Alumni Spotlight: Owen Wurzbacher '05

Owen Wurzbacher ’05 knows the quality of a good investment. Having worked at Highfields Capital, Blackstone, Amazon, and now HighSage Ventures, he understands the value of partnering with passionate and hard-working people. His most important investment so far? Education.

Wurzbacher started at Seattle Country Day School as a kindergartner, quickly discovering his peers and teachers were similarly eager about education. “From the time I stepped foot in Ms. Luenow’s classroom to the time I left eighth grade, I experienced authenticity, discipline, and positivity. I had repeated exposure to people who cared about my learning and who loved it themselves.”

After graduating eighth grade in 2005, Wurzbacher continued to seek out high-quality, challenging learning environments. He attended Lakeside School for high school and Harvard University as an undergraduate, then culminated his studies at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He says SCDS made a passion for learning infectious. “I’ve been very lucky in my education. Every time I’ve been in a classroom, the people around me have pushed me to be a better version of myself.”

Becoming a better version of himself has come with notable accomplishments. At Harvard University, he graduated with a degree in Human Evolutionary Biology and Economics, and as a graduate student at Stanford University, he received both his Master of Business Administration and Master of Education. The largest philanthropic collaborations with his current firm, HighSage Ventures, also stem from a passion for education. “I feel a lot of alignment in my investing because if we succeed in making our capital base grow, then we contribute more to the causes I care about in education.”

Even before SCDS, his parents remember his eagerness to learn and propensity to ask questions. Reflecting on his K-8 years, the experiential curriculum remains vivid, and SCDS’s trademark inquiry-based method—asking, “Why?”, “Why not?”, and “What if?”— has stayed with him. “Investing is based on asking questions—filling in the pieces of the puzzle you don’t understand. It’s a tapestry of different information you collect from different sources…you need to be dispassionate about facts, not much unlike the scientific method.”

In tandem with his interdisciplinary studies, he also understood the importance of pairing academics with interpersonal growth, as well as business with sociology. As the Managing Director and Portfolio Manager at HighSage Ventures, he finds his work deeply quantitative, but it’s “also deeply human. You have to understand incentives and behavior; you have to understand history and market cycles and what happens over time. To be an effective investor you must have a continuous learning mentality.”

Wurzbacher also seeks opportunities to remedy his own blind spots when it comes to inclusion. As a student in Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, he joined the Women in Management group as a board member, and makes a conscious effort to reflect on the burdens any one person may be carrying, especially those from minority backgrounds. He believes learning about others can reform assumptions. “A great gift of education is the chance to be around people different from you.”

During his tenure at Seattle Country Day School, Lakeside School, and Harvard University, Wurzbacher also committed himself to mind and body learning. His participation in competitive swimming as a Team Captain, marrying mental and physical disciplines, has translated to areas far beyond the pool walls. From 5:00 a.m. practices to finishing homework instead of watching television, the demands of rigorous academic and athletics programs taught him a strong work ethic. “By the time I got into the professional world, I felt very prepared from a work-ethic perspective. I realized that until that point I’d effectively been playing the game with one day less than everyone else. But if you can do that in high school and in college, it makes the rest of the world surmountable.”

Joining the professional world has proven to be very successful for Wurzbacher, where he now partners with entrepreneurs, operators, and investors in Boston, Massachusetts. He credits a positive butterfly effect for the opportunities he’s been given. “If I work backwards, from working at large investment organizations to where it all began, I don’t think Stanford would’ve happened without Highfields and Blackstone. Those wouldn’t have happened without Harvard; Harvard wouldn’t have happened without Lakeside; and Lakeside wouldn’t have happened without Seattle Country Day School. If I trace back even further, these opportunities were available because of my parents and their many sacrifices.”

Wurzbacher encourages the next generation of SCDS’s creative problem-solvers to take advantage of the opportunities they have been given. “Invest in your brain and body. You can be the best version of yourself by staying curious, open-minded, and patient.”