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Clemson for the win

For the Win: How a National Championship Program Parallels Superior Family Office Management

By Kevin Heaton, Family CFO and Founder of i3

I am a fan of college football. Specifically, I am a fan of the National Champion, Clemson University Tigers.

A National Championship doesn’t just happen. Building a National Championship team isn’t magic or luck; it’s skill, planning and execution. And as it turns out, it’s information, infrastructure and investment.


When Coach Dabo Swinney was first interviewing with the board for the interim Coaching position at Clemson, a now famous exchange occurred:

One of the board members said to the Coach, ‘We are very committed here. We just want to be great academically and athletically, like Georgia, Florida and Michigan.’

To which Coach Swinney replied:

Sir, I do not want this to be disrespectful, but that is not my vision for Clemson at all. I want for all of those other schools to want to be like Clemson.’

To make that a reality, Coach Swinney began a period of implementing what some refer to as the Saban method of recruiting. Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson program in 2009, and one of the first things he did was apply the recruiting methodology of decisions based upon documented information.

In an interview with ESPN in 2011, then Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said of Swinney and his approach: ‘I call it the relentless pursuit of information and communication. When a recruit comes to campus every coach on our staff knows everything about that prospect because we have discussed them so much in our meetings and we have evaluated them.’

Swinney’s recruiting reputation became evident when he produced five top-20 ESPN recruiting classes in a row and ranked in the top 25 for all ten years of his leadership. The 2018 signing class marked Dabo Swinney’s tenth as Clemson’s head coach – and many consider it the top group of signees in school history. At no other point in school history has Clemson signed five 5-star prospects in the same signing class.

It’s difficult to argue with success.


For Coach Swinney, part of recruiting is building up the legacy of infrastructure to support coaches and players alike. The ultimate goal for players and program employees is to dominate in life and at the same time develop as players and professionals.

As a part of this, support from more than 17,000 donors is critical to building out support for all athletic programs. IPTAY (originally named ‘I Pay Ten a Year’) was founded in 1934 and through donors, provides millions of dollars in scholarships for student-athletes and non-athletes alike. It also has provided substantial support for programs and facilities that help Clemson Athletics stay competitive in collegiate sports. 

As detailed in a 2016 ESPN digital article, Davis Babb, CEO of IPTAY’s 12-person annual staff, called Swinney a significant development officer for the group and credited Coach Swinney’s willingness to make himself available and accessible as one factor contributing to their current success.

Currently, Clemson University is embarking on its first comprehensive capital campaign plan for improving athletic facilities, providing scholarships for student-athletes, the addition of the Nieri Family Student-Athlete Enrichment center and funding the programs necessary to ensure that Clemson will remain competitive.

To complement the support of donors, one of the early infrastructure initiatives the program implemented was creating a strong social media presence; in 2013, Jonathan Gantt was picked to lead as the Director of New and Creative Media and grew the social program to one of the top most followed programs on Twitter by 2017.

Gantt credits part of the success to working in synergy with the informational recruiting goals of the program. The team utilizes social media to reach recruits and to create content that answers the question: What’s it like to be a Clemson Tiger?

There’s a synergy and unity of voice in what they do with and say about the recruiting department. Creating a formal social media discipline and IPTAY are just two examples of creating a solid infrastructure to support overall program goals. 


If we look back ten years, Coach Swinney was somewhat of a compromise hire – an interim – replacing the retiring Tommy Bowden. The high-profile Abernathy hotel in its prime location just a block north of Memorial Stadium did not yet exist. Clemson was a small school in a small town.

In 2008, the University decided to make an investment in Swinney, however modest at the time, and Swinney made an investment in the program.

That choice to invest and to grow that investment has been incredibly sound.

According to a September 2018 Forbes article: ‘Applications have soared amid Clemson’s football renaissance as students who might otherwise have never considered attending college in a small southern town are increasingly considering doing just that.

The quality of students has risen too. What was once perhaps a “safety school” for high school seniors is now an aspirational one such that average SAT scores for successful applicants have risen in concert with the football team’s prominence… Clemson is now much more than a brand name for NFL GMs. As the team’s wins pile up, so does the university’s notoriety elevate the resumes of Clemson students who will never step on the football field during their four years there.’

‘What about the school itself? Once again, a profound transformation. For obvious reasons. When the football team is winning, excitement among alums jumps. And when graduates are excited, donations soar. The football team’s $55 million, state-of-the-art Allen N. Reeves football complex sits where unused farmland once did. And as contributions to the athletic department have zoomed upward, all sports at Clemson have benefited. The golf and baseball facilities alone would knock any reader over with their opulence, as would the Swann Fitness Center that is available to all students’ [and guests of The Abernathy].

Applying Winning Methods to the Family Office

I’m analytical by nature and keenly interested in what drives success.

Just as building a National Championship team requires key information upon which to base decisions, a sound infrastructure, and a wealth building and investment strategy, private asset management requires the same.

Those families who have grown wealth through family enterprises over generations require access to relevant, timely and sophisticated information allowing key decision-makers to make informed decisions, the infrastructure to acquire and manage assets while preserving and growing a portfolio of private holdings, and sound investment options that allow continued (re)investment of capital.

I founded my company – i3 – and named it based upon these principals.

At i3, information, infrastructure and investment are at the core of our family asset management services.

Just as superior recruiting programs leverage deep research for decision-making, private wealth management requires access to research tools such as market intelligence, key industry database access and comprehensive family planning information. The infrastructure to support these efforts involves highly trained, expert staff who understand best of class proprietary and industry software applications and how best to use these tools to achieve results. Last, investment requires consistent due diligence, opportunity sourcing and origination, underwriting, acquisition and portfolio and risk management.

For i3 however, it is also our personal experience in combination with our intimate understanding of how family behavior(s) are woven into the fabric of each family’s asset management strategy, that drives our growth and our client successes.

And just as Coach Swinney, we aren’t trying to replicate any other firm or service. Our voice, approach and record of success are all unique to i3.

To learn more about creating a sound Private Asset Management strategy for your family office, visit us at

About Kevin Heaton

Kevin Heaton is a CFO who understands the cycles of wealth, the dynamics of family change and resultant behaviors. His expertise is in developing and implementing focused tactics to protect and manage private assets through the objective application of information tools, infrastructure support and investment strategies.

Mr. Heaton is the founder and principal of i3, LLC, and has grown the organization into a team of professionals who provide clients with access to relevant information to make informed decisions, the infrastructure (team and tools), to actively manage their assets and investment opportunities (directly or through managed funds) to (re)invest their capital.

As an accomplished speaker and presenter, Kevin’s talks give in-depth analyses of his own experiences in family office asset management and makes even the most complex asset strategies clear with concrete action plans.

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