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The Executive Directors of the 33 organizations that have received donations from Invest for Kids take the stage during the organization's fifth annual conference.

Big-name money managers are the 'secret sauce' for the Invest for Kids Conference

by Jackie Zimmermann
Oct 30, 2013


Jackie Zimmermann/MEDILL

Over 1,000 people registered to attend the Invest for Kids conference on Tuesday, Oct. 30.


Jackie Zimmermann/MEDILL

Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, delivers his presentation at the Invest for Kids Conference. Zell is the only presenter asked to participate in all five events.

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Invest for Kids

As seasoned players in the investment industry, Ron Levin and Ben Kovler are familiar with long-term investments. Five years ago, they decided to invest in a different kind of long-term opportunity: Chicago’s youth.

Tuesday’s fifth annual Invest for Kids conference, founded by Levin and Kovler, raised a record $1.3 million, which will be divided evenly among seven local non-profit organizations serving Chicago’s youth.

Levin, managing director at Goldman Sachs, and Kovler, investment manager for the Kovler family businesses and family foundation, drew inspiration for Invest for Kids from the Sohn Investment Conference in New York. Since its inception in 2009, Invest for Kids has hosted 45 speakers and raised over $5 million for local charities.

Kovler says the speakers at the event are the conference’s “secret sauce.”

“If you’re an investment manager, it’s like going to the All-Star game and seeing Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Byrd,” he said.

This year’s conference featured presentations by ten well-known money managers who don't always share their investment strategies publicly, including Nelson Peltz of Trian Fund Management LP, Steve Eisman of Emrys Partners and Marc Lasry of Avenue Capital Group, who all volunteered their time to speak at the event. Well-known Chicago real estate investor Sam Zell was the only presenter to speak at all five conferences.

“I take great pride in the fact that [Levin and Kovler] came to me and asked me to participate in the very first one,” Zell said during his presentation, “And I look at the scale and the complexity and the diversity of what’s here today and it’s obvious they’ve really hit the ball out of the park.”

Presentations included insight into the bond and housing markets, as well as pitches for individual securities such as Mondelez International, J.C. Penney Co. bonds, Ocwen Financial Corp, Atlas Energy L.P. and The Boeing Company.

“I think the ideas are unique and thoughtful from people who have been quite successful as investors,” said Mike Smith, managing director for Citi Private Bank in the Midwest region, adding that the charitable nature of the event was another good reason to participate.

Andy Baker, senior analyst with RMB Capital Management, attended the event because it was an “opportunity to hear from really talented people in the investment industry as well as support local charities.”

Most events similar to this have little or no charitable component, he said. “This is centered around a charitable aspect.”

Because Levin and Kovler underwrite the cost of the event, 100 percent of the funds go to the recipients, which change from year to year. This year, Chicago Youth Programs, Citizen Schools Illinois, Genesys Works Chicago, The Kitchen Community, LEARN Charter School Network, Polaris Charter Academy, and Youth Organizations Umbrella will each receive $180,000.

Eric Patton, executive director of Genesys Works Chicago, said getting a donation “definitely put a smile on my face.” Genesys Works helps underserved high school students by providing them with internships at corporations.

“We are not a big organization,” Patton said. “This will be our biggest one-time grant.”

Patton said Genesys Works will use the funds to expand its reach to more local high schools and help students as they transition into the workforce.