Interviews
January 21, 2020 • 5 min read
Oliver Libby
the QT
Interview
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A new kind of venture firm, its unique Growth Catalyst model helps portfolio companies and their leaders achieve the next stage of success through active and regular engagement by H/L partners and their network. Libby also chairs the board of The Resolution Project, Inc., a New York–based non-profit that he co-founded in 2007. Through its Social Venture Challenges, held at leading youth conferences around the world, Resolution grants fellowships to undergraduate students launching new social ventures, providing hands-on mentorship and grants to help them become socially responsible leaders. To date, hundreds of Resolution Fellows are working on diverse ventures in high-impact fields and have benefitted more than one million people in nearly 80 countries.

A Harvard grad, Libby previously worked at Giuliani Partners LLC. He is a Presidential Leadership Scholar, a steering committee member of the Milken Young Leaders Council, a leadership council member of Tech:NYC, a Fast Company Impact council member, a Concordia Summit advisor, a member of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth Advisory Council, a founding GLG Social Impact Fellow, a NationSwell council member, and an advisory board member at Project HEAL. Mr. Libby was also a foundation trustee and chair of the admissions committee of the Harvard Club of New York City, as well as a member of the advisory council of the Clinton Global Initiative.


If you could give one book to your younger self, what would it be?
I have always loved Ender’s Game. It demonstrates that young people can lead (a theme in my life and my non-profit) and that when the circumstances require it, we can rise to the occasion.

My favorite quote (or mantra) is . . .
My grandfather used to say “per aspera ad astra” — “through hard work and difficult trials do we reach the stars!”

If you could pick one company to buy, own, and then run as the CEO, what would it be and why? (size and cost don’t matter).
Lego. Because then I could have one of each set. Especially the Star Wars ones.

Do you have one or more mentors that made a notable impact on your life/career? How so?|
My grandfather, Baruj Benacerraf, was my Yoda. He was a Nobel Laureate (1980, in medicine/genetics), built a massive hospital (the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), took care of our family (and my grandmother, with whom he lived for 70 years), planned for the future, made navy ship models with me, never raised his voice, and trained me to seek excellence in whatever I did and keep the welfare of others as a guidestar. 

What’s happening in your industry that most impacts your business?
Venture capital is in a huge amount of flux. I’m convinced that the traditional 2/20 model of Silicon-Valley-Style VC is on the wane (powerful now, but deeply flawed). We are trending to a new version of venture represented by my firm and a handful of others, because not everything needs to be a unicorn to generate great returns and daily contact with portfolio companies is the key to growing great businesses in partnership with founders. 

What key global trends keep you up at night?
The failure of trust. Trust is at an all-time low, whether it be in government, media, business, non-profits, politicians, leaders, celebrities . . . basically every institution. Trust is the chemical bond that keeps society together, and when the bond cannot hold, that’s when bad things happen. I studied military history and started my career in the national security world, and trust is the single most powerful force for peace in the world. 

How is your investment strategy differentiated from others?
The key difference among many is the core belief that if we are active with each of our portfolio companies on a daily (or close to it) basis, we can help them like a Sherpa helps the champion summit Mt. Everest. To that end, we designed a venture holding company that can actually deliver the value-add to our companies that every venture firm talks about. We are built for it with dozens of staff, partners, and venture partners, a large studio of service providers and experts, and an approach that makes us the first call for our companies in challenging times. 

What would your opponent in a deal negotiation say about you?
Tough, but respectful. Clear and organized. Interested in a good outcome for all. A good partner.

Which philanthropic endeavor or non-profit is closest to your heart? Why?
In 2009, I started with two of my dearest friends a non-profit that is now the largest accelerator in the world for student social entrepreneurs. The Resolution Project has helped launch hundreds of young leaders into their first ventures across America (in 23 states) and in almost 80 countries around the world, proving that tomorrow’s leaders can lead today

Extra Credit: Predict something — anything.
Federer wins another major.

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