Co-founder and Portfolio Manager, Concordant Partners LLC
When he failed organic chemistry as a pre-dentistry major at the University of Iowa in 1968, Curtis Lane knew his time was up as a college student.
The Vietnam War was raging half a world away, and the military was itching to draft some “college boys” into their ranks. His failing grade opened that door, and within weeks, Lane found himself out of the safety of Iowa City and into the fray of a messy, unpopular war against communism.
When he returned three years later, the university and Iowa City were very different from what he left behind. At the same time, Lane himself—recovering both physically and emotionally from a war he never saw himself taking part in—came back a much different person and student.
“When I came back to campus in 1971, it was much more anti-war and liberal than when I left; Iowa City was like the Cal-Berkeley of the Midwest,” said Lane, originally from Atlantic, Iowa, who fought on the front lines in Vietnam and Cambodia as an Army Ranger and took a life-threatening bullet in his right arm during combat.
“You can imagine soldiers like myself weren’t greeted or treated too kindly, but my focus was all about earning my degree. I was older and had experienced a life most college students hadn’t, so my perspective was very different and real my second time around.”
Due to his injury—which required bone grafts and the insertion of a nine-inch stainless steel rod in a medical breakthrough procedure done by the two of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world—Lane spent more than a year hospitalized at Fort Riley, Kan.
During his time there, as well as the many nights he patrolled the Vietnam/ Cambodia border as a member of a five-man ambush sniper team, he took stock of his life and contemplated what he wanted as he moved forward.
That plan included marrying his longtime girlfriend, Carol, who was a few years his junior and also from Atlantic, as well as pursuing a different career path in finance rather than dentistry.
“I would most likely have a DDS after my name had I not failed organic chemistry, but I’m pretty sure things have gone as they were supposed to,” Lane said.
After earning his Iowa BBA degree with honors in 1973, Lane enrolled in the University of Nebraska’s MBA program in Lincoln and completed his degree in one year.
During his studies at Nebraska, Lane worked part-time at a bank, and along the way he became more and more in tune with his talent for making investments. In his applied investments class, he and his fellow students conducted analyses of a variety of funds and accounts during the course of the semester—getting a real feel for investment choices and margin calls.
It was real-world training for the young man who grew up investing money he earned delivering newspapers, mowing neighborhood lawns, and shoveling walks and driveways into his own brokerage account—one that grew so much over time that it could have paid for two or three of houses like the one he grew up in.
“We were able to take the work we produced and apply it in a very practical manner; it proved to be one of the most valuable learning experiences for me,” Lane said. “I’ve always had a good balance for research and trading instincts, so this was a good practice for that. My interest in what makes companies tick gave me something to look at.”
His career in investments began in the trust department of a Lincoln bank, and several years later, he and Carol moved to Minneapolis, where he managed four mutual funds for St. Paul Insurance Companies. In 1983, he was recruited for his experience and strong Midwestern work ethic to manage proprietary trading portfolios for the Union Bank of Switzerland and Schroeder and Company in New York City.
He spent 10 years there before returning to Minneapolis in 1993, where he co-founded Disciplined Growth Investors. The firm grew to $1.5 billion in assets by 2000, when Lane sold his 50 percent interest and moved to Omaha.
Today, he is co-founder and portfolio manager of Concordant Partners LLC, a long/short hedge fund under the umbrella of Smith Hayes Financial Services Corporation, which specializes in personalized asset management for qualified and non-qualified retirement plans as well as institutional and individual investors. The firm also has a division dedicated to providing investment-banking services for municipal and corporate clients.
Despite living in Omaha, Lane has proven time and time again that he is a Hawkeye through and through, stemming back to his days watching Iowa’s Rose Bowl teams in the late 1950s with his dad. As a student, he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and attended Iowa football games religiously.
That devotion remains as strong as ever today, as Lane has been a football season ticket holder for the past 35-plus years. He also sits on the board of directors of the University of Iowa Foundation, the college’s Board of Visitors, Iowa Athletic Fund, and Finance Advisory Council in the college, where he and Carol have established the Curt and Carol Lane Faculty Fellowship Fund as part of a $5 million estate gift to the UI Foundation.
The Fellowship Fund was created from a previous gift from the Lanes and supports a business faculty member who provides practical learning opportunities to UI finance students, such as applied investments.
The gift also includes a $2 million Curt and Carol Lane Finance Scholarship Fund that awards financial assistance to UI undergraduate finance majors, with preference given to military veterans with financial need who engaged in combat—something obviously near and dear to the Lanes’ hearts.
While he said he knows the financial gifts will help promising business students achieve their education dreams, Lane really enjoys his opportunities to come back to campus as a member of the Finance Advisory Council and pass along the many professional lessons he’s learned.
Because the Lanes’ never had children, they’ve chosen to adopt University of Iowa students as their own to help ensure their continued success.
“I’ve had a lot of experience in my career that students can learn from, and I love the interactions I get with them to pass along some of my successes and failures,” said Lane, who also included scholarships for Iowa football players in his gift. “This is our opportunity to give back to the University of Iowa, which gave us our chances to succeed.”