Constant & True

Hopes and Dreams Business: A Wake Forest Alum Reflection

Fall 2012

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Your only limits are the size of your ideas, and the degree of your dedication.
– Unknown

This quote has fueled me since my early days in Poteat House and Reynolda Hall, in Mayor Shirley’s “Public Speaking” class, and under legendary Wake Forest golf coach Jesse Haddock’s (’52) constant inspiration. How else could fellow Kappa Sigmas end up as CEOs, doctors, lawyers, PGA champions and even U.S. senators? Or venture capitalists?

Steve Nelson ('80)Let me tell you about my world of venture capital … or the “company creation” business.  I call it the “the hopes and dreams business.” I have the privilege and pleasure of working alongside dynamic, change-the-world people and their big ideas. We invest money, time and resources in young, unproven businesses, aiming for creative disruption in chosen markets.

We look for those companies with unique leaders with great intelligence, keen insights, outstanding people skills and unquestioned integrity who set the bar for the company: performance, strategy and transformation, talent and culture.

Wake Forest gave me the opportunity to find a true passion and the skills to succeed in whatever I chose. A proud alum, parent of a Wake Forest junior and trustee, my life changed forever. So now, allow me to share some “life advice” based on my personal experience.

1. Explore your interests to find your passions. If you can combine what you love to do with what you do for a living, you will find success and happiness.

2. Make an emotional investment in your career. Practice “CADIF” (Commitment, Attention to Detail, Immediate Follow-up) so you can demonstrate that in the workplace. These actions will build your reputation … your brand.

3. Ask questions in the spirit of improving your institution. No task or initiative is too small if it will improve something or someone.

4. Observe, listen and hustle. You will find you gain unique and privileged access and build valuable relationships this way.

North Carolina’s future depends on our ability to create and adopt innovative products, services and business models that generate value. Our state can become the go-to place for innovation; the place the world looks to for the “next big thing” and to solve its biggest problems, a state thriving with innovative people, companies, organizations and culture. It can become the next great place to live and to work, to start and grow a business or an organization. The opportunity is ours.

You may know the measure of returns earned on an investment is referred to as Return on Equity or ROE. My definition of “ROE” is a bit different:

Relationships … lead to

Opportunities … which require

Excellence. Execution. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Energy.

Twenty years from now I want to know that, inspired by Wake Forest to excel and explore, I maximized my ROE: that I made the world better than I found it. That I gave back and made a difference.


After 19 years of executive and general management experience in technology, software and Internet-based businesses, Steve Nelson (’80) joined Wakefield Group in 1999 and is now managing partner. A Wake Forest trustee, he is past chairman of North Carolina’s Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), chair-elect of the Foundation Board at the North Carolina School of Science and Math and co-chair of the North Carolina Innovation Council.

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