Posted: January 01, 2011
Executive Edge: Tony Caine
Technology and finance entrepreneur launched nonprofit to help students succeedBy Lynn Bronikowski
While sitting in a barber shop in Aspen in September 2009, Tony Caine thumbed through Chris Davenport's book, "Ski the 14ers," and knew it was time to do something meaningful.
"I climb and hike extensively and set a big goal to climb all 54 of Colorado's 14ers in one year," said Caine, 53, who accomplished his goal last September and went on to found Summit 54, a nonprofit that aims to help Colorado students graduate from high school and succeed in college. The former high-tech entrepreneur pledged $1 million of his own money to the Colorado program.
"Summit 54 is a metaphor. We structured a plan of 54 steps that students can take to reach college and graduate one step at a time," said Caine, who splits his time between his Woody Creek home and LJM Partners, the Chicago-based financial investments firm he founded in 1995 that today has a $225 million portfolio.
"If one has a spare dollar or a spare hour of time and wants to make a difference in this country, I don't know of a better area than education."
A native of Pittsburgh, Caine grew up in a blue-collar family, played football for Carnegie-Mellon University and graduated with degrees in economics and mathematics.
"My father was a bus driver for the Port Authority," Caine said. "While my father didn't finish the 10th grade, he always
instilled from the early stages in my life that I was going to go to college."
On graduating, Caine was recruited by Hewlett-Packard, went on to spend six years at Apple Computers right after the Macintosh was announced and would ultimately found three high-tech startups.
"The '80s were formidable years in the tech industry and provided a lot of contacts. I had my best success and timing when I was co-founder of Spyglass Inc., which was the first Web browser," said Caine, whose Mosaic Web browser was the foundation for Microsoft's Explorer. In March 2000, Spyglass was acquired by OpenTV in a $2.5 billion stock exchange transaction.
t was during his high-tech years that Caine began volunteering to help at-risk students. He witnessed firsthand the obstacles they faced in pursuing an education and was alarmed by 35 percent graduation rates at inner-city high schools.
He also spent time with charter-school administrators who each year turned away students because there weren't enough spaces.
"These students didn't request to be born where they are. They didn't request to be in a single-parent family with drug addiction involved. They didn't request to be placed in a school with horrid conditions," Caine said. "If we don't address our education issues, we're going to have a society more dependent, and we're not going to move ourselves forward."
His Summit 54 will select academically motivated eighth graders to enroll in a rigorous program supported by mentors and volunteers and guarantee college financing.
"When you put your head on the
pillow at night, you have to feel like you've done something positive," Caine said.
"We live in a world far beyond satiating our personal interests and realize there are a lot of people out there less fortunate. What better for one to do with their money
than to help others - particularly with kids and education?"
Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.