Alexa von Tobel is the latest entrepreneur to prove that being bought out doesn't mean selling out.
In 2015, the founder and CEO of the financial planning service LearnVest, made the tough decision to sell her company to Northwestern Mutual for a rumored $250 million with the hope she could disrupt the category from the inside. "We didn't come together to be done with it," von Tobel told Inc. this year. "We came together to change financial planning in America." (A LearnVest spokesperson said that $250 million, though widely cited, was not the correct acquisition price; the actual figure has not been released.)
Now, she'll have the chance to execute her vision on a larger scale. Von Tobel--whose business continues to operate under the umbrella of Northwestern Mutual--has been promoted to chief digital officer at the Milwaukee-based financial services giant. (Previously, she served as vice president of digital client and field solutions.) As part of the new role, von Tobel will be focused on developing new software to improve the company's online platform. Von Tobel was not immediately available for comment.
"These forward-thinking leaders will play a critical role in transforming our business to provide more people with financial security," noted John Schlifske, CEO of Northwestern Mutual, in a statement. LearnVest's chief marketing officer Aditi Gokhale has also been promoted to chief marketing officer of the company.
In many ways, the promotions reflect the mutually beneficial rationale behind acquiring LearnVest in the first place. The 160-year-old financial services company needed a way to recharge its creativity and growth. Meanwhile, LearnVest could leverage the company's deep coffers. Prior to the sale, the startup only served around 10,000 financial plans annually. Now, it aims to do around 500,000 annually.
As Inc. chronicled in its March 2017 cover story, large corporations are increasingly recognizing that entrepreneurs can accelerate their businesses from within. Mike Lee recently sold his startup, MyFitnessPal, to Under Armour, where he continues to work closely with the executive team; meanwhile, Bluemercury founder Marla Malcolm Beck is bringing innovate ideas to Macy's. "At some point, established companies have to adopt some startup thinking," says Alexander Chernev, a professor of marketing at Kellogg. "It's not that startup thinking is the best thing ever, but it forces you to look at the world as a changing place."