For David Buttolph (CGS’77, CAS’79), good manners drive a multimillion-dollar business.
His father pulled out a map, spiked a drafting compass into the family’s hometown, drew a circle 200 miles in radius, and issued an order: leave Chappaqua, New York, and don’t come back—not even on weekends. At 180-some miles—the very edge of that compass-drawn circle—Boston University was cutting it fine.
David Buttolph (CGS’77, CAS’79) might have been a typically difficult teenager, but he did listen to at least one of his dad’s instructions: when he came to the College of General Studies, he didn’t go back home on weekends. He was far too busy. Now the managing director of a private investment firm, Buttolph is grateful for the ploy that brought him to CGS and helped broaden his horizons.
Good way to live
David Buttolph is disarmingly polite. Financiers may have a reputation for being gruff and aggressive, but here’s someone who makes big money deals—Buttolph manages investment funds in the hundred-million-dollar-plus range—and is just an outright nice guy. He’s always saying thank you: thanks for the email, thanks for your work, thanks for the message. Shouldn’t a hard-nosed businessman sound, well, a little more hard-nosed?
He doesn’t think so, noting good manners as one of the three secrets of his success: “It’s a good way to go through life. Striving for outsized goals, teamwork, which is what I learned at CGS, and thanking the people who make you successful.”
Such a philosophy suggests Buttolph is more of a people person than a money guy. In fact, he confesses, “I was never a very good math student.” Yet, his firm, Brookside Mezzanine Partners, part of the Brookside Group, makes hefty medium-term investments in privately held businesses across the United States. With his company’s money on the line for five or six years, the calculations and predictions have to be spot-on.
“I make loans and invest equity in businesses, but it’s really the people who pay you back,” he says. “I have a degree in psychology from BU and can look at somebody and say, ‘Is this person going to pay me back?’”
Buttolph may have improved his number-crunching skills since college—“Obviously, I have to be pretty good at math,” he says—but he credits much to the comprehensive education he got in Boston.
“I like it when somebody has a broad liberal arts degree, so they’re not just completely business focused. When they’re meeting with people, they can talk about arts or entertainment, not just the business; when you meet with people, you really need to try to develop a relationship with them and not just talk numbers.”
It’s also why he frequently hires BU students (he added two more to the firm in the fall of 2011), and annually welcomes interns and finance club visits to see his company up close. Buttolph says he likes the work-ready attitude of BU students, too. Having cleaned buses at night and taken security shifts to help pay his way through college, he has an affinity for others ready to pull themselves up: “BU kids worked hard to get to BU; they know how to work hard.”
Back to the compass
Being a recruiter-in-chief isn’t the only way he champions BU—and CGS. Buttolph serves on the CGS Dean’s Advisory Board and contributed to the recent renovation of the College’s lobby. He’s also showed his belief in BU in another way—encouraging his daughters to become Terriers, despite one failed experiment with the compass. Buttolph resurrected the map trick to push his eldest daughter to broaden her own horizons, but it worked a little too well, and she chose Arizona for her undergraduate degree: “She took it to heart,” he says, “but came back to BU for her master’s.” A younger daughter, Kristen (CGS’10, COM’12), chose BU at the first opportunity.
His dedication to—and trust in—Boston University earned Buttolph the CGS Distinguished Alum Award in 2011. Speaking at the award ceremony, he looked back on how his time in Boston had shaped him: “CGS turned out to be the perfect school for me—with small classes, there was no place to hide. I was forced to change my tardy habits immediately. CGS taught me to stretch my goals, work very hard, and realize anything is possible.”
His next “stretch goal”? Raising $250 million to invest in more U.S. businesses determined to push through the economic downturn. With such ambition—not to mention his good manners—it’s no wonder Buttolph has long been welcome wherever he goes. Even Chappaqua, New York.