FBI bypass: Growing up in Tipton, Phenicie didn’t have a clue about the investment world. “I wanted to get into the FBI. That seemed the cool thing to do,” he said. “And the way you do that, I was told, was through an accounting degree.” Since he was putting himself through school, he opted for a state school, Indiana University. “The FBI wasn’t in the cards, but I found the investment banking world.”
Investment decisions: He spent a few years with a private-equity firm in New York before going back to the University of Chicago for his master’s. During his second year, he landed a job at HKW, which meant working in Indianapolis while driving up to Chicago every weekend to finish his degree.
Promotions: Phenicie joined HKW in 2004 as an associate, was promoted to vice president, then principal, then to partner at age 32—the youngest in the firm’s history.
Early acquisitions: “The first investment I made at HKW was a company called C&J Energy Services. It was doing roughly $6 million in earnings and we invested more capital in the business and then sold it for just under four times our money. We did well.”
Public perception: “Some people think you buy a business and try to take money out and that sort of thing. But the best investments we’ve made are ones where we’ve grown the employee base and grown the asset base. We invest capital in private business and grow them. And we have the management teams of all of our companies invest alongside us. When we sell, they get gains just like we do. If we do our jobs right, everyone makes money and everyone’s happy.”
Family: wife, Jenni; sons, Max, 7, Hank, 6, and Judd, 4
Outside the office: Phenicie has participated in 10 Ironman triathlons. “When I started in investment banking, I expected to work long hours, sometimes through the night. It was getting to a point where I wasn’t very healthy.” After a week of all-nighters, he headed home, where he knew he’d only have a few-hour break. He picked up his running shoes, ran four miles and said to himself, “I should start doing this again.”
Thoughts about “Shark Tank”: “[In my work, I] look for passion and hard-working, intelligent people with a high degree of integrity. It’s foolish to think you can make a sound investment decision in a 10-minute television segment.”•