By Kristine Hojnicki
Gregory Ledford (McIntire ’79) was a beloved husband, father, business leader, and friend. But to many at the McIntire School of Commerce, he was also known as “Professor.” Ledford, who passed away Sept. 30, 2021, at the age of 64, was a driving force behind the establishment of the course on Private Equity that is offered to Commerce students every spring.
A Trusted Leader
Born in Falls Church, VA, in 1957 to Davis and Bernice, he set off in 1975 for the University of Virginia, where he went on to earn his degree from McIntire. UVA is also where he met Nancy Coates, who would become his wife of over 40 years. They would welcome two children, Emmy and Alan (McIntire ’12), and later, became proud grandparents to two granddaughters.
Professionally, Ledford began his career in Middletown, OH, at the Armco Steel factory. Armco later moved him to Baltimore, MD, and he eventually moved on to a position at MCI Telecommunications, where he rose to become the Director of Capital Leasing, managing more than $1 billion of leveraged lease financing.
In 1988, he joined The Carlyle Group in Washington, DC, where he ultimately headed the Industrial & Transportation Group, leading the firm’s investments in Allison Transmission, AxleTech International, Hertz, and Horizon Lines, among others. Ledford became the CEO of a Carlyle portfolio company, the Reilly Corporation, and served on numerous corporate boards, including Hertz, Allison, and HD Supply. He also served on the McIntire School Foundation Board of Trustees and gave back to his community by actively supporting MCE Social Capital, So Others Might Eat, Waterboys, and the Honor Flight Network.
Giving Back in Many Ways
According to his family, UVA has long been the center of his universe. In 2007, he established The Gregory Ledford Endowed Fund, which awards a rising third-year African American student a full scholarship for their two years of study at the Commerce School. He was also an avid supporter of Virginia athletics, and was a particularly enthusiastic presence at men’s basketball games.
But despite all of Ledford’s personal and professional success, his son, Alan, relayed that one of his father’s proudest achievements was establishing the course on Private Equity, which Ledford taught for 15 years.
“We started the course in 2007, after we had a meeting about how we would plant the flag in the area of private equity from a teaching and research perspective,” Professor Bill Wilhelm recollects. “Greg was one of the individuals who attended that meeting and, from the outset, volunteered to help with developing a course for students. I cannot overemphasize the level of commitment he made to this.”
Ledford often traveled throughout the week on business, but made a point to be in the classroom on Grounds each Thursday evening. He also often leveraged his own professional network, inviting his industry colleagues to be guest speakers, and securing the case studies students learned from each week.
“For all his success, Greg was very humble. This, his great sense of humor, and his emphasis on ‘giving back’ resonated with students and faculty alike,” says Professor Felicia Marston, who co-taught with Ledford.
Marston says that Ledford’s perspective as a practitioner in the field helped to bridge the gap between the academic and real business world, but his ability to relate to students was what made the course special.
“It was very easy to see his humanity,” she says. “You could see the pride on his face when former students would come back to present.”
Andrew McGee (McIntire ’19), a Private Equity Associate at HIG Capital, was one of the students who returned to speak in Ledford’s course. He remembers his professor for the amount of heart he contributed to the learning experience and the supportive environment he fostered in the classroom.
“The desire to learn was driven by genuine interest as opposed to simply earning a grade,” he says. “The opportunity to come back myself and see students continue to exhibit this spirit was motivating, and it gave me confidence that the course will continue to provide students with the tools to be successful in private equity or wherever their careers take them.”
The course served as a catalyst for many students’ careers in business. For some, like Emerson Moon (McIntire ’21), it altered the trajectory of their professional goals and outlook.
“Looking back on my college experience, the class was one of my favorites. It was not only one of the most relevant to my job, but also entirely expanded the realm of possibilities I saw for myself in my career path whether, that be in the near term or long term,” the current Investment Banking Analyst at Bank of America says.
Olivia Sealander Thomason (McIntire ’11), Vice President of Business Development & Acquisitions at InnovAge, explains, “I pursued a career in private equity and always felt I had a champion in Greg. Long after the last assignment had been turned in and the last lecture was done, Greg’s lessons and, without a doubt, humor, gave me the confidence as a young person to walk into a room I felt unqualified for, to go after the job I thought was out of my reach.”
A Lifelong Supporter
For others, Ledford served as an anchor as they developed successful careers in private equity, including at The Carlyle Group.
“Greg had an immense impact on my life and many others as a professor, a colleague, and a friend. His private equity course was a significant driver of my interest in pursuing a career in the industry and was instrumental in preparing me for the role, both professionally and personally,” said William Langenstein (McIntire ’13), Senior Associate at The Carlyle Group. “More importantly, Greg truly emulated what it means to be a great investor and an even better person: to love and be passionate about what you do, but even more so about the people you surround yourself with.”
President of Kroll Business Services Jessica Stamelman (McIntire ’15) worked at The Carlyle Group early on in her career as well. “I’ll never forget—Professor Ledford happened to be in the New York City office my first week there, and he made sure to come over to my cubicle to say hi. You can only imagine how special I felt to get such a warm welcome from him, and I think he also loved being called ‘Professor’ in front of his colleagues. He was the best.”
And while he will be missed immensely by both the students who called him Professor and the colleagues who knew him simply by his first name, memories of Gregory Ledford will be cherished, and his legacy will continue to be honored by the entire McIntire community.