In December 2022, Greg and Francine Purcell made a $2 million gift to the University of Chicago and to the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to establish the Purcell Venture Investment Award.
The award will go to the most promising ventures in the various tracks of the Polsky Center’s New Venture Challenge (NVC) and provide seed capital and funding to exceptional next-generation entrepreneurs and changemakers.
Competitive to the core, Purcell loves the idea of sponsoring new ventures coming out of Polsky Center programs. “I’m an entrepreneur who happens to be funded by private equity,” said Purcell, who has made more than 90 acquisitions in the past 24 years. “Bringing high-octane talent together to solve tough challenges in smart, new ways is what drives me; I want to support others who share this passion.”
With a BS in marketing from Marquette University and an MBA with a concentration in finance from Chicago Booth, Purcell began his career in commercial banking before becoming senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions at the largest privately held food and beverage company in the United States.
Hungry for a more entrepreneurial challenge, Purcell bet on himself and cofounded Arbor Investments in 1999 at the age of 32. Arbor, a specialized middle-market private equity firm based in Chicago, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, focuses on identifying, investing in, and building private enterprises in the food and beverage space.
“Chicago Booth had an extraordinary impact on my career and gave me the knowledge and confidence to start Arbor,” Purcell said. “It was the late ’90s, and everyone was following the dot-com craze when we opened a specialized PE shop focusing on food and beverage. Our friends thought we were crazy, but we believed in the power of food and bet every nickel we had on Arbor. We were all in.”
“Bringing high-octane talent together to solve tough challenges in smart, new ways is what drives me; I want to support others who share this passion.”
While Purcell always believed in himself, he credits his time at Booth—and the mentorship of Steven Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance and Kessenich E.P. Faculty Director at the Polsky Center—with helping strengthen the fundamentals of his approach to business challenges.
“At Arbor, it’s not just about financial engineering. It’s about bringing entrepreneurial perspectives and deep operational expertise to every business we invest in,” said Purcell. His 35-person team at Arbor is overweighted toward operations, with more than 60 percent of the firm in non-finance roles. Purcell sees this focus on operations and functional disciplines as a competitive advantage. “We don’t just buy businesses; we transform them. By focusing on the entire company and putting in the work, we can quickly take a business to the next level and achieve outstanding returns,” he said.
Kaplan, his Booth mentor, regularly invites Purcell to share case studies with his class. “Arbor is a three-time winner of Buyouts magazine’s prestigious Deal of the Year. It’s very unusual to see a firm achieve the consistent top-tier performance Arbor has delivered over 24 years,” said Kaplan. “My students at Booth learn so much from getting under the hood with Greg and hearing about his experience firsthand.”
In addition to the couple’s support of the Polsky Center, Purcell serves as a member of the Council on Chicago Booth and as a member of the Booth Polsky Private Equity Council.