There’s no question that Ira Cohen, the 2013 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award, is a self-motivated hard worker. However, if you ask him who gave him his drive, he won’t hesitate to tell you that the secret to his success was his parents. “This award is a testament to my parents,” he said. “My parents were not college grads—I’m a first-generation college grad, as was my brother. My parents pushed me pretty hard, especially my mother.”
It was that drive that led Cohen to become the Managing Director and Board Member of Signal Hill Capital, LLC, a boutique investment bank specializing in mergers and acquisitions, private placements, fairness opinions and corporate restructuring that he co-founded. Signal Hill now has some seventy employees spread across the U.S.—with offices in Baltimore, Nashville, New York, Reston, VA, San Francisco, and Boston, as well as in Bangalore, India, where Cohen travels frequently.
Cohen was born and raised in Bronx, where he and his family lived on Undercliff Avenue, west of the Grand Concourse, and before Lehman attended P.S. 109 and Junior High School 82. He later went to the Bronx High School of Science. “When I graduated Science, there was really no other choice in terms of going to college,” he said, pointing out that it was impossible to argue with the cost of a Lehman education in those days—the College, like all CUNY schools, was completely free.
With his Lehman education in hand, Cohen went on to achieve his goal of becoming a Chief Financial Officer for a publicly-traded company. “I achieved that goal by the time I was 29.” Cohen later went on to become a Founder and Venture Partner of Updata Partners, a series of venture and private equity funds. Since 1998, Updata Partners has made over 40 venture and growth equity investments—approximately 25 are active and there is currently $450 million under management.
“Lehman was a great experience. I got an excellent education at Lehman during my four years here,” he said, noting that he worked at the same time and would schedule his classes around his work schedule. “Often went in the morning and came back in the evening after working in the afternoon,” said Cohen. “I even took a course on Saturday morning. Now there are admissions standards that I probably wouldn’t meet if I was applying today.”
Not that he minds. “I think it’s great,” said Cohen. “The quality of student is probably higher than it was where I attended. And that’s important. There is definitely a need for a tier-one higher education institution in the Bronx.”