Gerald A. Beechum, Jr. ‘96
Over 20 years ago as an agricultural economics major, I never could have imagined how Cornell’s vast resources would play a role in two key transitions in my professional life—beginning my first career in finance and second in entrepreneurship.
When I arrived on campus and signed up for classes, I had an associate’s degree in accounting from Finger Lakes Community College but no clear plans for where I was driving my “personal bus.” Not only did classes build the foundation for a career in the business world, they also gave me an inkling of my own potential. Finance was arguably the toughest class in my major, and acing it gave me the confidence that I could perform and excel in an internship on Wall Street, which changed my life. Econometrics introduced me to multi-variant analysis, Beta, and why R-squareds matter, concepts I later used in making investment and financing decisions. I surprised myself by doing well enough in finance and econometrics—and liking them so much—that I was selected as a teaching assistant. Courses in business policy introduced me to the case method, which requires personal and professional experiences to analyze a business situation and determine the proper course of action. This was excellent preparation for joining the First Scholar Program at First Chicago (now JPMorgan) after graduation—a management training program combining rotations with the part-time MBA program at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
Cornell also helped me find internships that were pivotal in my path, making industry connections that would reappear throughout my career. My first internship through the Sponsor for Educational Opportunities Career Program allowed me to try my hand with a quantitative asset management group (i.e., hedge fund). There, I met several titans of Wall Street, including Jamie Dimon, with whom I later worked at Bank One/JPMorgan. This changed my life and set me squarely on the path to finance. A connection through a friend in the ILR school helped me land an internship at FirstUSA bank. Years later I returned there and became an inventor of a predecessor of Blink, which is used in contactless cards that communicate using RFID (e.g., Speedpass and EZPass). All of these experiences served as preparation for business school at Kellogg and numerous roles I played over 16 years at JPMorgan.
In 2012, I left the world of finance to become CEO of Team Express, a 200-employee sporting goods equipment and apparel company and began my transition toward entrepreneurship. Now, almost 20 years later, Cornell continues to play a significant role as I continue in the world of entrepreneurship. In 2010 I was invited to be a member of the Cornell Council, which reconnected me with the incredibly vast resources of the Cornell community—and allowed me to check on my niece, who is in the Class of 2015. I reconnected with faculty, including Professor Cindy van Es, for whom I TA’ed econometrics and who was a mentor as I completed my honors thesis my senior year. In the fall of 2013 she invited me to speak to her Men of Color Skills Seminar, where among other things, I tried to alleviate some of the collegiate angst many students feel by encouraging them to “keep working hard and they would be just fine.”
Although my roots are in the Dyson School, my connection to Cornell continues to expand across the campus and presents opportunities to interact with students and professors and keep in touch with ongoing research. In 2013, along with a partner I became a Marriott franchisee and through a Hotel School professor enlisted some Hotel students to assist in the design and market analysis for two $150 million full-service hotel projects. I was also approached to advise on an anaerobic composter project in Chicago that will use food waste from manufacturers and restaurants to generate compressed natural gas and enriched compost used in urban farming. CALS and New York State are coincidentally working on a similar project, and we are exploring potential synergies between our projects. The personal connections I made as a student live on—I’m even advising a former suite-mate who is COO of a middle market sports agency and marketing firm on capital raising, corporate finance, and operational capacity strategies.
I recently joined the founding management team for PRE Brands (www.prebeef.com) as CFO and COO. PRE is a Chicago start-up bringing healthy, tasty grass-fed beef to mainstream retail at an affordable price. I’m excited to share what I learn from this chapter of my career with Cornell students in the future, as well as becoming better acquainted with and contributing to the myriad of entrepreneurship, private equity, and venture capital initiatives at Cornell. Who knows what the next 20 years have in store?
Gerald A. Beechum, Jr. is a 20 year finance and operations professional who recently became an entrepreneur. Mr. Beechum is Managing Partner of White Cornus Lane Investments (WCLI), an active private equity investor focused on investing and being actively involved in consumer and business services companies. He recently joined PRE Brands (a portfolio company) as CFO and COO. Prior to forming WCLI, he served as CEO of Team Express Distribution, a distributor of sporting goods and athletic equipment, footwear and apparel. Prior to that, over 15 years with JPMorgan, Mr. Beechum held a myriad of roles across most lines of business. Mr. Beechum’s past philanthropic involvement has primarily centered on public education and its impact in creating greater life chances for less fortunate students.