Cyrus Nikou is a philanthropist, entrepreneur, and devoted father of two who is committed to making the world a better place for all.
As the founder, owner, and managing partner of Atar Capital, a lower-middle market private equity firm that focuses on sustainable and socially responsible investments across a variety of industries, Cyrus has the privilege of living his vision every day. He helps his team uncover opportunities to invest in cutting-edge solutions to the biggest challenges humanity faces in his day-to-day roles overseeing and advising Atar’s corporate development, M&A activities, and operations.
Cyrus has participated in more than 20 acquisitions since founding Atar Capital in 2016. The firm currently manages a global portfolio of 12 companies with combined annual revenues over $1.5 and more than 13,000 employees on several continents. Some of Atar’s notable portfolio companies include WinCup Corporation, a market-leading manufacturer of disposable and biodegradable food service products such as utensils, lids, cups, and straws; and Pathways Health & Community Support, an innovative healthcare services provider that works to expand access to high-quality mental and behavioral health care.
Cyrus also serves as an advisor to several Atar portfolio companies. In addition to WinCup and Pathways Health & Community Support, Cyrus advises Keypoint Intelligence, Solero Technologies, and Frontier Integrity Services.
Before he founded Atar Capital, Cyrus was a co-founding partner of Revolution Capital Group. He spent seven years helping to manage an investment portfolio that included Tampa Media Group, Dove Professional Apparel, and Maysteel Industries. Cyrus filled several roles at Revolution Capital, including managing capital commitments with the firm’s private equity group, leading the deal origination team, and overseeing the combined enterprise’s day-to-day operations.
Despite a busy work schedule, Cyrus is involved in a number of philanthropic and community-building endeavors. He is a proud supporter of Upward Bound House, I Have a Dream Foundation, and Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, among other nonprofit organizations. He currently serves on The Sierra Canyon School’s board of directors.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Cyrus Nikou moved to the United States as a child. He spent his undergraduate years at the University of Southern California – Marshall School of Business, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in corporate finance and business administration. He’s still an active member of USC’s booster community and a regular participant in alumni events.
When he’s not at Atar’s offices or giving back to the community, Cyrus enjoys golfing, traveling, and spending time with his kids.
Where did the idea for Atar Capital come from?
I’ve always been fascinated with investing. While at Marshall School of Business, I spent a lot of time figuring out what I wanted to do and found interest in finance positions at large public companies. But ultimately, I felt these positions weren’t for me because I wanted a more hands-on-approach that would lead to impact in real-time. In private equity, I am able to invest in the companies I acquire while having operational control to positively influence results.
What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?
There isn’t a typical day because the day is constantly pivoting and typically requires fluidity to get things done. Most days include structured calls with CEOs, along with ad-hoc meetings with portfolio companies or Atar executive team members that are focused on investment commitments, deal decision-making, and corporate growth.
How do you bring ideas to life?
To me, idea generation is collaborative. I bring my ideas to life through collaboration with my teams.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The cyclical nature of our markets and our economy is always exciting, especially because I’m able to exercise intuitive decision-making by determining which markets will or will not do well.
What is one habit that helps you be productive?
My tireless and never-ending devotion to my craft. It’s 24/7 and it never turns off. It keeps me competitive, but also pushes me toward collaboration, which in turn, promotes learning and growth.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The old me and the young me have the same thought process: keep learning. I don’t have any regrets, but I’ve always been a risk taker and sometimes I go all in a bit too quickly. I’d tell myself to maybe take the foot off the pedal just slightly on certain decisions. But then again, intuitively, most of those decisions were the right ones. So, if anything, I would tell the younger me to trust myself more.
Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.
People tend to believe that success has to look a certain way, but it doesn’t. A degree from an ivy league won’t teach anyone grit, passion, discipline or emotional intelligence, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee excellence. Sometimes, the people who look the best on paper aren’t the people best suited for the job because they don’t possess the skills that lead to actually getting the deals done, like likability and charisma.
What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?
Never give up. Bad things happen and life goes on. If you have a bad year or two, it’s important to be able to continue. It takes one transaction to turn everything around. People either give up too early or spend too much time and energy on projects that aren’t generating the success they want. Be able to move on to something different and recognize that this is not giving up. Simply take your skillset and apply it elsewhere.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?
Leading by example. I come into the office with the same tenacity, discipline, and work ethic that I expect from the rest of my team. But I also make sure my team is well taken care of: They have the ability to grow and learn cross-functionally with no limitations. By doing this, I create the culture that I’d like my firm to exist in and maintain.
What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?
I pulled the trigger on a deal without doing the proper level of diligence based on the situation and the speed at which the seller needed me to move. I stepped on some land mines, and it was painful. From that moment, I vowed to myself that I would never put myself in a position where I’m forced to move by taking shortcuts. There are none. You have to put in the work.
What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Microsoft Outlook. I’m a big email guy and my calendar keeps me organized in both my professional and personal life.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
I gave $100 to a homeless person. It was the best-used $100 because it went to someone in need. Giving just feels good.
Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?
“Zero to One,” by Peter Thiel. The book is an important read for young entrepreneurs because it highlights the need to escape competition. Competition, to a certain extent, is healthy and necessary. But when it infringes upon growth and process, it leads to failure. Most, if not all, businesses fail because they did not learn how to escape competition.
- People tend to believe that success has to look a certain way, but it doesn’t. A degree from an ivy league won’t teach anyone grit, passion, discipline or emotional intelligence, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee excellence. Sometimes, the people who look the best on paper aren’t the people best suited for the job because they don’t possess the skills that lead to actually getting the deals done, like likability and charisma.
- Never give up. Bad things happen and life goes on. If you have a bad year or two, it’s important to be able to continue. It takes one transaction to turn everything around. People either give up too early or spend too much time and energy on projects that aren’t generating the success they want. Be able to move on to something different and recognize that this is not giving up. Simply take your skillset and apply it elsewhere.
- Strive to lead by example. Exhibit the same tenacity, discipline, and work ethic that you expect from the rest of your team. Also make sure your team is well taken care of, that they can grow and learn cross-functionally with no limitations. By doing this, you can create the culture that you’d like your firm to exist in and maintain.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.