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Kuhn Capital Principal Profiled in ePrairie

September 15

CHICAGO – These days, starting or expanding a business is tough without some help – some liquid help. ePrairie sat down with Ryan Kuhn of Kuhn Capital to discuss how he helps companies move forward and how his firm has maintained a loyal relationship with information technology.

NAME: Ryan Kuhn
COMPANY: Kuhn Capital
TITLE: Founding Principal
CURRENTLY LIVES: Chicago's Gold Coast (came in 1985 from McGraw-Hill to work in media/IT investing for the venture capital firm Golder Thoma Cressey )
GREW UP: Mostly Morristown, N.J., but since dad was an academic (neurologist and neurosurgeon) and mother a Broadway actress, we moved around a lot to places like New York City, John Hopkins (Baltimore), Stanford (Palo Alto, Calif.) and the University of Wisconsin (Madison)
FAMILY: One athletic 8-year-old boy; wife is an interior designer

ePrairie: Tell us about your hobbies or interests.
Ryan Kuhn: My main hobby is keeping my family happy. Another hobby is finding legal ways to frustrate younger and more able competitors on the tennis court.

eP: Please describe your position and role at Kuhn Capital. RK: Since 1987, I’ve been the founding principal. My charter is to build the business.

eP: How many employees work at Kuhn Capital?
RK: Four principals and one associate.

eP: How does Kuhn Capital contribute to the technology sector in Chicago and outlining areas?
RK: We provide liquidity for principals wishing to exit their IT businesses and investment opportunity for those wishing to enter or expand their presence in the industry. In the course of this work, we typically also counsel our clients on the appropriate strategy for their circumstance – that is, how to maximize value.

eP: Is your business limited to the Midwest or do you branch to other areas of the U.S.?
RK: The client’s best buyers, sellers or strategic partners are often located elsewhere, even sometimes overseas. But because we’re here, we have a particular intimacy with local principals no matter where the relationship may take us in our search for counter parties.

eP: Is specializing in major technology mergers and acquisitions a rarity today as opposed to two or three years ago?
RK:A lot of IT M&A shops have reduced their presence and some have exited it. We’ve been lucky because we’ve been focused on IT for more than 15 years, so we have a number of long-term relationships that continue to provide opportunity. Another advantage of our close focus on IT is the ability to track rapid changes in the business, of which there has been many in the last few years.

For example, IT is increasingly associated with business process outsourcing, a field in which automation (technical services and software) plays a key role. BPO (business process outsourcing) is particularly appealing in the current environment of reduced demand because of its ability to reduce costs.

eP: What inspired you to enter the world of technology mergers and acquisitions?
RK:Maybe some part was inspiration, or the desire to facilitate deals, but another part has been training and experience. When done right, M&A is the logical outcome of a strong strategic planning process, an area in which I and my associates have had the opportunity to work with some of the country’s thought leaders like Michael Porter at Harvard Business School.

IT and media businesses aren’t manufacturing businesses and they’re not pure services businesses. They’re a different animal, and understanding how they add value and how they can best compete is also different. We think the field deserves this specialized understanding, and I guess we’re inspired by the fact that we’re comfortable in it.

eP:What do you enjoy most about your job and the field you’re in?
RK:Can’t beat the sizzle of finding a match that looks promising and then working with the principals to resolve the inevitable differences that evolve in the course of a deal. It calls for a nice combination of technical, market and financial knowledge mixed in with the ability to listen. Playing a role in bringing this all together generates a feeling of accomplishment.

eP: Do you enjoy the people you work with?
RK:I have the privilege of working with some of the most accomplished wealth creators in the IT field. Since our principals are all former senior operating executives and M&A specialists from various successful IT companies and investment firms, I learn at their feet.

eP:I understand you have been affiliated with different career fields in your lifetime. Tell us about your past careers.
RK:Originally, I founded a bookstore and then became a science fiction trade editor at Doubleday in New York. As enjoyable as that tweed-jacket-with-elbow-patches lifestyle was back in the 80s, it was also becoming increasingly clear that first data and then software offered the promise of tremendous industry growth.

In other words, the opportunity to participate in the process of organizing information was irresistible. For me, McGraw-Hill was the beginning of a transition from trade publishing into electronically formatted data (for example, Standard & Poor's). Moving to Chicago then allowed me to become increasingly immersed in early software industry investment opportunities.

eP: It was leaked to me that you have a hilarious vocabulary. Care to share with us some of your favorite sayings?
RK:It’s hard to meet the “hilarious” bar without the assistance of a few Frontera Grill margaritas, but ruminate on this: the word “eschew” bears no relationship to “masticate”.

eP:Anything extra to add?
RK: Chicago is the home of consumer marketing and data, not to mention various outsourced integrated marketing and telemarketing firms and advertising agencies. This town knows where the heart of the American consumer lies, and that knowledge will see increasing value in the next several years. We plan to be there.

By LOU CALAMARAS, Contributor

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