Peter Kleinhenz, MBA '79, on Startups, Leadership, and Good Design
Posted 7.6.10The Visiting Committee member discusses the business of science and technology.
Kleinhenz (MBA ’79) has carved out a unique career path from his retail beginnings. Today, he is Managing Director of CID Capital, a firm that allows him to combine his business acumen with a lifelong interest in science and technology. “We’ve gone from an investment portfolio of five percent life sciences to around fifty percent over my tenure here,” he says.
Kleinhenz grew up in Lorain, Ohio, “across the street from Lake Erie.” The shipyards there were still booming at the time. “I’d come home from college at Christmas, and the first thing I’d do would be to go down to the ore docks and watch the ships. You could almost watch the lake freezing behind them,” he remembers. When, later, a bank that Kleinhenz worked for financed one of the shipbuilding companies, he was excited to be aboard for the christening of the last 1000-foot ore freighter to be made in Lorain.
Kleinhenz attended Loyola University in Chicago, where he started out as a chemistry major.
“One major thing I’ve learned and encourage anybody to do is to get as much science as you can, because science and technology are very pervasive. However,” he qualifies, “honestly, I was a better humanities student than science student!”
Having graduated from Loyola with a bachelor’s in history, Kleinhenz returned to Cleveland to pursue his MBA at what would become the Weatherhead School of Management. He graduated in 1979 with the very first class of twoyear Full-Time MBA students—although by that time, he was also working full-time at Union Commerce Bank in downtown Cleveland.
An aspect of the MBA program that made an immediate and lasting impact on Kleinhenz was the emphasis on teamwork.
“It was a very strong part of the program, and wisely so, because it’s a big component of what we do in business. History can be a pretty solitary activity,” Kleinhenz explains, comparing graduate school to his days at Loyola. “So the biggest surprise was the amount of teamwork required and encouraged in the MBA program.” Looking back, there is a course that stands out—but not in a good way. “It’s funny now, but I remember a lot of concern and angst about the statistics course! My graduating class was really diverse, with lots of humanities, engineering and science people. Some of us,” he laughs, “hadn’t had any math for a while. Of course, now I appreciate it. When I used to run manufacturing facilities, or today when I look at them for investments, stats are very important.”
Kleinhenz also went on to become a CPA, a decision that facilitated his movement within companies. “Fastforwarding, when I became CFO of a number of startups—and sometimes I was CFO of as many as three startups at a time in my mid-to-late twenties—having an MBA was great, and being a CPA on top of that resonated with venture capitalists and corporate partners, too. It really became a springboard,” he continues. “As CFO, I was able to show skills in operations, and eventually, strategic planning and marketing.”
The holistic nature of the Weatherhead MBA program enhanced Kleinhenz’ understanding of all aspects of business: “I had a lot of exposure to different things, on purpose. When I went to Weatherhead, entrepreneurship was not considered glamorous. But it’s a testament to the school that I left with all the fundamental ideas and skills to contribute to startups. I don’t even know how many I’ve been involved in on a formal or informal basis. I should sit down and figure that out,” says Kleinhenz with a laugh.
Working in finance and administration and then in business development at the biotech and medical device company Neoprobe Corporation in Columbus, Kleinhenz deepened his involvement in the life sciences field. He then became President and CEO of Progenics Corporation, a company that developed and manufactured the “guts—the internal design—of everything from tow motors to zip drives, from bulky industrial machinery to consumer products.”
Today, in addition to his work at CID Capital, Inc. and Fletcher Spaght Ventures, where he is a venture partner, Kleinhenz is Chairman of the Board of BioOhio, whose purpose he summarizes as “helping to catalyze or nurture the development of sustainable life science in Ohio.”
A member of BioOhio’s Executive Committee since 1991, Kleinhenz feels that the nonprofit has gained momentum under the auspices of “great leaders like our current CEO, Dr. Tony Dennis. In the last year or so, Tony has seen his hard work start to bear fruit in job creation and our ability to attract both national and international companies to Ohio.”
Kleinhenz has also witnessed Weatherhead’s transformation over the years as an alumnus and now as a member of the Visiting Committee. One thing has remained the same: “In those early days, you could sense an energy in the school as the administration and faculty grew the Full-Time MBA program,” he says. “Still today, I get the feeling that people at Weatherhead love what they’re doing; there’s a sense of forward-looking dedication, and it all starts with the leader, who creates the atmosphere. That’s why we’re lucky to have a wonderful dean who is good at building links within the school.”
Of his experiences on the Visiting Committee, Kleinhenz remarks, “One thing I’ve been impressed by is that you can’t take it for granted that your product will find consumers, even when that product is an MBA program.” In the case of Weatherhead’s product, Kleinhenz says, “Mohan Reddy and department chairs have tried to align themselves with the marketplace in designing Weatherhead’s academic programs, and that shows in applicable themes like Sustainable Enterprise and Manage by Designing.”
Kleinhenz’ interest in sustainability is obvious—it’s a characteristic important to initiatives he invests in at CID Capital and fosters through BioOhio. But, a former manufacturer, he also has views on design that, one could argue, apply equally to degree programs: “Sometimes, the beauty of design is that if you do it thoughtfully, with the user’s needs and goals in mind, the product’s use becomes transparent.”