Marc Radasky (’09) has always had a passion for guiding and supporting others – a passion that he has pursued in government and later in business. In this interview, Marc describes how he used lessons learned at IWP to become successful in business, most recently achieving his goal of starting an investment firm, Clarity Capital.
Please tell us a little about your background.
I am originally from Kansas City, Missouri, and I majored in history at Hamilton College. When I graduated, I went to work for Congressman Sam Graves, where I served as his legislative assistant and staff director for a subcommittee that he chaired. I oversaw his foreign policy, small business, and agriculture portfolios.
I later was in charge of grassroots affairs for a Republican Jewish coalition and was involved with the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004.
Then I started at IWP. I took classes at night for the Certificate program.
I took a leave of absence from IWP to earn my J.D. at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Growing up in a family of attorneys, I felt that being a lawyer is what you are supposed to do to live up to family expectations. But the things that I liked in law school involved business.
Returning to IWP was never a doubt. After law school, I completed my IWP Master of Arts in Statecraft and National Security Affairs.
What did you do after graduating from IWP?
In 2010, I returned to Kansas City to go into business. I knew that I wanted to be in private equity and investing in companies, but I took a circuitous route. I had to prove myself as a private sponsor, and the tools that IWP gave me prepared me to do that.
I acquired my family’s company, Columbia Burlap and Bag. I rebranded the company to Columbia Packaging Group and used it as a platform to acquire flexible packaging manufacturers. We built up the business, synergizing these acquisitions, and I exited successfully by selling the company in November 2021.
I started Clarity Capital as an investment firm, where I am Managing Partner. We make investments in the lower middle market.
How did you know that IWP would be the right fit for you?
I initially signed up for one course to see what it was like.
What attracted me to IWP wasn’t theory. Your professors at IWP have been in the trenches. They understand the importance of the decisions that they have to make, and having that applied knowledge is key for being able to train future decision-makers. It is easy to theorize everything in a vacuum, but when you have experience, it changes the circumstances of your decision-making.
The thing that always sticks in my mind about IWP is the moral imperative – and the idea that the right decision is not always the easiest. Doing the right thing is hard.
When it comes to business, doing the right thing is hard as well. Making decisions that affect people’s livelihoods is not easy, and creating environments where people can work and be free to voice their opinions is not easy. Business is a little different because it’s not necessarily a democracy. You have input, but it is like the Sword of Damocles.
How has IWP helped you in business?
Frankly, some of the most valuable training that I have received was at IWP.
It was especially helpful in understanding how people from different cultures can communicate with each other to achieve their objectives and ensure those objectives are mutually beneficial. This has helped me with negotiating in business and understanding people’s intentions.
Sometimes in acquisitions, people think there has to be a winner and a loser. With my IWP education, I have been able to take that zero-sum game out of the equation.
Of course, the stakes are different, and in many ways higher, when you are talking about national security threats, but in acquiring companies, you make significant decisions that affect people’s lives – whether in the C-suite or on a production floor. Understanding how to connect with those people, what their wants and needs are – I learned this at IWP.
On a macro level, we discussed differences between cultures and how people view the world. This involves reading between the lines, understanding truth vs. fiction, and knowing that you may be wrong about what you think are others’ preconceived notions. People put up walls because they want the world to believe certain things about them that may not be true, or they want their own citizens to believe things about their country that may not be true. IWP allows you to cut through the pretenses and get to the truth.
In business, the people you are negotiating with or working with internally are all coming from different perspectives, their own personal histories, and their own cultures. The IWP education gave me perspective on how to connect and communicate with people. It gave me a lot of compassion and empathy.
Now that I am looking back at my career thus far with some perspective, I can see instances where, before my IWP experience, I would not have been able to navigate a particular situation successfully.
Can you share an example of when these IWP ideas were helpful?
There was one situation where I had to get involved with a customer who wanted to find a new supplier other than Columbia Packaging Group. Usually when you are running a business, you have your business development team work with customers. When you have to be involved, it becomes tricky. You don’t want to step on your team’s toes and infringe on the role that you gave them.
Without the IWP education, I would have been quick to react and made a rash communication or decision. But with the perspective I gained in my education, I was able to step back, put myself in the shoes of my customer, understand what he was trying to achieve for himself, be patient, and allow him to make his own mistakes. Eventually, we were able to come back in and save the day, and in doing so, we made the relationship with the customer stronger.
What advice would you give to a new student at IWP?
When you decide to go to someplace like IWP, you have to be fully committed to your education goals. You cannot go to IWP and put in minimal effort. You have to put in the time because what you put in, you are going to get out.
Your professors are going to be there for you. You are not meeting with teaching assistants or being ignored. The faculty members are going to commit themselves to you. They have chosen to give their knowledge and experience to you. You have to choose to be committed to learning. IWP is hard work!