Tom Gaffney ’63 is in the private equity business, which is to say, he’s in the people business. “The key thing we do well is understand the people who could potentially become our partners. If we don’t feel it’s going to be a good match for our culture up front, we don’t do the deal,” Gaffney says.
Gaffney’s longtime focus on people has brought him lasting success as principal at Anderson Group, a private equity firm he co-founded in 1985. Gaffney and his two partners have made a career investing in and acquiring privately owned companies.
“Every company has a different scenario to it, but we’re looking to acquire companies where we can add value,” whether by helping a company develop a strategic plan, or growing its business by adding talent to its management team, Gaffney says.
Unlike most private equity firms, which use institutional money to acquire companies, Gaffney and his partners invest their own capital. “So we’re very disciplined and very careful in our transactions,” says Gaffney, adding that the companies they acquire typically have between $10 million and $50 million in revenue.
Gaffney’s first leveraged buyout came in 1982 with the acquisition of Indiana-based Windsor Plastics. Since then, he’s made about 40 more acquisitions. But with all his success, Gaffney is most proud of serving as vice president of Guardian Industries Corp., an international glass manufacturer, where he orchestrated acquisition and strategic growth initiatives. In his 12 years with Guardian, the company’s revenue grew from $100 million to more than $700 million.
When Gaffney did his first leveraged buyout with Guardian in 1982, “there were very few firms doing private equity transactions. It was like the Wild West,” he says. “Anderson was an early participant in an industry that has grown substantially over the last 30 years.”
Gaffney says his years at Guardian were “critically important” because he learned how to do transactions on his own, and for a company that was growing dramatically.
Also “critically important,” Gaffney says, were his four years at Gilmour. “Gilmour really was critical for me because it gave me the tools to learn how to be disciplined and work real hard,” Gaffney says. “Gilmour instilled those principles in me in a very real way, and I don’t think I would have gotten that at another school.”
Gaffney’s rise at Gilmour was meteoric. While he started his freshman year at the lowest level of academic competency, he improved so much by his senior year that Brother Alfonso encouraged him to take time off.
Gaffney recalls, “I was very intense, I was an animal in terms of study, and Brother recognized how much progress I had made.”
That progress earned him entry into Brown University for college and the University of Chicago for business school. And the discipline Gilmour instilled in Gaffney continued to empower him, not only in his higher education but also throughout this career.
Though still involved in Anderson, the 68-yearold recently handed the reins at Anderson to his son, Cory. That means that these days Gaffney has more time to engage in the things he loves – swimming, playing tennis, hiking in Aspen, where he has a home, and using the 9 million frequent flier miles he’s accumulated to travel the world with his wife, Donna. Not a bad way to live.