by John W. Lee, general partner, Bambini Partners LLC

On August 27, the toy industry lost a truly fine man … and I lost a great business partner.

Jerry R. Welch was one of the most relentlessly positive people I’ve had the privilege of calling a friend. He was a dapper fellow with a crisp pocket hanky always in place, a disarming smile, a charming Tennessee accent, and a mind like a steel trap. He built a vast business network that he assembled over the years. Jerry had that unique gift of getting to and bonding with captains of industry — from Fortune 500 companies and top-tier private equity firms — and yet, he also made everyone he met or worked with feel special regardless of where they were on their business journey.

Jerry had an impressive resume that included a stint with the Federal Reserve when he graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in business administration. His financial career trajectory included a CFO role for a $1 billion public convenience store chain and a partnership position with Los Angeles-based private equity firm, Kayne Anderson. In the early ’90s he made his move into the toy industry as CEO of The Right Start, and then subsequently acquired Zany Brainy and FAO Schwarz, forming FAO Inc.

Jerry and I first met in 1995 when he was CEO of The Right Start, a premier infant products catalog with more than 3 million customers. He and his company played a key role in helping me launch the Lamaze Brand which, with Jerry’s enthusiastic support, quickly developed into a juvenile market staple. Over the ensuing years, he and I developed a deep, lasting friendship that eventually led to a business partnership with our niche advisory practice, Bambini Partners. To say we worked well together would be an understatement. Great business partnerships are forged from contrasting competencies. Jerry’s extensive strategic and financial background was balanced by my experience as a brand builder and marketer. The common bond in our partnership collaboration was a passion for “the deal.” Over the course of our business relationship, we either led or played a principal role in more $1.5 billion in transaction value. In 2012, we decided to take the bold step to formalize our deal-making passion by launching Bambini Partners.

Jerry was a fighter! Throwing in the towel was never an option. Jerry Welch faced every day ready to “bite the bear’s ass,” as he was fond of saying. He approached every challenge in life with that spirit and spunk. For the past 18 months, Jerry fought leukemia like a Navy Seal. Throughout his battle, he remained relentlessly positive. Two weeks ago, he was told that his condition had morphed to “terminal” and he had approximately two months to live. It’s hard to say how any one of us would react to such final bad news. Jerry’s reaction was consistent with how he lived. A week before he passed, he called me to have what would be our last call. It was understandably an emotional exchange, but ended with a typical Jerry moment when he shared that he did not see this as “the end of our partnership,” but rather “a new beginning” where he would be working on my behalf from “the other side.”

I believe him!

Jerry! Wherever you are, we miss you, man! Thank you for living life to the fullest. Even with your parting, you remind us to see the half-full glass … no matter what life throws our way.

Until we meet again!

Your partner and friend,

John Lee

John W. Lee
General Partner, Bambini Partners LLC

P.S. – Jerry left behind his amazing wife and life partner of 46 years, Gail Welch and daughter, Catherine “Caty” Welch. A celebration of life event will be scheduled sometime in the near future. In the meantime, anyone wishing to honor Jerry may donate to UT Southwestern Cancer Center or to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Top Photo: The Bambini Partners, Jerry R. Welch (left) and John W. Lee at Hot Topic HQ to pitch Yarn Zombies in 2013.