Milton Berlinski: Bullish Matador
MILTON BERLINSKI ’78 (Computer Science) first arrived on CSUN’s campus in the mid-1970s, and the difference was palpable: A native of Aruba, he had gone from an island with a population of 60,000 people to the San Fernando Valley — which, even in the ’70s, boasted a population nearly 12 times greater. He didn’t know a soul.
“I was scared to death,” Berlinski said, “but I learned you can overcome anything.”
That was just one of the lessons the co-founder of Reverence Capital Partners LLC and the former head of strategy and corporate development for Goldman Sachs shared with an audience of students, faculty and staff this past spring at Bookstein Hall, home of the David Nazari- an College of Business and Economics. The seminar was sponsored by the CSUN Student Finance Association.
Berlinski spoke about his time at CSUN and his history climbing the corporate ladder in finance and investing. He stressed that the skill sets you have and can develop through education and hard work can put you on the right path to take advantage of opportunities.
“When I initially talked to Goldman Sachs in 1979, they said they were a U.S.-centric firm, and that they weren’t interested in going international,” said Berlinski, who at the time lacked a green card to work in the country. “But in the mid-’80s, Goldman Sachs decided to build a preeminent Financial Institutions Group (FIG) in banking. My previous work at Booz Allen & Hamilton and Merrill Lynch in FIG made me an ideal candidate.
“Furthermore, the fact that I spoke six languages and had grown up abroad allowed me to relate to multiple cultures and understand how they did business, as GS was actively expanding its banking services internationally in its desire to become a global M&A (mergers and acquisitions) firm,” he said.
After CSUN, Berlinski earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Jena, are lifetime members of the CSUN Alumni Association. In addition to his professional work, Berlinski has provided for others through his own foundation, the Ronald McDonald House New York, and scholarships in his mother’s name for international students in Aruba and at CSUN, where he has given to the President’s 21st Century Fund.
In 2017, CSUN honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Award.
“CSUN nurtured and prepared me to go into the financial world,” Berlinski said. “For that, I am forever grateful.”
The architect behind Goldman Sachs’ Private Equity and advisory business, he ran the firm’s corporate strategy group and became one of the most important dealmakers in the country, overseeing historic multibillion-dollar transactions.
“One of the great things about working for Goldman Sachs was the teamwork,” he said. “When I joined the firm, they had approximately 5,000 employees worldwide. It was relatively easy to know most of the people that supported the businesses I was responsible for helping build. By the time I left 26 years later, the firm had grown to more than 30,000 employees. It’s about the quality of the people and the friendships you develop. The culture of the place was very special. It made it difficult to leave.”
In 2013, Berlinski co-founded Reverence Capital Partners LLC, a private equity firm specializing in middle-market “thematic investing” in financial services companies, he said. Reverence focuses on five major sectors of financial services including asset and wealth management; depositories and specialty finance; capital markets; payments and financial technology; and insurance. The firm invests in North America and Western Europe.
“It’s been a pleasure to move to the ‘buy-side,’ and build a firm from scratch,” Berlinski said.
“At Goldman, I was a trusted advisor to CEOs, helping them develop long-term strategies including recommendations on capital structures, organic and inorganic growth that allowed their businesses to sustain long-term growth,” he said. “We would then help them acquire businesses as needed.
“Today, I’m doing what many of those CEOs were doing, developing a view of long-term trends that allow for sustainable growth, identifying companies with strong management teams that are well positioned to take advantage of these trends and seeing if there is an opportunity to in- vest in or acquire control of those businesses,” Berlinski continued.
“Once we make the investment, we actively use our knowledge and experience to help them execute on the strategy. Being a trusted advisor is an amazing opportunity — but being able to go the extra mile after investing and help execute the strategy is even more exciting.”
His time on campus taught him many valuable lessons. He was an active student leader, serving in student government and Student Productions and Campus Entertainment (SPACE) — where he helped bring world-class speakers and entertainers to campus. He was a founding member of CSUN’s Sigma Pi fraternity and helped organize a world hunger conference.
“I got involved in student entertainment, in building a fraternity, and I built friendships that have lasted a lifetime,” Berlinski said. “The engineering training I got at CSUN taught me how to go from point A to point C, and it allowed me to develop my own thought processes.”