“Business is simple; it's people that are difficult.”

Jeff Serra

Master Teacher

Credentials:

  • Founded ReNEW Energy and Eyes of Texas Partners
  • Former chairman, president, and CEO of Phibro Energy
  • Current President and CEO of Vida Capital
  • MS industrial management, Purdue University; B.S. civil engineering, University of Virginia

A founder of a successful technology company and a successful investment firm—as well as a former chairman, CEO, and president of one of America’s largest energy refining and marketing companies—Jeff Serra got an early start in business.

“I started my first business in Germany at age eight, selling candy to army brats on the weekend. I was one of a small number of children who were allowed to ride their bicycles off the military base to access these products, so I learned early about barriers that keep competitors at bay. I enjoyed two years of 50 percent gross margins before competition arrived. Financing working capital was done through an advance against my twenty-five-cent-a-week allowance—a negotiation with my father that I’ll never forget.

The refining and marketing business was much tougher than selling candy. I listened when Warren Buffett told me: ‘When a terrible business meets a terrific manager, the business usually wins’. That convinced me it was time to sell our interests in the downstream energy business!

Whether it’s candy or refining crude oil, I have always believed that business is simple. It’s merely a matter of selling each widget for more than it costs to make, and selling enough widgets to cover your overhead. Once you understand that, you can focus on the hard part, which is choosing the right people, aligning their incentives, and motivating them to do the right thing. I intend to teach my students how to sell widgets at a profit, but that’s not enough. Through the case method, I want them to learn to make good decisions about people too. It’s when a good business model, sound judgment about people, and an ethical entrepreneur come together that great things happen.”

Jeff graduated from The University of Virginia in 1978 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering, subsequently served four years in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, reaching the rank of Captain, and then graduated from The Krannert School of Management, at Purdue University, with an M.S. in Industrial Management in 1983. From 1983 until 1997 Jeff was instrumental in building and managing one of the largest and most profitable independent petroleum refining and marketing companies while at Salomon Inc. subsidiary Phibro Energy USA (serving as Chairman, President and CEO from 1992 to 1997). Upon the sale of the company to Valero Energy in 1997, Jeff started Re-NEW Energy LLC to develop waste-to-energy projects primarily in West Virginia and Kentucky. The company was sold to Sempra Energy and Progress Energy in a $100 million plus multi-year agreement tied to fuel output at the facilities. In 2001, Jeff founded Eyes of Texas Partners, a private investment company with a primary focus on technology.

Recently, Jeff co-founded Vida Capital Inc., which is a leading asset manager in the life settlement industry; and Ovation Partners, an alternative investment asset manager focused on non-correlated, income producing investments. In 2011, Jeff was named the RISE Austin Serial Entrepreneur of the Year.

Jeff has served on the Purdue University Krannert School Alumni Board, was a member of the Houston Chapter of Young Presidents Organization, Chairman and Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of St. Gabriel’s Catholic School and a volunteer for The University of Virginia NCOUR committee for central Texas. Jeff is currently a member of the Board of Director’s of Austin Habitat for Humanity and co-chair of Community First, focused on breaking the cycle of chronic homelessness.

Jeff and his wife Deanna are directors of The ABE Charitable Foundation, Inc. and are active philanthropists in the Austin community. Together they were recently named the 2012 Austin AFP Chapter’s Philanthropist of the Year.

 


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