The 1960s and 1970s were the years during which John Castle built up the venture capital division of Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette. Called the Sprout Group, the venture capital operation became one of the most successful in the United States.
Due to his success at DLJ Castle rose to chief executive where he remained until 1986. That year Equitable purchased DLJ, and Castle took on new challenges.
At the age of 47, in 1987, Castle teamed up with Leonard Harlan and a third former employee of DLJ, to form Castle Harlan Inc. Also a venture capital firm, Castle Harlan, formed in June, raised $125 million by November. One month later their first deal was signed.
Castle Harlan’s first venture was the $85 million purchase of a billboard company. Partnering with William Reagan, president of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, Castle Harlan took the leap into deal making, and for John Castle, at least, it was almost like a religious experience. This is how he describes the origins of the business deal, which took place in a fishing village near Venice, where Castle and Reagan were attending a meeting together.
‘We were sitting in a plaza under a church spire one night,” recalls Castle. ”As church choirs sang, he persuaded me he was the guy to support to put this deal together.”
Castle’s epiphany led him to commit $11 million to the deal.
Castle’s plan is to run Castle Harlan in a similar way to how he ran Sprout funds during his DLJ years. While he was in charge Sprout blossomed at an average annual rate of more than 25 percent. Castle and Harlan are setting their sites at returns closer to 35 percent.