"My father came to the States with little more than a suitcase and an unbelievable entrepreneurial spirit."

Max DeZara

A Conversation with Max DeZara, Founder and Managing Partner of Akoya Capital

Post Date: 03/13/2023


  • How Max’s entrepreneurial background influenced his approach to growing businesses
  • Why Max believes that Akoya’s Sector Leaders are a “game changer” for companies

Max recounts how two generations in his family became entrepreneurs and built the American dream.

Tell us about your family.

I grew up in a very entrepreneurial environment. My father built and lived the American dream. He was an immigrant who came to the States with little more than a suitcase of clothes, tremendous hopes and aspirations, and an unbelievable entrepreneurial spirit.

My father spoke four languages when he came to the U.S. Not one was English.

He worked three jobs, saved his money and started his own little business out of our apartment in the early ’60s. Over the next several decades, he built a very successful business catering primarily to the Hispanic community in Chicago.  Some of my earliest memories in life were working with my father in the family business.

Describe your own entrepreneurial background.

I had a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for what my father accomplished. Yet, early on, I realized I wanted to do something outside of our family business. I decided to spend the first part of my career in the human capital industry and accepted a role in the executive search industry.

Later, after founding and building one of the largest executive search firms in the country, my partners and I were approached by a strategic acquirer in the ’90s. We sold, and the merged business became one of the top 10 executive search firms around the globe.

It was a great way for me and my partners to monetize the equity value we’d created and to go from a national to an international platform.

How did executive recruiting lead to your work in the private equity industry?

Shortly after we merged, I was appointed to head the global private equity (PE) practice. We helped global PE firms develop and build out their portfolio companies. We focused on recruiting and onboarding Board directors, CEOs and C-suite operating executives across a variety of PE-backed operating companies.

This led to nearly 10 years of building strong management teams in operating companies owned by small and large PE firms.

What piqued your interest in operationally centric PE firms?

I was particularly drawn to a handful of PE firms that had an operationally centric approach to adding value. These PE firms would bring in industry experts and operating executives who would lead the thesis (and ultimately serve in a governance role post transaction). The PE firms would then pair them with the transaction team or deal team. However, most of the PE firms executing this strategy were the mega funds. I wanted to bring that strategy to the middle market.

So that’s what led to Akoya’s use of sector leaders?

Exactly. I found the model incredibly intuitive. These operationally centric PE firms invested in companies they understood, where the industry experts provided domain expertise and served as a strategic resource from a governance perspective.

How is that different from other private investing models?

Nearly all PE firms are comprised of uber-smart finance professionals, whose career path moved directly from undergraduate college to business school to investment banking to private equity.

What puzzles me is that these finance professionals have no operating experiences. They never worked in an operating company, yet they are investing in operating companies and are responsible for overseeing and driving strategy.

Describe the impact on Akoya’s approach to investing.

Bringing the people-first operationally centric approach to the lower middle market presented an excellent opportunity for someone with my background. That led to the birth of Akoya.

Today, we are a sector-focused, leader-led, private investment firm that invests only in businesses we understand and where we can add a significant amount of intellectual and financial capital.

Our Sector Leaders are industry luminaries. They are highly accomplished, successful operating executives that bring significant industry insight and wisdom. They are a large part of the Akoya Difference and serve as a strategic resource to the leadership teams of our portfolio companies.