In the business world, the elevator has an important role to play. There is the elevator pitch—that short, succinct introduction to yourself or your business. There is also the elevator that takes the successful executive to their office suite atop a tall building.
For Ross Freedman (BBA ’97) and Brad Schneider (BBA ’97), it was the elevator in their residence hall that would change their lives. A chance meeting there after they first set foot on the UW–Madison campus sparked a friendship and a business partnership, and the two have been moving up together ever since.
Freedman and Schneider have launched two companies together, including Chicago-based Rightpoint, which was acquired in October 2019 by Genpact, a global professional services firm with more than 90,000 employees. Rightpoint, an industry-leading digital consultancy with technology at its core, had grown in more than 12 years from the two friends to approximately 500 employees across 10 locations in the U.S. and India. The acquisition, however, might not even be the duo’s greatest achievement.
“After all these years in business together, we’re still close friends,” Schneider says.
Besides their business careers, Schneider and Freedman also share an affinity for the Wisconsin School of Business and the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship. Individually, they have contributed to the Weinert Center’s Entrepreneurs Forward Fund, which helps develop entrepreneurial coursework, build experiential learning programs, enhance engagement with community entrepreneurs, and promote cross-disciplinary programming. Last year, Freedman, Schneider, and Rightpoint made a joint gift to the fund and because of their increased support are now recognized as Wisconsin Forward Partners, those who give at a higher level to the Entrepreneurs Forward Fund.
“If you really believe the School is the key ingredient to what made you successful, it’s important to support that for other people, too,” Freedman says.
Working together from the start
Freedman’s and Schneider’s gifts help ensure that entrepreneurial students have the tools they need to succeed, and the duo’s journey to startup success provides valuable lessons to students as well. Neither had decided on a major or specific career path when they came to college, nor did they know many people at UW–Madison. Yet as Schneider waited for an elevator to take him to his residence hall floor, the door opened and there was Freedman with his mom and dad.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Schneider says. “Being a typical freshman, I was content to go to the other side of the elevator and say nothing. But Ross’ parents suggested he shake my hand, so we had this awkward handshake on the way up to our rooms.”
The two quickly found they shared a flurry of ideas for businesses or projects. After graduating, they both took jobs at the accounting firm Arthur Andersen. They thought their dual degrees in business and computer science would position them to launch a startup one day, and at Arthur Andersen they gained valuable consulting experience and business acumen.
In 2000, they left Arthur Andersen to launch Wired Matrix, a systems integration consulting firm focused on middle-market clients. The business began in Freedman’s apartment, where Schneider would sometimes show up for work while his co-founder was still sleeping. A few short months after they launched the company, the dot-com bubble burst and the value of the technology sector plummeted.
“Ross and I looked at each other and thought, ‘What did we just do?’” Schneider says.
— Ross Freeman (BBA ’97)
Adding to their skill sets
They realized immediately what skills they didn’t have—sales, networking, relationship-building—and set about learning them. Wired Matrix moved out of Freedman’s apartment, grew to 15 people, and was acquired three years later by West Monroe Partners. Freedman and Schneider stayed on in leadership roles at West Monroe Partners to help grow the company.
In 2007, they again got the itch to create. They noticed design and technology coming together in ways other companies weren’t recognizing, so they launched Rightpoint. Their approach was to hire the best designers and engineers to create the most impactful experiences for customers, making technology work more efficiently.
Originally, Rightpoint worked with global companies to help them improve their employee experiences through design and technology—adapting existing software such as Microsoft or Salesforce. Schneider and Freedman raised capital and grew the company to 185 people. With a $55 million investment from a private equity firm in New York, Rightpoint expanded nationally, made three acquisitions, and moved into customer interface and mobile technology development.
Rightpoint continued growing, up to 500 employees, with Freedman and Schneider as co-CEOs. After Rightpoint was acquired by Genpact, Freedman stayed on as CEO. Schneider left the company but remains in an advisory role.
“We worked together for 27 years, and this is the first time we are not working together on a day-to-day basis,” Schneider says.
Being away from Rightpoint’s daily workings affords Schneider the freedom to explore his and Freedman’s next entrepreneurial opportunity together.
Inspiring the next generation
Dan Olszewski, director of the Weinert Center, appreciates the impact Schneider and Freedman have made for their alma mater.
“It is wonderful alumni like Brad and Ross who make our School so special,” Olszewski says. “Their commitment of time and financial support allows WSB to inspire, educate, and launch future entrepreneurs into careers at both established firms and startups. It has an incredible impact on the next generation of Badgers.”
Schneider and Freedman visited WSB last fall and spoke to nearly 60 students interested in entrepreneurship. The two came away impressed by the kinds of entrepreneurship and forward-thinking ideas happening on campus. Those ideas can turn in to something far bigger, and no one knows that better than Freedman and Schneider.
“Sometimes you hear success stories and think, ‘I could never do that,’” Freedman says. “But hopefully people hear our story about two guys who met in an elevator and did what we did. That means everyone can do it. It just takes a little bit of courage and passion.”