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Bryan Cressey. When Cressey, 36, was growing up in Seattle, he developed a deep admiration for professional risk takers. "I always heard about these successful entrepreneurs who went to Harvard Business School," he says, "so I wanted to go too." After graduating from Harvard in 1976 with both an M.B.A. and a law degree, he decided to become a venture capitalist, but "there were no jobs in the field and no prospects of getting any." Then a professor introduced him to Stanley Golder, president of First Chicago's venture capital arm.
That encounter eventually led to the formation of Golder, Thoma & Cressey, a Chicago venture capital firm that started business in 1980 with $60 million. Now the partnership manages two funds worth $160 million. Cressey rides herd on nine companies, primarily in the health-care industry, including his most promising current venture, Continental Medical Systems, a nursing-home operator. "In the office, we spend all our time juggling phone calls from CEOs, dealing with problems from hiring to firing," he says. "You've got to change your mind-set quickly from one company to another." Cressey spends his free time on a five-acre suburban spread 40 miles northwest of Chicago with his wife Christy and three children. But even at home, Cressey says, "I'm always thinking about a company's problems. It's an addictive life."
David Croll. The most important ingredient in venture capitalism, says Croll, 38, is "backing the right people." So far, he has proved to be remarkably good at that. A managing partner of Boston's TA Associates, a firm that currently handles more than $500 million in venture funds, Croll teamed up in 1979 with a young Boston entrepreneur named Steven Dodge, who wanted to make a mark in the cable-television industry. With TA's money and strategic guidance, Dodge became founder and chairman of American Cablesystems, an enterprise now worth more than $200 million. For his part, Croll became the communications specialist within TA. Of the 45 fledgling companies he has nursed along, he says, only one, a cable-television firm, has ever gone sour.
Raised in Darien, Conn., Croll earned an engineering degree from Cornell University in 1970 and a Harvard M.B.A. in 1973. His first job was with the Bank of Boston, but he left after three years to join TA, where he felt he could "have an impact." Now Croll, who is married with one child, works ten- and twelve-hour days and spends one of every four weeks on the road, a pace that he calls "deliberate." A fervent advocate of free enterprise, Croll believes that "most of the job creation in this country is coming from small growth companies. That is why America is doing as well as it's doing."