Stand-up paddle for stand-up guy, Kent Dauten
July 31st, 2016
While Chicago friends take August vacations in nearby Lake Geneva or Harbor Country, Kent Dauten and his family make the eight-and-a-half-hour flight to Hawaii.
“It’s a long ways away but you feel so relaxed when your’e there,” says Dauten, president and founder of Keystone Capital–an investment firm that buys mid-size business and keeps them running. He also was just named chairman of the board of trustees at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI).
Dauten talked about his vacation plans during an interview in his West Loop office, which is decorated with pictures of his wife, Liz, and their four grown children. On a shelf is a replica of a Polynesian canoe, a nod to his Hawaiian vacation home on the Big Island’s Kona coast. There, he enjoys stand-up paddle boarding and dolphin- and whale-watching.
If you know Dauten, it’s no surprise he embraces Hawaii’s easy-going lifestyle.
At civic events, he’s the guest quick to put you at ease. “He’s a good listener,” too, says Mark Stutrud, the CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. Dauten served for a time as chairman of that board, too.
At MSI, Dauten was drawn to projects outside the exhibition hall–courses for science teachers, after-school programs and science achiever internships.
“One of the coolest things I’ve seen was a group of high school students–all girls–watching a live open-heart surgery (from MSI),” he says. “You have to think that after an experience like that, some will go on into health-care.”
Dauten has been on MSI’s board for seven years and takes over as board chairman for John Canning Jr., whose term just wrapped up. MSI’s board reads like a whose who of business and civic leaders. Jim Crown, Desiree Rogers and Michael Sacks are all members. Dauten, at age 61, is a generational bridge builder as trustees range in age from 30s to 80s.
Dauten grew up in the shadow of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, where his father was a professor of business and his mother ran a student-housing company.
He remembers a junior high science project in which he analyzed probabilities of the stock market.
The exhibit “shocked” his biology teacher but signaled the direction of his career–analyzing companies and gauging financial risks.
After earning an economics degree from Dartmouth and MBA from Harvard, Dauten went to work at First Chicago Bank of Chicago in venture capital before co-founding private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners.
In 1994, Dauten started Keystone, a private-equity firm that manages strictly its own investment capital and oversees a portfolio of fourteen companies.
“There were times I questioned my own sanity because it’s not easy to strike out on your own. But in retrospect, it was the best thing I’ve ever done,” says Dauten. “There’s no better reward than doing something entrepreneurial and to have all your success or failure due to your own efforts.”
Among his company’s most notable acquisitions was a health-care records management company where he served as CEO before merging it into Iron Mountain Inc. He’s served on its board of directors for the past 18 years.
Most of the companies Dauten runs are business casual, which means Dauten doesn’t wear a tie.
“I save that for my nonprofit board meetings,” he adds with a smile. (And interviews with reporters.)