Q&A: Business Services Industry Veteran Discusses Career Path, Venture Investing

As an Operating Partner with Baird Capital, Don Layden works with the Venture team to source and evaluate new investment opportunities and contribute his operating experience to portfolio companies. Prior to joining Baird Capital, Layden held executive-level positions with several Milwaukee-area companies, including Fiserv, Marshall & Ilsley and Metavante. He is also currently a Partner with Quarles & Brady, focusing on corporate law and mergers and acquisitions.

Layden recently shared his thoughts on Baird Capital’s venture capital investment strategy and Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial environment.

How would you describe your role as an Operating Partner with Baird Capital?

With your extensive background, you could have gone anywhere to serve in this type of position. Why did you choose Baird Capital?

Business Services is quite broad as a sector. How does Baird Capital’s Venture team decide where to focus, and what is the outlook for those areas?

At the end of the day, what’s the most important thing for investors to know about Baird Capital’s Venture team?

Wisconsin has announced several new initiatives focused on increasing venture activity. Given your extensive work in the startup community in Wisconsin, what does this mean for investors?


How would you describe your role as an Operating Partner with Baird Capital?

I work with Baird Capital’s Venture team to source, evaluate and help manage our deal pipeline and portfolio. Working collaboratively, our team uses my background and network to identify sector trends worth investing in, connect with industry experts on specific transactions, and target candidates for roles in our portfolio companies. I also use my position as an experienced executive and investor to enhance the perception of Baird throughout the business services sector. For example, I participate in a number of industry conferences like Money2020, where I recently led a panel on innovation in merchant acquiring. These engagements position Baird as a leader in financial technology and payment outsourcing. We get better deal flow and a more enthusiastic management response due to our sector expertise.

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With your extensive background, you could have gone anywhere to serve in this type of position. Why did you choose Baird Capital?

I have worked with Baird throughout my career. Paul Purcell, Nick Zarcone and Mary Ellen Stanek are friends, as well as business acquaintances and now colleagues. Paul has been a mentor and advisor throughout my career and when I described to him what I wanted to do in the next part of my career, he made a compelling case to join Baird. I was looking to work with a team well-positioned in the technology-enabled business services sector where I could leverage my industry experience and network to provide a tangible point of differentiation when competing for transactions and provide a degree of added value in managing early and expansion stage portfolio companies. The collaborative environment at Baird Capital was exactly what I was looking for.

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Business Services is quite broad as a sector. How does Baird Capital’s Venture team decide where to focus, and what is the outlook for those areas?

The team spends quite a bit of time researching, attending industry conferences, and networking with a diverse group of advisors and executives in these in dustries. We take a very practical, execution-oriented approach – good ideas alone are not enough. We need strong executives who are nimble enough to manage through the challenges of high-growth, early-stage businesses. Importantly, we also look hard at how to effectively and efficiently distribute these products through various channels.

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At the end of the day, what’s the most important thing for investors to know about Baird Capital’s Venture team?

It is a high-quality, high integrity team. Every single person views the fund as being their own money, so they’re making decisions with a real vested interest. Made up of incredibly dedicated, bright and motivated sector experts, the team values collaboration and sharing knowledge across the platform to make the most informed decisions.

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Wisconsin has announced several new initiatives focused on increasing venture activity. Given your extensive work in the startup community in Wisconsin, what does this mean for investors?

Recently, I’ve been involved with the ScaleUp Milwaukee initiative of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. This campaign, led by Dan Isenberg and supported by state and city government, is aimed at stimulating high-growth ventures and encouraging job creation. Isenberg is a highly respected venture and angel investor who has created blueprints for economic growth in several communities. He sees the startup environments in Milwaukee and Wisconsin as having a tremendous number of assets and a fair amount of momentum for accelerated growth, and I agree.

I have invested in a fair number of early stage technology companies. Wisconsin is producing some very good startups that are developing fraud detection and identity authentication technologies, marketing services, and digital and electronic data management, archival and retrieval across a variety of applications, among other services. Generator and incubator programs, along with a strong and developing angel network, are helping these ideas progress into full-fledged businesses. As one of the largest venture capital funds in the region, Baird Capital has a strong deal flow from which to find investments for our investors.

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For additional information contact:

Nick Herff
Baird Public Relations
414-298-7094

Angela Pittman Taylor
Baird Public Relations
414-298-1902



Baird Capital is the direct private investment arm of Robert W. Baird & Co.