Some kids grow up wanting to be a rockstar. Some want to be a pro athlete. Nicholas Antoine always wanted to be an investor. When he was a student at Princeton studying history in the early 2010s, it was a difficult fact for his friends to miss.
“I was investing in my dorm room for years,” says Antoine, now 33, “and constantly talking about Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham and Charlie Munger.”
So Antoine’s ears perked up when, at the start of his senior year, he learned a friend had just returned from a summer internship in Chicago at Ariel Investments, the oldest Black-owned mutual fund firm in the country. The friend offered an introduction to John W. Rogers Jr., Ariel’s founder, a value investor in the mold of Buffett and Graham. Antoine sent off a letter—Rogers isn’t an email guy—and wondered if he’d ever hear back.
Eventually, the phone rang. It was Rogers, calling from Nebraska, where he was en route to a meeting with the Oracle of Omaha himself.
“He called me, and we chatted for 45 minutes or an hour,” Antoine recalls. “And he’s like ‘Alright, well I have to go, I’m going to meet Warren. But why don’t you come out to Chicago?’”
Thus began Antoine’s journey into private equity. At age 23, Antoine went out to Chicago, where he spent a year working as Rogers’ chief of staff, accompanying the contrarian value investor to meetings and events and receiving a one-of-a-kind crash course in operating an investment firm. Mellody Hobson, the chairwoman of StarbucksSBUX 0.0% who now works alongside Rogers as Ariel’s co-CEO, filled a similar role in the 1990s in her first job out of Princeton.
While at Ariel, a colleague introduced Antoine to Chad Strader, a young investor working in the supply chain sector at Chicago-based private equity firm Woodlawn Partners who had recently earned an M.B.A. at the University of Chicago. They hit it off, exchanging book recommendations, investing strategies and dreams of starting their own firm. Before long, they decided to stop waiting. “If not us, then who?” Antoine says. “If not now, then when?” The two teamed up in 2015 to start Red Arts Capital, presciently identifying supply chains as an overlooked niche of the market that also overlapped with their areas of expertise. Both were 26 years old.