PE Executive Harnesses the Power of the Ross Alumni Network to Give Back to Students

Shannon Beeman
September 17, 2015

Jeff Gelfand’s decision as a college sophomore to apply to the University of Michigan business school changed the course of his life forever. “If it were not for Michigan, I don’t know how my career would have gotten started or evolved,” says Gelfand, who is now senior managing director and chief financial officer at Centerbridge Partners, a $25 billion alternative investment management firm located in New York City.

His 1988 BBA class was the first one to graduate in the wake of 1987 stock market crash, which derailed any prospects of landing a job on Wall Street. “When the credit crisis hit in 2008-2009,” Gelfand recalls, “I thought about how I could use my personal network as well as the school’s alumni network to give back to the Ross School and help students find a better exit strategy from Ann Arbor during the turbulent economic times.”

Gelfand approached the Ross School and finance professor David Brophy with the idea of producing a series of Fireside Chats that would draw successful alumni from private equity firms, alternative asset management companies and entrepreneurial ventures back to campus to share their stories with students. Since the Chats began in 2012, the fall event has featured influential alumni from leading private equity firms, including Apollo Global Management, the Carlyle Group, the Blackstone Group and KKR & Co. Outstanding entrepreneurs, such as former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Tony Fadell, creator of the iPod and iPhone and Geoffrey Prentice, former CSO of Skype, also have taken center stage. Many of the Chats have been moderated by well-known journalist Richard Lui, MBA ’01, who has been a news anchor for NBC News, MSNBC and CNN Worldwide.

This year, the 2015 Fireside Chat on Thursday, Oct. 8 (4 p.m. in Blau Auditorium at Ross), will focus on strategies for entering management consulting for the private equity industry and feature alumni speakers from Bain Capital, McKinsey & Co. and Boston Consulting Group. The following day, at the Michigan Global Private Equity Conference, two Michigan alumni working in the private equity industry in China ─ Yi Luo, senior managing director in the Private Equity Group at Blackstone, and H. David He, partner and managing director at Pacific Alliance Group Asia Capital ─ will provide insights into Asia’s private equity market.

“We’re in the business of giving students real-life food for thought,” Gelfand says. “At the Fireside Chats, students can step out of the classroom and engage with successful alumni who faced many of the same career uncertainties 15 to 25 years ago that the students face today.”

In addition to producing the Chats, Gelfand has hosted more than 10 student interns at Centerbridge since 2011 and recently hired two Michigan BBAs for entry-level positions at the firm. Last spring, he engaged six MBAs on a Ross MAP team to help identify a third-party software solution for Centerbridge’s investor portal. The students presented an impressive 40-page report to Gelfand’s team, and, based on their recommendation, the firm subsequently licensed the software, which is now being implemented.

For more information about Fireside Chats, visit and

Check out these other private equity events taking place on Thurs. Oct. 8: Ross Fireside Chat: PE consulting career panel and student meet & greet at the Ross School of Business (, and the Women Who Fund Forum, designed to connect women-owned business leaders with women in the venture capital and private equity industries (