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Larry Jennings is the Senior Managing Director of ValStone Partners, a private equity investment firm he co-founded in 1998. With a focus on alternative investments, ValStone specializes in sectors such as debt and direct real estate. ValStone’s completed transactions boast an aggregate value of over $1.2 billion, and the firm’s current assets under management sit just below $500 million. Prior to launching ValStone, Larry was a principal of Carnegie Morgan Partners, an investment banker at Legg Mason Wood Walker, and a senior financial analyst with Maryland National Bank. Over the course of his career, Larry has completed in excess of $10 billion in transactions. He has decades of experience working with real estate workouts, distressed credits, the sale and leaseback of public real estate assets, and energy contract negotiations. An active philanthropist, Larry serves as a trustee for Carnegie Mellon University, Roland Park Country School, and Baltimore School for the Arts. He is also a Sinai Hospital board member and chairman of Morgan State University Foundation’s Investment Committee.
Q. How did you end up as the chairman of Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore?
LARRY JENNINGS: Truman Timmis was the Chair of the Boys Hope Girls Hope in Detroit. He’s the brother of Jerry Timmis, business partner of mine and co-founder of the company. Jerry Piro came to Baltimore and Truman said, “Hey, talk to Larry—he might be interested in throwing a few bucks in there, helping out.” That morning they came to my office, Jerry Piro—and I forget who else was with him that morning—and I had just fired a couple of people, so there were some vacant offices next to me. I guess I was on the phone. Jerry Piro was sitting in one of the offices that was recently vacated. I somewhat abrasively said, “All right, what do you want to talk about?” He says, “I want to talk about you maybe being involved with introducing us to some people in Baltimore, helping us set up a network of funders and board people.” I said, “all right— where’s your office?” “Well, we don’t have an office in Baltimore.” I said, “Why don’t you use that office right there?”
So Jerry and I put together an amazing initial working group. We had these roundtable discussions. We formed a board. It was in St. Frances Academy’s board room, or their working room, and I stepped out to take a phone call—they’re in there meeting—I come back in the room and they said, “You’re going to be the board chair.” I’m like, “Oh God, that’s all I need to be—a board chair.” And I think it probably was the right decision because I think most of the constituents of Boys Hope Girls Hope look like me. They’re mostly underrepresented minorities. It was probably a good idea for me to be the face of the organization, initially, in terms of dealing with the kids.
Most of the kids in Boys Hope Girls Hope are really amazing because they’re really smart and driven, and they’re from difficult houses. What you typically have is kids who have issues because their parents have issues, but you almost never find kids who are incredibly driven and smart from difficult home situations. They’re that unicorn. And at Boys Hope Girls Hope, you have a program that is managing towards unicorns—kids that are incredibly challenged and basically you are giving them an onramp to success.
These kids are amazingly driven and focused and academically talented, but they have challenging home situations and that’s what you really don’t find. You generally find those kids sort of just washing out, and we try to help them.
Q. Do you have an entrepreneurial role model?
A. I’m a big fan of Warren Buffet. People say he’s kind of an old line guy: “Why aren’t you a big fan of, like, [Mark] Zuckerberg?” I think Warren Buffet is amazing because he’s nose in, but hands off. He knows everything that’s going on, but he lets the people do their thing, and I think that’s my style as well. He has really lasted over such a long period of time, through technological change, recessions. There might be some people maybe smarter than Buffet—I doubt it—but he has evolved over 50 years of doing this. If you look at like the top 100 companies trading on the stock exchange in 1975, probably 90 of them don’t even trade anymore. That’s how much turnover we have. And also he’s very, very philanthropic. So, if you combine his sort of multi-industry understanding and his philanthropic bent, he’s probably my guy.
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