Zach Coopersmith has learned some important lessons over the course of his Wall Street career.
But for the 30-year-old Leading Ridge Capital cofounder, one particular moment really stands out.
It was the evening he found himself in the middle of Lehman Brothers’ notorious “fourth floor” — where distressed credit and high-yield bonds were once traded — as Bloomberg screens flashed red with news the firm was filing for bankruptcy.
“Seeing the speed and the magnitude with which Lehman collapsed was eye-opening, both from a business and a philanthropic standpoint,” Coopersmith told Business Insider.
He was a year and a half out of college and working for the Wall Street firm when it filed for Chapter 11 protection in September 2008.
“The clear lessons for me were: Have a transferable skill set — number one. Two, a work-life balance,” he said.
Coopersmith learned the importance of taking charge of his own destiny, and that led to two important life changes.
First, he dove into philanthropy, and joined the board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s New York chapter. Second, he changed the direction of his professional career and ditched Wall Street banks for private equity.
At Lehman, Coopersmith had been frustrated that he invested in businesses without ever having any real impact on them.
Now, in private equity, he says he can see the direct impact his investments have — regardless of whether those impacts are good or bad.
“Being able to call more of the shots gave me more comfort that the end-outcome would be either a success or a failure based off my actions, not at the mercy of the actions of others.”
While he was launching Leading Ridge with his father in 2009, Coopersmith also began throwing Make-A-Wish New York’s annual Toast to Wishes fundraiser, now one of the hottest charity events in the city.
He approached his involvement with Make-A-Wish in the same way he would a private equity investment — it was an organisation that had credibility and was fiscally responsible. He decided he wanted to partner with it.
The Toast to Wishes initiative was something Coopersmith came up with together with a few close friends.
“We felt like there was a void in the market, so to speak, of really fun — truly fun — charity events that supported great causes,” he said.
They aimed to fill that void.
In its first year, the event raised $US45,000. The second year it raised $US170,000. Now, in its sixth year, it’s raised $US1.5 million in total and continues to sell out every year.
“With so many things to do, and so many places to give, why Make-A-Wish?” Coopersmith said. “For me it’s simple — and it’s the mission.”
This year’s party takes place November 19 at the Marquee in Chelsea. You can learn more about it at the Toast to Wishes website.
And learn more about Coopersmith, his philanthropy, and his business in Bloomberg’s “Good Fortunes” series:
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