Former Vectra Bank executive Shawn Gullixson will become president of The O’Neil Group in the new year, becoming a top leader in the influential, Colorado Springs-based private equity firm built by founder and CEO Kevin O’Neil.
Gullixson’s hiring is a “big deal” for the firm — he will actually be The O’Neil Group’s first president since its founding in 2008, O’Neil said in an exclusive interview with the Business Journal. O’Neil has taken on the responsibilities of president over the years himself — along with his CEO duties — and he admits he’s been stretched thin.
Gullixson will change that. O’Neil will stay on as CEO and focus more on mergers, acquisitions and fundraising, while Gullixson handles operations and people management for the 42 companies in the firm’s portfolio, O’Neil said.
“He will tackle a lot more of the overall environment that I’ve probably been doing a poor job of the last couple years, with the amount of environments we have, because I tend to bounce around,” O’Neil said. “I see Shawn as a culture builder, but [also] a systems process builder, which — if you’re talking about management — got to have that. Got to have predictable books, predictable sales.
Gullixson was most recently the president of Vectra Bank’s Pikes Peak market, overseeing two branches in Colorado Springs and one in Woodland Park.
Yesterday (Dec. 14) was his last day with the bank.
Gullixson was with Vectra for 13 years of his career, starting as a business banker in 2009. He will start as The O’Neil Group’s president on Jan. 9.
Over the last couple years, Gullixson has felt his work with Vectra was reaching its peak, and end point. He told the Business Journal that he accomplished what he set out to as president of the bank — facilitating funding for as many local entreprenuers and startup ventures as he could, building a workplace based on “collaboration and trust” and establishing strong relationships with business clients, who entrusted Gullixson and his team during periods of financial uncertainty.
“This is the best year the bank’s ever had in this market,” Gullixson said. “I’m leaving on a very, very high note, which feels good for my team.
“But I’m the type where I do believe there’s a season [in life],” he said. “I think that season for me, in that position and role in this market, was coming to an end, and all it was going to take was the right person to succeed me. Everything aligned well.”
Vectra has not yet selected Gullixson’s successor, but he said he’s involved in the hiring process. The bank is opening the position up to applicants from the broader community, although Gullixson’s hope is that they hire from the inside — from a pool of “folks that have been there and understand the team, market and culture.”
In terms of his own career, Gullixson feels his leadership of The O’Neil Group will be a natural progression of the values and community investment that he built with Vectra. It’s an opportunity to “continue to build in Colorado Springs — to create more jobs.”
“When this opportunity came up, it was very serendipitous,” he said. “It just felt right. And I feel like a lot of the work that I’ve been doing over the last 20 years in banking has prepared me for this role as president. I was very humbled when Kevin approached me.”
Gullixson and O’Neil had encountered each other at business community gatherings over the years, and O’Neil said they had a banking relationship already, with Vectra being a lender to The O’Neil Group. Gullixson said O’Neil approached him, and asked whether he’d consider leaving banking, at the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC’s gala in November.
O’Neil said the firm has been searching for a president for more than a year, and considered “several candidates” — but Gullixson’s name continued to come up. Middle management at the firm “thought he would be a perfect addition to what we need.”
“It was really the employees that said, ‘This is the right guy to lead us,’” O’Neil said.
Gullixson is also deeply connected to the Springs, which was important to O’Neil — “he’s not going anywhere, and understands politics.” O’Neil is a Springs native, and graduated from Fountain-Fort Carson High School.
Gullixson graduated from Mitchell High School in 1999 and raised his family here. His youngest daughter attends middle school in Colorado Springs School District 11, and starting in 2016, Gullixson was a Board of Education director — and for two years, board president — in that district, before he lost in the November 2021 election.
The O’Neil Group spot “is a forever job for me,” he said. “It’s something that I’m really excited for, and can be happy with for the rest of my career.”
Gullixson is looking forward to leading the continued expansion of the firm’s Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation — even bringing its programs out of state. O’Neil also told the Business Journal that the firm will announce some “large activities” in the new year, and it’s currently working on other significant projects that Gullixson will now be a part of.
“As we speak, we take over the management of the North Shore Marina, and we’re trying to build that out to the benefit of southern Colorado,” O’Neil said. “That’s a huge undertaking, to replace an entire marina and bring it up to a national scale level that’s competitive with Navajo [Lake Marina].
“We want to make that the best in the state,” O’Neil said. “And then we oddly enough are buying a commercial lodge in Alaska around recreation. [Gullixson] will be helping us with that, trying to grow that project. …
“He has a lot of work to do, just on his daily grind, while we’re dropping new projects on his shoulders.”