Thomas S. Karlson
Mr. Karlson is the founder of the Rural American Funds with Mia Koch. He began his business career in 1985 and it includes more than 30 years of advising privately‐held companies on value enhancing strategies with a focus on increasing business value through strategic acquisitions.
Mr. Karlson is also an entrepreneur who has founded and successfully grown two investment banking businesses. In 1991, he co-founded Vine Street Partners, a boutique investment banking firm in Oak Brook, Illinois. From 1991 through Vine Street’s sale to Century Business Services, Inc. (NYSE: CBZ) in 1999, the firm completed approximately $3.0 billion in financings and built a strong presence in strategic, buyside merger and acquisition advisory engagements. In 1997, Mr. Karlson developed an acquisition program for Becker Underwood (BU), a specialty Ag chemical and biological products company, headquartered in Ames, IA. The assignment for BU spanned more than a decade and involved contacting in excess of 100 strategic acquisition targets which introduced Mr. Karlson to the Ag industry and to Messrs. Underwood and Becker. Mr. Karlson’s 10+ years of advisory work with BU resulted in eight successful acquisitions, an equity recapitalization and numerous strategic and industry contacts still being leveraged by Mr. Karlson and RAF today. In 2004, upon Mr. Karlson’s departure from Century Capital Group / Vine Street Partners, Mr. Karlson moved back into an entrepreneurial role through his formation of River North Partners, LLC, a merger and acquisition advisory firm focused on niche markets and buyside advisory services.
Driven by consolidation and change in the seed industry, Mr. Karlson focused River North’s activities on Ag and made direct calls on numerous Agribusinesses to get independent owners’ views of their strategic alternatives and overall Ag markets. These interactions and favorable tailwinds in the agriculture industry galvanized Mr. Karlson’s belief that opportunities in lower middle market Agribusiness were growing even stronger. Mr. Karlson also realized that the Ag industry as a whole was grossly underserved by private equity capital, which led to the opportunistic creation of Rural American Fund in December 2007.
Prior to Mr. Karlson’s entrepreneurial activities, Mr. Karlson worked at Bankers Trust Company (now part of Deutsche Bank) and Merrill Lynch.
Mr. Karlson is on the Board of Directors of Hen Haven (Rural American Fund III RBIC, L.P.), Independent Ag (Rural American Fund III RBIC, L.P.), and Aquatrols (Rural American Fund II, L.P.). He previously served on the Board of Directors of La Crosse Seed (Rural American Fund I, L.P.), Seeds 2000 (Rural American Fund I, L.P.), and Technology Crops (Rural American Fund I, L.P.). He also served on the Board of Trustees of the Lincolnshire/Riverwoods, IL Fire Protection District, a position he held for more than 10 years. Mr. Karlson received a BS in Economics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago.