The Critical Shift: Guy Turner
By: Tom Cullen / April 17, 2017
Guy Turner: Venture Capital Managing Director
I first met Guy in a meeting about cancer research software that we were building for a very large cancer hospital. Guy instantly took hold of the conversation and became a coach that I didn’t even know that I needed. I walked out of that meeting with a whole new perspective on what we were doing. I can’t tell you how refreshed and excited I was. Who was this person in his 30’s with what seemed like a lifetime of experience?
A few years have gone by since we first met, but while talking to Guy for this Critical Shift article, we dug into how he became like that. Looking back to his upbringing in southwestern Connecticut, I quickly found that it started when he was young. Very young!
Guy’s Critical Shift: Making his elders his peers
Guy spent his childhood on a search to find his relevance. When he was only 11 years old, he got his first job and loved it. He ferried boat owners out to their expensive sailboats in a marina, and started to find the independence that he’d been searching for.
While most of us were playing with friends or watching TV, Guy spent his time figuring out how he could make the biggest impact on the world. He knew he wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself, and working for others really seemed to help him do that.
My first job was when I was 11. I’ve always worked and I’ve always really liked it. My parents never forced me to get a job. I think we [Guy and his brother] were interested in doing that, so we did. What interested me with this job was driving the boat, the money, independence, and also trying to serve something that’s just a little bit bigger than yourself. You feel like you’re a part of something a little bit bigger.”
After a couple years, Guy went to work in retail at a garden center. This was his first chance to really work with older people and it was an epiphany for him. Guy actually felt more comfortable around these older people and learned to build professional relationships with them. This natural ability really propelled him through his early career.
Guy grew up watching his dad roll up his sleeves and tinker with fine woodworking. He would often help out on projects. Guy’s dad was a great handyman and was always working on a project. His high school jobs were very hands on and he really enjoyed using his hands to make things for others. This led him to spend a year in furniture building school after high school. He hasn’t built anything in awhile, but he still has some furniture that he uses!
“The pivotal experience working at the garden center was learning pretty young to build professional relationships with people who were a lot older than I was. At that age my affiliation ended up being with my coworkers a little more strongly than some of my direct peers at school.”
After graduating from Cornell, he spent 5 years working as an engineer. During that time he found that the speed of the business seemed to move very slow. He was learning that the business of engineering was bigger than just the engineers. In actuality, only a small percentage of time was spent on actual engineering. In true Guy fashion, he needed to figure out what he didn’t know. This curiosity and ability to be self aware sent him right to one of the top Business Schools in the country.
“I think the speed of engineering was unsatisfying. I liked it as a training ground but I got to the point where I realized that my purview was 10–20% of the business and everything else was marketing and operations and sales and I knew nothing about it. I didn’t understand that stuff and I wanted to figure it out so I went to business school.”
Becoming an experienced ‘coach’
While at University of Chicago Booth he interned at Hyde Park Angels and hit it off with Ira Weiss who was running the Hyde Park Angels. Ira had a huge effect on Guy as he learned all about the venture world. These startups operated at a speed that Guy could relate to. Ira was just the ‘elder’ that Guy was looking for. Very quickly, Ira turned from mentor to friend and colleague.
“Ira is one of the few business business colleagues that I would consider in my close circle of friends.”
By the time Guy graduated from business school he and Ira had created the plan to raise and launch a VC fund. Not surprisingly, Guy has become a person everyone in the Chicago VC world needs to know. He has an unbelievable blog https://vcwithme.co/ where he writes about investing and growing businesses. He has a knack for finding really important topics that not many people have written about.
Keeping friends close
One fascinating thing about Guy is that he has around 10 close people in his life. These are deep relationships with family and friends that he really cares about. Instead of having a lot of casual relationships, he has a small set that he keeps very close. This has really worked for Guy to maintain his happiness and his professional success.
Guy has an ability to take a team from running at normal speed to rocket speed. He question’s status quo, gives advice as if he’s been there a million times, and has a very strong work ethic. These all have driven him toward success. Just as he did for me in that first meeting, Guy’s biggest talent is that he takes those attributes and gives entrepreneurs an energy and focus that they could only get from a master coach.
Guy’s critical shifts started with his curiosity to find how he could contribute to society. He discovered his ability to thrive around the more experienced people he met and his friendship with Ira is a great example of that. Being so self aware at such a young age has certainly affected his trajectory, and that continues to be a strength.
– Learn more from experienced people
– Be self aware
– Be comfortable questioning the status quo
Medium: Guy Turner
Personal Website: https://vcwithme.co/
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