Glenbrook North Distinguished Alumnus for 2019 Navin Thukkaram made a point to tell students that he didn’t receive an award when he attended GBN. “This is the first award that I‘ve received from Glenbrook North,” he noted.
Thukkaram, a 1993 graduate of GBN and now technology investor and entrepreneur, was honored at the GBN Honors and Awards Assembly May 24. He also had some advice for students. “You don’t have to have everything figured out; you don’t need to know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life.”
He recounted his path from GBN grad to Princeton and Harvard, then Wall Street and investing. At GBN, he wanted to do well in school, earn a high GPA and get into an elite university. He said GBN contributed to his love of technology and science as well as his interest in engineering.
He took AP biology, chemistry, physics and almost every other AP course at GBN. He took advantage of GBN’s large science resources, which he credits with his early success. He participated in a science club and was on the math team, which placed ninth in state while he was a member.
He was also on the GBN golf team for four years and during his senior year captained the team to a 13-1 season. When it was time to decide his post-high school plans, he credits GBN athletics and his coaches’ high standards, with his decision to commit to Division I golf at Princeton. He recounts how Coach LaVerne (Mac) McMillen was the most influential person to him at GBN and said he was a huge inspiration. He also noted that the studying techniques and the hard work ethic he picked up at GBN have never left him.
He majored in civil engineering and operations research at Princeton, then spent two years working on Wall Street and two years working in private equity investing. He then attended the Harvard business school where he graduated with a master’s degree in business.
After Harvard, he was a senior associate of Vulcan Capital Management, a private equity firm, where he became partner. In 2008, he started NT Capital Partners, which served as his personal office for investing in startups. NT Capital Partners’ first investment was the startup Qwiki , a company awarded the 2010 TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, which labeled it as the No. 1 startup that year.
He became the chief operating officer of Qwiki in 2011 and in 2013 it was acquired by Yahoo! for $50 million. He told of the many struggles, having to let go half of the staff and running out of money right before it was sold. “Each setback gets you on the right path,” he told students. “How you respond to failure will define you.”
Thukkaram also served on the executive panel for the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, advising the Navy on tech issues, and serves on the advisory board for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. CSIS is the number one security defense think tank in Washington DC, and he is the youngest board member in history.
He currently is the lead investor and board member of Skykick, a cloud software company, like Google Drive, that helps move businesses to the cloud. For the future, Thukkaram is focused on giving back, coaching and advising companies. He has created innovation boot camps, which are two-day, immersive workshops to teach businesses how to evolve with the ever-changing trends.