Year of Investment
Legal Services
Rachel Braun knows what it takes to pursue a risky endeavor and have it pay off. Currently, Braun is CEO of Novalaw, an AlpineX portfolio company that provides legal support services and manages back-office operations for global law firms.

AlpineX is an Alpine Investors-backed investment platform focused on lower middle-market services businesses. But before leading Novalaw, Braun worked in private equity in South Sudan, worked alongside a South African billionaire investing in the defense and aerospace industries, and even had a stint working in the CIA’s venture capital arm. Unsure where these varied experiences would take her as a business leader, she found Alpine’s CEO-in-Training (CIT) program which gave her the opportunity to combine her passions into a CEO role right after completing her MBA. In sharing her story, Braun reflects on why unconventional backgrounds can make for the best business leaders.

As a college student studying international politics and security studies at Georgetown University, my study abroad experience in Botswana defined my early career interests. I had never been to Africa before my semester there. But that time abroad developed my lifelong love of the continent, where I became fascinated with the opportunities and the challenges for development in this region of the world. When I later returned to Georgetown’s campus, my newfound interests inspired me to pursue work in Africa for a private military contracting firm after graduation.

Left: Alpine Growth Summit 2022 Right:
Golden Gate Bridge, san Francisco

But that’s when I hit a crossroad in my career–where I could either double-down on what I’m already good at, or, to unlock the next tier of opportunity.
Hitting a Crossroad in My Career and Taking a Risk on Myself

During my time in Hong Kong, I worked extensively with former U.S. Navy SEALs, Rangers and intelligence officers, who taught me a lot about everything from mission planning to small team dynamics. Through my Hong Kong connections I was offered to move down to Johannesburg to work for a South African billionaire, Ivor Ichikowitz, who was an industrialist in the defense and aerospace industry. If I had to describe him, he was a mix of Iron Man’s innovative mind, Richard Branson’s brash entrepreneurial spirit, and Nelson Mandela’s purpose-driven leadership style. He was an interesting character, an incredible boss, and was running 19 companies across Africa. I came on as his chief of staff and we’d spend 250 days a year traveling the world, meeting with different heads of state, Presidents, royalty, foreign Defense Ministers, diplomats, and other businesspeople. He taught me so much about how international business is done. Whether he was explaining international treaties or stakeholder strategy, he truly taught me to think about business strategy across all dimensions–technology, history, finance, politics, diplomacy, and of course, interpersonal relationships.

From there, I became Vice President for his company and moved into South America where I did some of the first deals the company had done in Argentina and Peru, predominantly around fighter jet projects and some anti-piracy projects. My team and I then saw a unique opportunity–that our South African defense technology and operations could be of interest to the US Air Force, Air Force Special Operations Command and other U.S department of defense players.

I took that idea and established our U.S office in Dallas, Texas. The nature of our investments meant I was running between airfields, air force bases and aircraft hangars, bringing over South African aerospace engineers and meeting fighter pilots, and learning about all sorts of interesting government projects. But that’s when I hit a crossroad in my career–where I could either double-down on what I’m already good at, or, to unlock the next tier of opportunity, I needed to work on my weaker skills to become a more versatile leader. And while I loved what I was doing, I looked at my career timeline and realized, okay, if I don’t go to business school now, I’m never going to go. It was a now or never kind of moment, and I decided to tell my boss that I was going to pursue an MBA.

Pursuing the CEO Title With an Unconventional Background

I studied at Wharton and it was an incredible experience. During my first year as an MBA student, I took my varied passions and experiences to an internship with the venture capital arm of the CIA. Called In-Q-Tel, they work on some of the most cutting-edge technologies the world has to offer while operating as a mission-driven firm. Like my first stint with private equity, these investors operated under the belief that private investment can make a significant impact on national security–and society at large–in a way that other funding strategies simply can’t.

When my internship ended and I was headed into my second year at business school, I questioned how I’d combine my passions and a desire to work as an operator within the investment world. When I came across the Alpine CIT program, I was intrigued because I saw an opportunity to do it all.

Rachel Braun, Alpine Growth Summit 2022, san Francisco

Looking Ahead at a Bright Future

Not only do I have no regrets in taking this leap of faith, I’m more grateful everyday for the path I’ve taken. I’ve found that the freedom and autonomy in an opportunity like this, while knowing that you’re accountable for all outcomes and your own destiny, is perhaps ironically the least risky thing you can do to live and build the kind of life that you want.

My time working in frontier markets with no playbook–only a strong team, grit, and a will to win–is coming to bear at Novalaw. Novalaw is the first attempt by private equity in America to invest in and improve upon law firm operations. It’s a wildly disruptive model in an industry that has historically suffered from under-capitalization and under-professionalization in operations, which in turn has led to a systematic lack of innovation and increasing overhead costs passed on to both attorneys and the clients they serve. Novalaw is already supporting a prestigious, fast-growing law firm, Rimon P.C., and every day we are working to improve and innovate in the ways law firm operations can deliver greater value and efficiency to attorneys and clients.

Just like Alpine has done in so many industries, we’re writing the playbook for what it takes to win as we chart our path forward. Our goal is to support a number of law firms, giving them access to the kind of resources, technology, and management that was formerly reserved for only the world’s largest law firms. Novalaw has the potential to be an industry gamechanger, and our pioneering spirit and extraordinary team is what will get us there.

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