Wall Street Titan’s American Dream Began at CSUN

  • Milton Berlinski was honored with a 2017 CSUN Distinguished Alumni Awards in April. Photo by Lee Choo

When Milton Berlinski retired from Goldman Sachs in December 2011, it made The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Washington Post and Bloomberg Television. The media coverage was just one indicator of Berlinski’s imprint on Wall Street.

For 26 years, Berlinski ’78 (Computer Science) was critical to the private equity business of Goldman Sachs. In fact, he was the architect behind Goldman Sachs’ private equity advisory business, ran its corporate strategy group and became one of the most important dealmakers in the country.

His retirement was brief. Berlinski co-founded the private-investment firm Reverence Capital Partners LLC in 2013, and today he is the company’s managing partner and still a major player in the business world. In April, he was one of three Matadors honored at California State University, Northridge’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards.

Berlinski, whose father was born in Poland and mother was born in Brazil, was raised on the island of Aruba. He has lived the American dream, and the dream began at CSUN.

“CSUN allowed me to dream big,” Berlinski said. “I always knew being successful in Aruba would be nice, but my real ambition was to be successful in America.”

Berlinski chose CSUN because of the strong reputation of its College of Engineering and Computer Science. He came from an island country, which at the time had a population of approximately 60,000, and entered a university with nearly half that many students. He wasn’t intimidated by this new environment, though. Instead, Berlinski said, he decided to dive right in and get involved with numerous organizations on campus.

He was a founding member of the Sigma Pi fraternity. He served in student government with Associated Students. He was also a leader in Student Productions and Campus Entertainment (SPACE) — a group that started a jazz festival on campus (Stevie Wonder showed up in 1979 as a guest artist) and a World Hunger Conference.

Berlinski said he developed leadership, teamwork and project management skills that he would often use later in life. But he also developed a better perspective on diversity and culture.

“CSUN embodied so much more than just an excellent education,” Berlinski said. “The university, even at that time, enjoyed a significant international student body, which helped contribute to a rich and global perspective in the classroom — but also allowed me to continue to learn more about customs and values, which would be invaluable in my life and career.”

“What I think CSUN did for Milton was challenge him because he was part of so many circles … he was able to see the diversity in people,” said Carlos Fuentes, his fraternity brother and CSUN Alumni Association President from 2015-17. “He’s very much a people person.”

After graduating from CSUN, Berlinski earned his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1980 and was recruited to work at Goldman Sachs in 1986. He was a star for the company for 26 years.

By 1996, he had become a partner. He was one of the founders of Goldman’s Financial Institutions Group and served as its vice chairman until 2002. From 1999 to 2004, he was head of the firm’s Strategy and Corporate Development Group. In 2001, he assumed additional responsibility as head of firmwide strategy. Eventually he took leadership responsibilities for the Financial Sponsors Group and rose to global head.

“I was well aware of Milton because he had a distinguished record of accomplishments at Goldman Sachs, where he was a major partner and [was] very successful,” said Kenneth Langone, co-founder of The Home Depot. “He is certainly one of the most accomplished dealmakers there is in his chosen field.”

After leaving Goldman, Berlinski focused on building his own firm. He leveraged the relationships he made from more than 30 years on Wall Street and used his own funds to jumpstart Reverence Capital Partners.

Quickly, Reverence has developed into a winner. Examples of the company’s rapid ascent are investments made in global asset management firms Victory Capital and Russell Investments. In 28 months, Victory has experienced exponential growth, including going from $17 billion to $56 billion in assets under management and increasing the company’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) from $25 million to $155 million. In nine months, Russell’s EBITDA increased from $145 to $220 million. In addition, Reverence Capital has been able to return 37 percent of invested capital to its investors in 28 months, the speed of which is unique in the private equity industry.

Beyond his success in the financial industry, Berlinski’s legacy will include what he has done for sick children and their families. He is the Vice Chairman of the Ronald McDonald House New York.

“Our hope here at the Ronald McDonald House and as a board, is that one day when Milton looks back on his life and his successes, that he considers his time spent with the kids and with the board to help out children with cancer as truly one of the greatest successes of his life,” said Tina Lundgren, chairman of the board of the Ronald McDonald House New York.

Berlinski also has given back to CSUN through the President’s 21st Century Fund and he and his wife, Jena, are trustees for the Milton and Jena Berlinski Foundation.

“I believe CSUN was the springboard that led me to realize the importance of being involved and giving back,” he said.

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