Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, October 11, 2018

La Follette School launched Gerlach on path to success

Jason Gerlach (MA, JD '96) Jason Gerlach (MA, JD '96)

Jason Gerlach (MA, JD ’96) credits much of his success to the quantitative skills he learned at the La Follette School of Public Affairs. 

“It is unlikely that I would have been as successful in my current career field of finance and even possible that I would not have been able to transition from law to finance at all had I not attended the La Follette School,” said Gerlach, CEO and Managing Partner of Sunrise Capital Partners and Co-Founder and President of the California Alternative Investments Association (CalALTs).

Originally from Milwaukee, Gerlach said his analytical skills from a quantitative standpoint were “almost nil” when he came to the La Follette School in 1993.

“From the very first day, I was taught at La Follette that data mattered and that most arguments weren’t remotely worthwhile if they couldn’t be backed up with statistical evidence,” he said.

More than two decades after leaving UW–Madison, Gerlach continues to use this evidence-based way of thinking on a daily basis in his primary asset management business and in his role with CalALTs. 

Gerlach admits that as a student he didn’t fully grasp the benefits of the La Follette School’s client-based projects. However, “discussing, debating, planning, executing, and presenting – often at odd hours of the day and night and on tight deadlines – was as good of a dry run for one’s professional life as I can think of, and the La Follette School provided it to me and my classmates in spades,” he said.

One of his La Follette School projects, an analysis of the then-unfolding redevelopment of Times Square in New York, is among his most rewarding experiences as a graduate student.

“I had long been fascinated by large urban areas, and the complex problems they faced,” Gerlach said. “At the La Follette School, I was able to dive headfirst into the subject, conduct deep research, follow along in real time mid-town Manhattan’s amazing renaissance, and synthesize my own ideas as to the pros and cons of a range of topics, including urban gentrification, public/private partnerships, and law enforcement issues.

“To this day, I think back fondly on my work at the La Follette School every time I walk to a meeting in Manhattan or take my daughter to a Broadway show,” he said. “I take great satisfaction in knowing that I have a deeper understanding of what polices drove the outcomes that now are used and enjoyed by millions of people each year.”

In fall 2017, Gerlach shared his experiences with La Follette School students, while he was on campus for the Dean’s Summit and UW–Madison’s Law School. “The tools you are getting at La Follette can be applied almost anywhere,” he told the students.