Craige Stout (B.A., MBA Accounting ’86) is the CEO of global investment bank and advisory firm Stout Risius Ross LLC. The firm specializes in corporate finance, transaction advisory, valuation advisory and dispute consulting for many industries and companies, both public and private.
Stout and a colleague decided to start the firm in 1991, just five years after he graduated from Michigan State and following his first full-time position at Price Waterhouse. Starting from this team of two in Detroit, the company has now expanded to 600 employees and 24 offices globally. On Feb. 10, Broad undergraduate students welcomed Stout back as a guest speaker in the spring 2022 Roy. S Pung Executive Speaker Series.
Stout gave students an overview of the firm’s growth nationally and globally, as well as the strategy that helped him succeed. When starting in Detroit, Stout came from a solid training ground but hadn’t built strong professional contacts in Michigan yet, he said.
Before opening up the firm’s second location, he was able to begin its Investment Banking group as well as the Disputes group. These services range from offering advice on M&A, private capital raising, expert testimony and litigation consulting to business owners, private equity portfolio companies and corporate divisions.
“In the early years of a business, if you’re not doubling your revenue, you’re either not doing it right or it’s not a good business with legs,” he said.
Stout was able to see growth in his company year after year by setting large goals, continuing to be more strategic, competing more effectively and beating competitors. By 2000, he was introducing new offices nationwide, and by 2017, his company opened its first office outside of the United States.
Stout emphasized that everything is a process and it’s not always easy at first; you will face risks. “It may seem that we’re hitting milestones, but it’s always two steps forward, one step back,” he said.
Stout’s firm grows through partnerships and acquisitions with other firms as well as organically. They run processes to find financial partners that will contribute to their success — whether that means optimizing operations, investing in each other to offer complementary services, adding on acquisitions that lead to revenue growth or increasing equity value for shareholders. The selection of advisers also offers Stout’s firm increased knowledge in business, financial services, tax, strategy, legal, human resources and information technology. For example, in their most recent transaction they hired William Blair and Company as their M&A advisor, Winston and Strawn LLP as their deal counsel, Deloitte as their QOE provider and Grant Thornton as their market study provider.
“Ultimately, you have to free yourself up to think strategically,” Stout said. His firm relies heavily on its culture to ensure excellence and exceptional service to clients. “At the end of the day, professional service firms or any business is like a sports team . . . you must have a good locker room to excel.”
Stout said aspirational growth is key for his firm going forward — rinse and repeat daily tasks in order to see tripled revenue growth within five years. This can be done by combining their strong organic growth with complementary inorganic growth. He also hopes to find another financial partner. The difference between his firm and big companies today, he said, is the mindset that things can’t wait. Stout noted how some companies fall into a trap of waiting until Monday to get things done, whereas his firm focuses on delivering value when something is handed to them.
When answering questions from the audience, Stout shared how he has found that “humility and grace will take you far” in the financial industry. He also shared the importance of not being afraid to move geographically and how it’s beneficial for an entrepreneurial spirit. “This ability accelerates your career. It has rounded me — it stretches your mind and brain,” he said.
He also shared a compelling piece of advice: “Go into your first job with the mindset you’ll be the CEO,” he said. This reflected on his own career success and connected his story with the opportunities that lie ahead for any of the Broad Spartans in the room.
More information on upcoming events in the 2021–22 Pung Speaker Series, as well as information on past events, is available at the Full-Time MBA program page.