Monday, April 14, 2008

Banking Pays the Bills, Non-Profit World Fulfills

He hikes. He bikes. He runs. He fishes, he skis and works out. He plays tennis and golf. As time allows, he reads at home in the city or at a country house in Northwest Connecticut. He carves out time for his family, is an active board member of a half-dozen nonprofit organizations, including ReServe, and travels for business and pleasure. A recent two-week span saw him in Frankfurt, Madrid, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco for business, then on to Antigua and Belize to celebrate his wife’s birthday.

At a special occasion on his 65th birthday, his wife, Anne, toasted him with affection and with this: “I have been married to John Herrmann for 25 years, and I’m exhausted.”

Today, at age 72, John Herrmann Jr. is Vice Chairman of Lincoln International, a global mid-market investment bank which he joined in 2007. After a Yale undergraduate degree and military service, he took a Harvard MBA directly to Lehman Brothers. In 1990 he was recruited by a Japanese bank to start his own firm, which was sold 10 years later to what is now JP Morgan Chase. He retired last September as senior managing director of mergers and acquisitions and immediately put his Midas touch on Lincoln International.

After 40 years in investment banking, Herrmann is still at the top of his game. He has a lifetime record of 1,000 M&A transactions. But, he says, “Success is measured not in the number of transactions, but the number that work.” The average is one in four. His, he says, is one in three.

Herrmann has just arrived from an early breakfast meeting, sartorially correct in a well-tailored suit—and a signature bowtie that he knots himself. His office is on the top floor of a Madison Avenue building. To get there requires an elevator key and a guest pass.

He rests his elbows on a conference room armchair and makes a tent with his fingers as he gathers his thoughts. He recounts how the introduction of Kleenex after World War II saved him from any notion of joining the family business, Herrmann Hankies, linen for men and women—“They Soften the Blow.” In its prime, the company sold men’s handkerchiefs for the breast pocket and the back pocket—“One for Show, One for Blow.” But pocket squares soon were doomed by fashion dictates, paper became the workhorse hanky, and the young Herrmann embarked on a career that would provide well for his family and offer the means to actively support charitable organizations.

Philanthropy is a Herrmann family tradition, beginning a century ago when his paternal grandmother helped found a settlement house on the Lower East Side for newly arrived East European Jews. His mother’s first volunteer work was with the Red Cross in World War II. She later worked at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, of which her son is now president. Herrmann also is chairman of the Steep Rock Association Environmental Trust, serves on the National Public Radio Board and the Visiting Committee of the Yale Music School. His wife and their two sons have given or continue to lend their time and talent to educational projects such as City Year New York and Breakthrough Collaborative. Anne also is on the auxiliary board of Mount Sinai Hospital and Medical Center.

After a lifetime of dedication to established high-profile philanthropies, what is the lure of ReServe, a relative fledgling in the non-profit world as spelled out for him by founders Jack Rosenthal and Herb Sturz? “I’d never been in a start-up of a social service agency,” Herrmann says.

Herrmann came on board two years ago, shortly after ReServe’s inception. He says that while he has found it slow getting anything new started, the project has been worthwhile, in part because the idea of paying volunteers has led to an employee-employer relationship. “When you pay someone it is easier to assess performance, to think about how good or not good the worker is.” For the volunteers, most of them retired professionals, he says, “The job gives people an opportunity to continue to have active minds, and the pay gives them a sense of value to their employers.”

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