Marques Torbert and Bruce Hampton left comfortable roles in finance and executive leadership to launch 5th Century Partners (5CP), a purpose-driven private investment firm focused on middle-market companies. The firm seeks to generate strong financial outcomes for its portfolio companies that help improve the economic outlook of diverse communities and stakeholders.
The partners spoke about scaling Black businesses and the legacy of their firm at this year’s DuSable Conference at Chicago Booth. The chat was moderated by Johnathan Davis, ’22, cochair of Booth’s African American MBA Association.
A Leap of Faith
Noting that Torbert and Hampton came to 5CP from prestigious positions at high-powered companies, Davis asked the partners what prompted them to trade the stability of a comfortable role for a risky new venture.
For Torbert, the impetus was the rare chance to do something he was passionate about with people who shared his values—and still focus on generating strong and attractive financial returns in the process.
“We saw the opportunity to have a real impact, and that doesn’t come around a lot,” he said. “When those types of windows open up, you have to be intentional about taking those risks and doing it with the people you think will get you there.”
For Hampton, the entrepreneurial leap was also spurred in part by the impending arrival of his first child. “I’m generally risk averse. But I started thinking about the values I would seek to instill in my son—things like confidence and being courageous,” he said. “So I decided to live those values by taking a real bet on myself.”
“Millennial and subsequent generations are very focused on DEI—and those are the folks who are going to be leading the next generation of companies.”
— Bruce Hampton
Finding the Right Partner
Growing up in the same Cleveland neighborhood, Torbert and Hampton were aware of each other from an early age. They crossed paths often—Hampton even bought his first car from Torbert’s stepdad—and they found themselves in the same professional networks as adults. As Hampton put it, “You can imagine the number of people that look like us that have left the city and launched careers in high finance. That ecosystem is pretty small.”
Both say they went into the venture with no illusions. “We’ve seen partnerships blow up. We’ve seen partnerships go awry; so we were eyes wide open going into this,” Hampton said. “Similar to a marriage or any other relationship, you have to be intentional with your time and how you engage.”
Torbert stressed the importance of communication between partners and a shared vision. “Are you aligned in terms of your values and in terms of what you want from the business?” he said. “That’s just as important as how talented somebody might be from a professional standpoint.”
As their business venture began to take shape, Hampton, Torbert, and their third partner, Jessica Patton, invested considerable time in working together to build a strong foundation. They even made the decision early on to relocate from their respective locations to Chicago to foster a smooth partnership and to ensure that they were doing everything in their control to create a successful outcome.
They also invested in external resources such as executive coaching and spent a considerable amount of time developing the firm’s culture, being intentional about attracting and hiring talent, and building the firm’s overall infrastructure in a way that could support a firm at scale. “Most firms that are getting off the ground try to save every penny,” Torbert said. “We were investing in outside resources to help make sure the foundational elements were there and that we were aligned.”
A Focus on Diverse Businesses
From the beginning, the 5CP team believed in the benefits of an increasingly diverse landscape and committed itself to leading with those diverse stakeholders in mind. That focus, Hampton said, has been fueled both by personal passion and strategic thinking that he believes will lead to outsized financial results.
“We live in a world that’s becoming more diverse,” he said. “Millennial and subsequent generations are very focused on DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion]—and those are the folks who are going to be leading the next generation of companies.”
Noting that talented people who could have real impact are often overlooked, Hampton added that the company’s focus on diversity gives it a strategic advantage. “It’s about how you harness diversity, whether that means helping a diverse business grow and scale or helping companies with limited diversity unlock potential by becoming more inclusive,” he said.
“We hope to help create a world where it isn’t an anomaly to have Black people investing in Black companies.”
— Marques Torbert
Pitching a Diverse Private Equity Fund
Noting that 5CP recently closed an oversubscribed fund—the initial target was set at $100 million and closing at $144 million—Davis asked what it was like to pitch a diversity-focused firm to investors.
Torbert admitted that it was a tough journey, in part because of structural hurdles. For example, investors expect fund partners to have a long history of working together at another private equity firm.
“Our team represents a number of diverse people, and that doesn’t exist at most funds,” Torbert said. “We could never have worked together at another private equity firm or finance institution and spun out to launch a new firm after having worked together for a decade. It just doesn’t exist.”
Hampton added that another obstacle facing diverse teams is the requirement to invest a substantial amount of one’s own capital before a large institution will invest.
“No matter how good your strategy is, or your background or your track record, if you don’t have the ability to invest in resources to build out a real platform, you’re not going to be able to take on institutional capital,” he said. “Luckily, we got guidance from people who went before us—but you see where really talented folks can find themselves tripping along this path because of some of these roadblocks.”
The Future of Black-Owned Businesses
Looking ahead to the future of their firm, Hampton and Torbert said they hoped to leave a legacy of backing successful diverse executive leaders and operators that are making an impact on their communities.
“We would love to help our companies break through that next tier of growth so that they’re able to have an outsized economic impact as a result,” Hampton said. “And then they can start their own family office and invest in their community. All these things contribute to the larger society.”
Torbert added that they’re also committed to raising up other firms. “We do a lot of mentoring. We talk to a lot of people who are trying to raise their own funds,” he said. “We hope to help create a world where it isn’t an anomaly to have Black people investing in Black companies.”
The DuSable Conference is one of Booth’s longest-running student-led conferences. Organized by the African American MBA Association with support from UChicago administration, it brings together alumni, students, faculty, and community leaders for networking opportunities and discussions about racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. This year’s conference, the first to take place in person since 2019, featured discussions on lifting up Black leadership, creating inclusive environments, and empowering generational transformation.