Getting Personal: Gregory Cozad

Getting Personal: Gregory Cozad

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, staff writer Paul Wood chats with Gregory D. Cozad, 58, of Champaign, the CEO of Cozad Asset Management who has been instrumental in promoting startups in the area.

Did you grow up here or go to college here?

My family moved to Champaign when I was 5 years old and I graduated from Centennial in 1977. I received my undergraduate degree from Indiana University in 1981 and my law degree and MBA from the University of Notre Dame in 1985. I have lived in Champaign since then.

What do you like most about your business?

In wealth management, it is really enjoyable to try and help people achieve their long term financial goals. Working with clients and developing relationships with them is what I like the most. There is a saying “People don’t care what you know until they know you care.” Clients can sense when you genuinely care about their financial outcomes.

You say the Cozad New Venture competition at the University of Illinois is really about celebrating and improving the Champaign-Urbana area. Do you think the Urbana campus is particularly good area for high tech experts and start-ups?

The Urbana campus is a great place for start-ups. The Cozad New Venture Competition was really the creation of Peter Fox through the College of Engineering. When Peter was a young man, my dad had encouraged him and they became friends. Peter established the competition as a way to honor his legacy. The competition has been incredibly successful because of the efforts of Andy Singer and Jed Taylor, among others. Hundreds of students have been involved each year from The Colleges of Engineering, Business and Agriculture. The university has a strong entrepreneurial atmosphere now which did not exist 20 years ago.

Tell us about the pitch award.

Through the years, there have been several success stories by people who participated in the competition. Cozad Asset Management started sponsoring a $5,000 “best pitch” award a couple of years ago to encourage the importance of the “pitch”. A number of very bright students who participated would be more effective with improved communication skills. My Dad, who was a tremendous salesman, would have approved this award.

You have a lot of interest in helping people become entrepreneurs. Is this a way to help the community?

Absolutely. To the extent we can have successful entrepreneurs in the community it helps economic growth and improves the overall quality of life.

Where do you see Champaign-Urbana as a high-tech center in the future?

To the extent we can have successful high tech developments created and stay in the community we can see Champaign-Urbana have positive long term growth. This is what interests me most.

Tell us about your company.

I do not consider myself to be a force in any way with the business community. I am fortunate to live in a wonderful community and hope to give back in a variety of ways. Our company’s success really goes back to my dad hiring three outstanding individuals – Ron Kiddoo, Mary McGrath and Stu Meacham. They have been the backbone of the company and we have added a great team of high qualified people through the years. To the extent I add value, it is through networking, building relationships and working on new opportunities.

What changes do you see taking place in business today and are there new opportunities?

The rate of change in almost all businesses has accelerated dramatically, so you need to be adaptable. The need for retirement planning is large so that is an opportunity. There will be tremendous generational wealth transfer in the next 20 years, so both opportunities and challenges exist. We have started a Chicago office with Skip Heaver, and I am excited about working with him in developing new relationships and growing our business there.

Who started the family’s entrepreneurship program at Parkland?

The Parkland program was the idea of Roy Lambert (another of my dad’s good friends) who had implemented the idea successfully at the University of Florida and Indian River Community College. Roy, Peter and I took the idea to Tom Ramage and Carl Meyer and they both fully committed to it.

What are some of the goals of the program?

The Parkland program, in my mind, does three things. It honors a successful local entrepreneur. Secondly, it celebrates and promotes the entrepreneurial spirit in our community and third, it helps provide scholarship dollars to Parkland students and fosters programs that promote entrepreneurship.

Tell us about your family.

The greatest blessing in my life is my wife, Kristie. She has a loving giving heart that embraces everyone.  She recently successfully went through multiple surgeries and an intensive 20-week chemotherapy regime for breast cancer. She did so without ever complaining and was thankful for the blessing of each day. I am truly fortunate because I get to live with my role model. My mom, Mimi Cozad, and sister, Cindy Norris, and her husband, John Norris, also live in Champaign, as well as my in-laws, Ben and Judy Robbins. It is great to have everyone so close by.

And your children?

We have two wonderful kids. Our is daughter Courtney Simmons, who lives in Louisville, Ky., and is married to Andrew Simmons. They recently had their first child, Joanna Grace, so we are celebrating being grandparents. Our son Robb lives in Chicago and we have a lot of fun together with sports. This year, for the 20th consecutive year, we went to at least one Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament game together. Recently both kids came home and ran the half marathon while I ran the 10k in the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon.

You’ve been involved with worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Young Life and Pinnacle Forum; and facilitated a Bible Study group for over 20 years. How do you regard the role of faith and family in your life?

I start each day with a devotional and prayer time. The Bible Study has been going on for 24 years and it may be the most meaningful thing I do. My dad passed away at the age of 59 and I turn 59 on May 17. When he was ill before passing his faith grew, and it had a huge impact on my life.  I try to live with an eternal perspective and enjoy reading and dwelling on God’s word.

You’ve served on several boards.

I have enjoyed serving on the Stevick Foundation Board the last 10-plus years and think the News-Gazette plays an important role in the daily life of our community. The quality and depth of the News-Gazette far exceeds most other newspapers in communities of similar size.

What’s something almost nobody knows about you?

At Indiana University, I was the mascot in 1979, which was known as Mr. Hoosier Pride. The outfit was awkward and heavy and one other individual and I split halves. It was not too popular with the fans and only lasted one football season. It was however an incredible life experience, and I got a trip to the Holiday Bowl (Indiana defeated Brigham Young 38 to 37) with the football team that year.

Do you have a “guilty pleasure,” and what is it?

I have always had a passion for playing golf and have made it a life-long journey. I have played over 30 of the top 100 courses in the world and organized trips to Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Portugal with a group of local guys. I was the original National Member at Olympia Fields (non-resident) and really enjoy playing golf there in the summer. For 30 years my handicap was generally between five and 7, but my skills have dropped quite a bit in the last few years. I still enjoy playing and have a goal of getting back to being a single digit handicap. The game has offered me great networking opportunities both personally and professionally. It is a fantastic lifetime sport.

Do you have a favorite musician and why?

I enjoy a wide variety of types of music. But if I selected a single artist, it would be Bruce Springsteen because of the energy and passion he brings to his music.

What’s your favorite sports team?

Illini football and men’s basketball are my favorites. I am a big fan of Josh Whitman and think Illini sports is headed in the right direction. I also root for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Bears and Bulls. Both my kids are huge Chicago Cub fans so it makes for some fun family banter.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

I have always been fascinated with Winston Churchill and the resolve he had during World War II.  His leadership under extremely difficult circumstances was amazing. He also has some of the greatest historical quotes ever.

What’s your best piece of advice?

Every day is a new day, and live with an attitude of gratitude.

What was your first job, and how much did you make an hour?

I cleaned clubs and picked up the range at Lincolnshire Fields for I think a $1.65 an hour.  The job I remember the most though was working the summer before my first year of college at the Meadow Gold Ice Cream Plant on University (now Dallas & Company). I stacked ice cream on pallets in a freezer and it was very cold even though we had heavy clothing. I think I earned $4 an hour.

What was a pivotal decision in your career, and how did you arrive at that decision?

When I lost the state representative race in 1992, I decided to get out of politics and focus on business. My dad was very ill and our family was very young. Looking back, that was a pretty significant inflection point.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Prayer and exercise.