April 19th, 2012
April 19th, 2012
I grew up in Ogdensburg New York, in a business-oriented family, where our business was one of the main employers in the small town. My father was an executive at the Newell Company and my mother a home maker. After my father died at 48, my mother took his place on the board, and as I watched her learn the business ropes I had my first insights into how to manage a personal fortune. At that time, I inherited several millions in stock, due at age 21 with no restrictions, which made me look at my life in a different way. I had an ongoing sense of possibility.
I wasn’t interested in leading a lavish lifestyle. With no big outlays, the money grew. Later, I received a second much larger inheritance which I passed entirely into a private foundation, because I realized I’d already answered the question, “how much was enough?”. I had plenty.
In response to world travels, and then witnessing my own culture’s wasteful ways, my broad goal was to lighten our culture’s environmental footprint. And I saw philanthropy and business, both, as venues to address the issues. A regional strategy emerged; to utilize all of my wealth and influence to address things I really cared about- a healthy environment and vibrant communities. By that time, I lived in a beautiful place, British Columbia, Canada and I wanted to see the region blossom and grow toward a thriving future, valuing precious resources, without being a burden on future generations. It seemed to be a new way of leveraging capital, outside the norm of traditional “money manners”.
I affectionately refer to “Money Manners” as the rules we are taught to think about money. Such rules state that we should, “Not talk about money”, “Maximize profit at all cost”, and for goodness sakes “ Don’t touch the principal!”
Considering my capacity, these rules no longer made sense to me. In fact, I could see how they were preventing many others from making bold decisions – that folks almost needed permission to change the game, even if the game didn’t really apply any more.
I had more than just discretionary income to “play with”, I had discretionary capital – the principle - with which I could literally afford to take risks and innovate. I felt a responsibility to play differently – Bigger – that those who have extraordinary wealth also have an extraordinary opportunity to tackle issues at the root of systemic problems. After all, if we can’t risk it, who can?! I had been deeply anonymous for a decade, but around 2002, I went public and started to encourage others to be as bold as they could be.
I’ve learned that when we follow these traditional rules that the economy drives our values instead of our values driving the economy. Our economy extracts wealth from the earth and concentrates it in the hands of a very few. Recycling my wealth and reinvesting it back into a region made sense to me; I could nourish a new economy that, like nature, is fruitful, resilient and more apt to recycle its own riches within its locale.
After founding the Endswell Foundation in 1991 with 17 million, and earmarking 7 million to invest in sustainable businesses, I knew I needed help. Finding and investing in a trusted partner to implement Renewal Partners Co. was a key decision. Joel Solomon shared my vision and was excited to implement it. He first sought out the deals for Renewal, and eventually orchestrated the day-to-day management, strategy, advisors, Endswell, and all the moving parts. This gave me great freedom. Despite my aspirations for the money, I didn’t want to be tied to it.
We sold 80% of my family stock, reinvested it into screened funds, then recycled massive earnings from the 90’s to advance my mission. Money is hard at work wherever it is; I figured put it to good work! Over time we placed three times my inheritance into people, organizations and businesses I felt aligned with. Telling the story to others, I came to say I was activating my entire (whole) portfolio towards mission. Joel focused on capacity needs, finding and building thoughtful and strong leadership, increasing collaboration, and making it easy for good work to continue. The region is blooming. I am immensely proud of what we’ve accomplished the past 18+ years - it’s more than I ever could have imagined.
In 2001 I decided to spend out the Endswell Foundation in a decade, because I believe problems are growing exponentially faster than capital reserved to address them later. Its legacy lies in the incubation of Tides Canada, which provides ongoing support for environmental and social justice grant making in British Columbia. Renewal Partners intrigued so many that we recently started a second fund, Renewal2, to build upon our experience and knowledge and create an opportunity for outside investors to join us.
I'm still happily breaking all the rules, steadfast in my conviction that I’ve done well by my money. I know my folks would be proud. I gain great satisfaction working with Play BIG to help other wealthy people think differently and act in accordance with their values – all the while making a difference in their own communities. I hope my story inspires others with “discretionary capital” to activate their whole portfolios to accelerate the shift to healthy, thriving communities.