Lessons from San Francisco: Impact Investing

Students from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Finance and Securities Analysis Center found common ground last Thursday in a visit to Dave Chen at Equilibrium Capital’s San Francisco office. Back in September, we visited Dave at his Portland office, and he has been a wonderful host on both occasions.  He is full of wisdom and speaks eloquently on all matters of finance, something not easily accomplished.

Dave’s firm, Equilibrium Capital Group owns a platform of real asset managers focused on the areas of water, distributed and renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and integrated land management green real estate.  It’s a mouthful but the concept was born from Dave boldly saying YES to the question, “Could finance be a solution for global issues such as famine, abuse of resources, and global warming?”  Dave sets out solving these problems by channeling funds into real assets that are managed using sustainable practices, which results in growing value and consistent returns. After all, Dave says “Investing, no matter what word you put in front of it is still investing, even impact investing. Everybody in investing wants to get paid.” Often times sustainability gets criticized for being a fluffy concept that is difficult to define.  But according to Dave there is nothing fluffy about sustainability.  Through his experience he can see that it is an economic shift.  With 4 billion humans entering the middle class “wanting to eat chicken and drive cars”, our methods for farming, development, and energy generation are going to have to change to be able to support the stresses put on the system.  Sustainability is essential for our global economy moving forward.

Where do MBAs fit into all of this? Dave shared some knowledge and skills we must possess if we want to be in impact investing.

  1. Know your way around a spreadsheet (be able to trace benefits flows- dissecting benefits flows can lead to financial innovation)
  2. Risk management and assessment
  3. Valuing of externalities
  4. Willingness to roll up your sleeves and figure stuff out

Visiting firms like Equilibrium Capital gives students like us a first hand account of the skills desired by our future employers and adds significant value to the education we are receiving at the Oregon MBA.

Written by Eric Ringer

Eric is an MBA Candidate in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. He came to the Oregon MBA program from his old Kentucky home to supplement his technical experience in engineering with valuable business skills. He intends to help businesses build competency in decision making processes and business operations through the lens of the triple bottom line: people, profit, planet.