10 Years Of Kellogg’s Zell Fellowship: ‘If Everyone Is Going Left, Look Right’

Ian Goldberg, CEO of Canopy Service Partners

Ian Goldberg, MBA ‘19

Zell venture: Canopy Service Partners

Canopy is redefining what it means to be a partnership in the world of arboriculture. Through sharing best practices, investing for sustained growth, and putting our PeopleFirst, we are creating the premier collection of tree care services businesses in North America.

Why did you choose Kellogg? I was very fortunate to start my career in private equity. For six years I spent time as an analyst and associate learning how to become a great investor. During that time, I was always drawn more towards operating. The time I spent on boards and working with management teams resonated with me and most reminded me of my background in college athletics.

I chose Kellogg because I was ready to pivot from an investing role to a leadership role within a private equity backed business. I have always loved the pace in private equity. I thought Kellogg offered the best opportunities to build my management and operations experience before making that shift. More specifically, I was impressed with the experiential learning opportunities.

What prompted you to apply for the Zell Fellows? Many business schools have great programming for students seeking to go into consulting, banking, or roles within larger (well known) businesses. There is also more targeted programming for entrepreneurship. However, I have always been drawn to lower middle market and middle market businesses. With my skillset, I knew I could make an outsized impact and add value at mid-sized businesses. The Growth & Scaling Practicum at Kellogg was the gateway to my discovery of the Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (ETA) Zell Fellow track. The ETA program description was a carbon copy of the essay I had written as part of my application the year before.

What was most helpful about the program? What was the most unexpected? I loved participating in company site visits. There is no better way to visualize running a business than to get in the field and meet with operators. We visited businesses in Austin, Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Sao Paolo, and Rio de Janeiro. We saw businesses in industries spanning from logistics and welding to grocery and CPG. This helped me start to formalize my own operating framework and also was where I confirmed I was most at home in manufacturing, welding, and other skilled trade environments.

The most unexpected part of the program was discovering the similarities in the operating models between the various industries. I took these lessons with me as I stepped into my first post-Kellogg leadership role.

What challenges did you encounter with your venture that the fellowship helped you overcome? The first business I ran after graduating was very unstructured. There were no meetings. There was no performance management program. There was, however, a very motivated group of people, excited about change and a promising future. I entered with a clean slate which was a daunting but amazing opportunity. I leaned heavily on my ETA cohort as well as prior graduates to sanity-check all proposed changes. The constant advice I received was always to do less and observe. It’s hard not to immediately make changes, but that advice prevented me from making mistakes that would have cost me more capital (both social and financial) to undo over time.

How would you say the fellowship aided in the success or development of your venture, and your skills as a founder/leader? Leaving the Zell Program, I developed an operating framework that I continue to use to this day. However, the most important thing I took with me was a network of operators that I can use to get me through tough times and to push me to overcome day-to-day challenges. Our Zell ETA cohort has a standing quarterly call where we catch up on life, business, and everything in between. We have come to realize we all face the same challenges. ETA and leadership can be lonely and building a support network is key to success. The Zell program allowed me to graduate with the best network I could imagine.

What’s next for you and/or your venture? Canopy is just getting started. We are setting out to build the premier Tree Care Services business in the country. The next few years will be exciting as we add growth-oriented businesses, share best practices, and build out a best-in-class shared services organization to elevate our people and take care of our customers. This is my second opportunity within the world of Alpine Investors, another network that I could not be more grateful to have joined. As part of Apex Service Partners, we executed a similar strategy. I could not be more excited to work with my new team to innovate upon that playbook.

Celebrating 10 years at Kellogg, the Zell Fellow program has supported more than 100 Kellogg students. What does it mean to you to be a part of this community-oriented group of people? An early mentor once told the key to success and fulfillment in business: “It’s all about the people.” Life is too short not to be inspired by those around you.

When I chose to apply to be a Zell Fellow, I was excited by the opportunity, but I was inspired by the Zell Fellows that came before me. These were people that took the road less traveled and bet on themselves. These were people that achieved success through grit and determination. These were people running mission driven startups and scaling family businesses to new heights. Most importantly, these were people that had a different level of passion and competitiveness that differentiated themselves from the rest of the Kellogg student body. That fire and excitement drew me to the program and has kept me engaged since the day I was accepted. In Sam Zell’s Little Red Book, one of the quotes reads, “When everyone is going left, look right”. The Zell Fellows program was created for those who take this quote to heart.

I am a believer that we are judged by the company that we keep. To this day, I am humbled to be considered among the 100+ Fellows that continue to push the boundaries of their industries across the world. However, being part of this group is not an accomplishment, it is a challenge. It is a challenge to continue to push your own boundaries to keep pace with past and future Zell Fellows. Being part of this group is a privilege and a responsibility which I and all other Zell Fellows, gladly accept.

Next page: Jorge Alejandro “Andro” Rodriguez, Armour House Group

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