods]. And he said, "I'm not supposed to have this, but I do. You know, why don't you take a look at it," and he said, "it's probably not gonna make any sense. But I'd like your thoughts on it." Took it home, caught the train, subway first to Grand Central [Grand Central Terminal, New York, New York], then all the way up here and then drove to my home. And I stayed up all night. I looked at it and read it and then I pulled out my computer, I was one of the few guys that had computers then. And I modeled the whole thing out. And the following day I went in and I said, "This makes a lot of sense." And the price is $950 million. And three days later we bid $950 million for Beatrice International Foods.$$How does it work? Where do you get $950 million?$$(Laughter) We were asked that question. We were asked that question. Reg and I ran--we ran a process that I even marvel at to this day. And I can't do justice to it, not in a single seating. But if you look at Reg's biography--'Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?' ['Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?' How Reginald Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Business Empire' Reginald F. Lewis and Blair S. Walker] It is very well chronicled in there, very well chronicled. There were some pivotal moments. Three days after we bid $950 million, Reg was on an airplane heading out to Beverly Hills [California] to meet with Mike Milken [Michael Milken] and I get the call from--what was Gordon's [Gordon W. Lawson] last name? Can't remember right now, a young guy over at Salomon Brothers. And he said, "Is this Cleve Christophe [HistoryMaker Cleveland Christophe]?" I said, "Yes." He introduced himself and he said, "I'm, I'm with Solomon Brothers and I'm working on the divestiture, the sale of Beatrice International." I said, "Okay." He said, "We have a, a letter proposing to compete in the auction for this property, a letter from you for $950 million." I said, "Yes." He said, "We have a slight problem." I said, "What's that?" He said, "Nobody knows who the hell you guys are." And I said, "Well I guess we have to do something about that." And we sat down and started talking about it. The following day called back and he said, "Apologize, I thought we had a good and constructive meeting yesterday, but there are two investment banks that are involved in this sale process. The other one is Morgan Stanley, and you're gonna have to sit and have a similar conversation with them." And that was kind of the beginning of it all. There was credibility at least at the surface level because of Reg's success in acquiring McCall [McCall Pattern Company, Inc.]. And fortunately The New York Times had just the prior week written a major article about Reg and what appeared to be the success of, of the McCall acquisition. And as far as we were concerned, that was just currency because we played it up big time. And, and you know and then, and then Reg had worked over the years to kind of cultivate this relationship with people out in Beverly Hills at, at Drexel [Drexel Burnham Lambert], and ultimately a relationship with Michael. And we traded on that.