Smart leaders surround themselves with smarter people

The Last Word


Cory Nettles

Founder and managing director

Generation Growth Capital Inc., Milwaukee

Industry: Private equity

Cory Nettles is the founder and managing director of Generation Growth Capital, a Milwaukee-based private equity fund focused on buyouts and providing growth capital to small businesses and lower-middle market companies in the upper Midwest. Being a great leader isn’t about being the smartest person it the room, he says.

“Smart leaders surround themselves with smarter people. The smartest and best leaders I know are surrounded by people smarter than themselves. This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because of the leader’s self-awareness in her strengths and weaknesses. It happens because he’s confident enough to say ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I’m not good at this,’ or ‘Someone else is better at this particular thing than I am.’

“At Generation Growth Capital, our model for creating value in our portfolio companies is to find and leverage smart talent. We make sure that our portfolio company CEOs are surrounded by subject matter experts who are smarter in their respective disciplines. The operations-oriented CEO might not be good at sales and marketing. The sales and marketing CEO might not excel at finance. Our best CEOs are those who don’t pretend to know everything. They know what they know, and they are comfortable admitting what they don’t know.

“At our funds, we have a stable of operating partners, board members and non-executive chairs at each company. By carefully targeting and developing these resources, we scale our investment model and impact, and we develop resources who support us long term. We also find these targeted relationships give us deeper access to opportunities in our markets. They improve our talent-sourcing for our companies. From their early engagement in our due diligence process to their ongoing roles as management advisors, they play a critical role in the outcome of our investments. By being comfortable bringing them on in value-added roles, we demonstrate to our CEOs that we, ourselves, are smart enough to surround ourselves with smarter people.”

Lila Aryan Photography

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