Alpine Investors Principal Jacob Zodikoff brings constant curiosity and competitive spirit to everything he does. That craving for knowledge and a will to win first brought him to Alpine as an undergraduate intern and has kept him at the firm through 30 deals, including 12 in the past year. Today, he has progressed to a principal role, co-leads an investing team of over 50 people and continues to push himself to learn and grow alongside teammates who inspire him. As he reflects on his career at Alpine so far, Zodikoff shares what it’s like to sit on boards of multiple portfolio companies, what he’s learned about himself while leading others and why a well-defined culture is one of the most powerful tools for building a successful business.
I was not someone who initially knew he wanted to build a career in investing or finance. When I started out, my criteria was to go somewhere where I could work on interesting problems alongside people I admired within in an environment where I was constantly learning. During my first summer interning at Alpine’s San Francisco office, I realized that Alpine was unique. The team is growth- and people-oriented and set on building winning businesses and solving interesting problems in the markets they serve. I also experienced how private equity sits at the intersection of all things business— you get to conduct numerical analysis and see the quantitative side of investing, while also working on the more people-centric side of business, like building teams, strategizing, influencing people and building relationships. I loved that each day stretched my mind in different ways. It was a direct match for my initial criteria– and I was thrilled when I joined full time as an analyst.
Diving Into the Deep End
At Alpine, analysts are full members of the deal team from day one. When I was an analyst, I dove right into the deep end by owning analysis workstreams, talking with industry experts, leading meetings and starting to build a strong investing judgment. The first few months were stressful, but also taught me to manage my time and priorities. The message I always heard from Alpine’s leadership was, “We trust you. Go run with it and come back to us when you need support.”
Alpine is a great fit for people who crave fast-paced environments where you’re constantly learning. As you spend more time on our team and hire folks that need to be trained, it’s particularly gratifying to get to pay forward the knowledge you’ve gained. When Max Agranoff was hired, for example, he and I worked closely on Comlinkdata, one of the businesses within Alpine’s portfolio. I got to teach him all I’d learned in my time at Alpine about how to do analysis, how to lead due diligence processes and what makes a good business. His drive was infectious and in return, made me better– and he picked everything up quickly. Now, years later, he’s running M&A for one of the verticals under Alpine portfolio company Orion Group. Like me, he started out in constant learning mode, often stretching his comfort zone. But his desire to grow with the firm and to help the team win has allowed him to carve out a career path that challenges him in all the right ways.
I’ve seen that play out in my own career journey, too. Raising my hand and being willing to step in when needed often leads to chances to grow different skills. Along the way I’ve been fortunate to earn promotions and take on bigger roles because Alpine truly believes that supporting growth and encouraging employees to build on their strengths helps both individuals and the firm win. It’s that sense of trust and support that really brings Alpine’s PeopleFirst message to life for me.
Seeing PeopleFirst in Action
Shortly after joining full time, Alpine showed up for me in an unexpected way. Four or five months into the job, my mom was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that affects and weakens one’s muscles and unfortunately carries a difficult prognosis. She lived in Colorado, and I found myself worried about how I’d spend time with her while also proving myself in a new job in San Francisco. When I told the team what was going on, the reaction was overwhelming. Everyone encouraged me to do whatever I needed to spend time with her and support my family; work remotely frequently, take time off as needed, or anything else that could help my family. They made it clear that my job wasn’t going anywhere, my family was the priority, and that the team was there if I needed anything.
Their response was a moment of clarity for me. It confirmed that my Alpine team members shared my values and priorities; they wanted to win and achieve ambitious goals, but they maintained a healthy perspective on the world. That moment built so much loyalty and confidence. It freed me from the stress of worrying about making tradeoffs and allowed me to be there for my family while also maintaining this new job I loved.
Now, years later and as a manager myself, I strive to maintain that culture and pass that same type of support forward. People go through hardship all the time, and they often struggle to bring it up at work. Setting a tone of openness is not only a human, caring thing to do, but it creates a stronger team with members who feel safe and supported as people, too. It was a valuable lesson in business: treat every relationship— employee, partner, client, etc.— as if you’re going to have a lifelong relationship with them. You’ll likely make different, and better, decisions if you think this way.
Jacob and his mom celebrate Mother’s Day during a visit home from college.
Learning by Leading
Our team has grown in the years since I started; when I joined, the entire firm was under 25 people. Today, I help manage a 50-plus-person investing team. I believe every leader must find their style and not try to emulate someone else’s. It took me a little while to figure mine out, but for me, it’s all about authenticity. I’ve always been a direct communicator– at times too much so– and so I’ve had to learn to communicate clearly and intentionally without seeming too intense. I like to say what’s on my mind right when I think it, but I’ve realized that while direct and transparent communication is valuable, what, how and when you say something matters more when you have a large group of people trying to interpret your words.
One of the hardest, most important lessons I’ve learned is not to try to do everything myself. If I can step back and win through others, we all succeed. Leadership is not a measure of infallibility— no one is infallible— it’s the ability to win through others. And to win through others, you must celebrate and tap into the differences in peoples’ strengths and motivations.
Job candidates benefit from a clearly defined and presented culture, so they can opt in. Some of the most successful people we hire at the firm weren’t even interested in private equity before they discovered Alpine (like me). Instead, the individuals who thrive here share a few essential attributes, like curiosity, a deep competitiveness, flexibility and a high emotional intelligence (EQ). And they opted into our culture.
The culture of any company matters more than any traditional business lesson can teach. When Alpine acquires companies, we often talk about how our job is not to change the culture into our own. Our role is to help identify, clarify and foster the culture founders and teams have already built so that it can thrive. At Alpine, we use our PeopleFirst and Playbook programs to understand a company’s existing culture and then help them build on it as they grow. This helps increase employee engagement and fulfillment, improve hiring, and ultimately, produce better business outcomes. We believe that investing in culture drives the success of the investment overall.
Today, I help shape our services investing strategy in a market that is always changing. We’re constantly learning from the companies in our portfolio and one of the biggest things we do is “scale our bright spots,” which means finding what’s working and doing more of it. That approach sounds pretty basic, but it’s powerful in practice. At the same time, I’m lucky to be able to help manage a fast-growing investing team. My hands are always full, and I consider that a good thing.
I want our team, Alpine and our broader community to exceed the lofty goals we set while making a positive impact on the world, and I want to be in service of that however I can. I often wonder how we can make this industry more accessible to a lot of people. I had some preconceived notions of what the world of finance and private equity were when I was younger, and to put it bluntly, they weren’t positive. But having joined Alpine, I’m fully convinced now that investing success is not inextricably linked to negative culture. In fact, I fully believe positive culture supercharges success. Wouldn’t it be amazing to help redefine norms industry wide? If I can help change how the finance industry works and who is attracted to join it, that will keep me going for a long time.