Kourtney Ratliff: On Rising From Intern to Partner of Family Business

 

The NextWomen Generations & Family Business Theme.

Kourtney Ratliff is a Partner at Loop Capital, a full-service investment bank, brokerage and advisory firm providing capital solutions for corporate, governmental and institutional entities across the globe. Since 1997, Loop Capital has grown from a Chicago municipal bond firm with a staff of six to a global investment services firm employing more than 180 professionals.

As Head of the firm's Global Equity Division, she is responsible for managing all aspects of the division's institutional new business development, relationship management and trading with accounts ranging in size from less than $100 million to over $3 trillion under management.  

Kourtney oversees all brand building efforts at Loop Capital and participates in decisions regarding firm-wide strategy and growth including spearheading the firm's expansion into the global markets.

With 15 years of experience at Loop Capital, Kourtney has extensive involvement in public finance, corporate finance and global equity sales and trading. She holds a Master's Degree in Business Administration from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a Bachelor of Business Administration in International Finance and Marketing, in addition to a minor in Business Law from the University of Miami. 

We spoke to Kourtney about the challenges she overcame whilst working her way up from intern to Partner of her cousin’s firm; the advantages and potential pitfalls of family businesses; and how the founding ethos is kept alive in a rapidly growing company.

TNW: You were hired as an intern and worked your way up to your current position within the company. What were the major challenges you faced on this route to success and how did you overcome them?

KR: Deciding to leave my friends and immediate family in Wisconsin and take a job (at the time there was no “internship program”) at my cousin’s firm in downtown Chicago that first summer in 1998 was a tough decision, but one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I didn’t realize how significant of an opportunity I was blessed with until I went to college, and saw how working at an investment bank in high school differentiated me from all of my peers, whether it was in the classroom or competing for other opportunities such as the Morgan Stanley Richard B. Fisher Scholarship and internship on Wall Street my last summer before graduation.

Rather than staying in New York and working for a large Wall Street firm, I decided I wanted to help build my family’s legacy, so I decided to join Loop Capital full-time.

Although it can be great to start a career at a place where everybody knows your name, it became a challenge to ensure that I was viewed as a professional, instead of the CEO’s relative that helped out during the summer. I put in the time to prove myself by working hard and earning the respect of my colleagues with my dedication to the firm and success in growing the business. When my work began to speak for itself, I was able to rebrand myself as not just the little girl that used to make the pitchbooks for our meetings, but the woman who has helped to grow and expand the firm.

TNW: What advantages do family businesses have over other companies? What potential pitfalls do they face?

KR:

There is a level of dedication, cultural commitment and drive that family owned businesses have that is very difficult to replicate.

Although there are only three partners that are related at my firm, the familial feel and commitment to each other and the vision of success for the firm has intentionally been ingrained in each of our nearly 200 employees.

The greatest challenge for family businesses is often facing the need to upgrade talent and make business decisions as the firm evolves in order to take it to the next level without damaging the relationship with the individual(s) that are so important to you.  It’s critical to maintain that balance and nurture those personal relationships while making smart decisions for the firm. 

TNW: As Loop Capital expands, how do you keep the founding ethos alive whilst also adapting to the company’s new size?

KR:

The culture of our firm is so important. Not only has it been a major part of getting us to where we are today, but it is a definite recruiting tool for our future.

In order for us to compete with the other Wall Street firms, we have to show that we are different. Each employee brought into the Loop family is interviewed by at least one partner and/or a person that has been with the firm 10 years or longer. Over the years, we have actually decided not to hire some very talented people because they didn’t share the collegial attitude that we cherish here at our firm. In order for us to compete and grow in this economy, we have to not only be the best at what we do, but also maintain the entrepreneurial and familial spirit of the firm that allows us to add value to our clients in unique ways. 

TNW: How has technology fueled the growth and success of Loop Capital? 

KR: Technology, combined with the tremendous thought leadership of our staff, has really fueled our ability to compete head to head with firms significantly larger than us. In investment banking, relationships have and will likely always be a driving factor, however having access to the best electronic trading platforms, modelling programs, analytics and software, really helps to level the playing field and remove information barriers, allowing a firm like ours to provide more value added services in a more timely fashion than ever before.

TNW: What is next for Loop Capital? As you look to scale the business, how can technology, capital and networks help? 

KR: Loop Capital is in strategic growth mode. Given the changes in the investment banking industry over the last several years, there is a significant opportunity for a firm like ours that’s dedicated to leveraging technology, steadfast in hiring talented people with integrity and committed to putting our clients first. Given that we are 100% employee owned, there is a meaningful opportunity for a strategic partner to invest in our firm and allow us the additional capital needed to make acquisitions as well as other strategic growth investments while participating in the upside that we are sure to see over the next several years.

TNW: Is there a moment in your career which you consider the highlight so far?

KR: Thus far, the greatest highlight of my career was launching our international equity trading desk. This was the first area of our firm to go global. Having the ability to provide superior equity executions in 50 markets around the globe from one desk, by leveraging technology, really helped to catapult our firm to the next level with not only our equity trading clients, but other clients across the firm as well. 

TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures? 

Stay focused. Be Strategic. Always stay close to your clients. 

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors? What about a motto which sums up your approach to business, or to life?

KR: My parents have been the source of an incredible amount of good advice to me over the years. That said, the best they have given me, is to treat people the way you want to be treated. Working with so many people in my current position, and knowing the importance of effective communication, this simple advice has gone a long way contributing to any success I have achieved personally or professionally. 

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network supported and assisted you? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN? 

KR: An organization like DWEN is incredibly powerful. Given that women make up such a small but growing percentage of entrepreneurs, partners and CEOs, it’s imperative that we are able to get together and learn from each other as well as support and network with each other as we grow as people and grow our firms.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you would like to share with our community?

KR: “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” - William James

The Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN)celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

In late 2011 and early 2012, The NextWomen partnered with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series. We're very excited to relaunch the series in 2013 with a further five fantastic interviews.

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