An Investor in More Ways than One: Alumnus Becomes Minority Owner of WNBA Team
Brad Hilsabeck ’86 ΔΤΔ of San Francisco, California, is an investor in more ways than one — he invests in people and talent. The recently retired CEO of an investment management company became minority owner of a WNBA team, the Dallas Wings, on March 14.
His recent post with the WNBA follows an appointment in December as an independent member to the board of directors of Tortoise Investments, LLC, an international firm where he primarily offers advice amassed from 32 years of managing high-stakes investments.
Before his retirement in 2016, Hilsabeck served as CEO for Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo & Co. LLC. (GMO), a global investment advisory firm with about $100 billion in assets. He also worked in a number of other capacities throughout his 14-year tenure at GMO.
Not content to be idle during retirement, Hilsabeck says his new endeavors allow him to do what he really loves, which is focus on the people and strategy aspects of the investment business. Focusing on people is a practice the Savannah, Missouri, native says is firmly built on a foundation of trust.
“Delivering investment performance to clients is a very clear, yet difficult, undertaking. You have to have talented and highly ethical people working collaboratively to be successful.” Hilsabeck explains. “I am no less interested in that challenge today than I was 30 years ago.”
One aspect of focusing on the human side of investing, Hilsabeck adds, is he can now concentrate on three of his passions: basketball, diversity, and business. Read further to see how these three passions intersect and how his Business Administration degree from Westminster College led to a lucrative career in investment management.
Can you tell a little bit about your three passions? Basketball: I grew up playing basketball and have coached my kids’ teams. Team sports and basketball in particular taught me how to be a part of a team and how to be a leader. I might have thought my last game as a Blue Jay in 1986 was the end of basketball for me, but that has not been the case. In retirement, I was an assistant coach for the boys’ basketball team at Las Lomas High School, which made it to the state championship game in 2018 for California Division 1 schools. You could say basketball is in my DNA. Diversity: Early in my career, I was able to see firsthand the importance of diversity of any group in terms of background and opinions. My daughters are both athletes, and they’ve learned the same lessons I was able to learn through sports. I was excited to have the opportunity to be part of the ownership group for the Dallas Wings. The WNBA players are phenomenal athletes who are important role models for young women both on and off the basketball court. Business: I spent my 30-plus-year career in the investment management business.
Being a board member gives me the opportunity to step back from the daily action and work with the management team and board colleagues on broader strategic issues. Bringing it back to basketball, it has been fascinating for me to see up close what it takes to run a professional sports franchise, the differences and similarities to running a successful investment business.
Please discuss your 32-year career in investment management. I started my career with Aetna Insurance Company. It was an on-campus interview during my senior year at Westminster. I was hired by Bill Bennett, an alum and long-serving member of the Westminster Board. Bill believed in me and gave me my first opportunity in business.
I have always been interested in the capital markets and what makes the financial world go round. You could say, in the main, that much of my career was serving as a critical link between investing and helping clients understand what we were doing in the broader investment landscape. At GMO, where I held a number of senior positions including, most recently as CEO, it was all about getting a diverse and talented group of people to work together to serve a common purpose. At Tortoise Investments, my role is to provide oversight and support for the management team at Tortoise. I was attracted to Tortoise because they have great people and are doing some very interesting things from an investment standpoint. The Tortoise focus is on essential assets — providing critical investment capital to those areas that are necessary to keep the economy and society functioning.
What organizations outside of work are you involved in? With three kids ages 10, 13, and 19, so much of my life outside of work has been just being involved in all of their activities. It was good timing that I was asked to help coach a high school basketball team within months of my retirement from GMO. Other than coaching my kids, I had not been involved in basketball in any serious way for 30 years. It was nice to have success on the court, but what I really enjoyed was the opportunity to work with these young student athletes in helping them be successful on and off the basketball court.
I am also the President of the Springbrook Swim Club. The East Bay of San Francisco is very much a swim culture, and all three of my kids have been active participants. This club has been a great way to give back for all the years of growth that my kids have enjoyed on the swim team.
How did Westminster help you find your purpose? Coming from a small town in northwest Missouri, Westminster opened the door for me to a diverse group of people and a wide range of opportunities. During my career, I worked with people from all parts of the globe with a variety of experiences and very different backgrounds. Westminster was my first opportunity to gain an understanding and appreciation outside of my own life experience.
Would you recommend Westminster to prospective college students? Yes. I think Westminster provides students with the academic rigor and broad experience to be successful in the world. I believe the opportunity to fully engage and explore who you are exists at Westminster, unlike many colleges and universities, where you are in a field of study without knowing enough about yourself and the broader world.
What is your favorite Westminster memory? That’s a tough one. I would have to say it was our league championship game against College of the Ozarks, our big rivals, during my senior year in our home gym. This victory earned us a playoff spot and solidified our undefeated streak on our home floor for the last two seasons. The entire student body came out to support us for home games, and the environment was electric!
Which of your achievements are you most proud of? By far, my greatest achievement is having three great kids. My oldest is a freshman at USC, my middle is a seventh grader, and my youngest is in the fifth grade. They each have their own passions and interests, but most importantly, they are kind and considerate kids. Nothing I have done comes close to matching the pride I have in what they have done and who they have become.
Spouse’s name and occupation? Andrea Hilsabeck, retired attorney and CEO of the household.
Children’s names and ages? Sophia, 19; Hailey, 13; Preston, 10.
A book you would recommend to others? Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand — a story of great courage and perseverance from a member of the greatest generation. I had the great honor to meet Louis Zamperini during his book tour.
Favorite quote? “Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln