James Osborn, EnvestAM Founder, Featured in Simon Magazine

May 16, 2020

Simon Alumni Q&A

What Brought You to Simon?

simon-magazine-qa-2020After realizing I wanted to change my career out of engineering and into finance, an MBA was a must. I grew up south of Rochester and knew of the great academic reputation of the University of Rochester. After researching the MBA program in more detail and speaking with the Simon School Admissions department, I was sold. The program’s size, culture, and education offered an intimate and exciting atmosphere.

Who Was Your Favorite Simon Professor?

There were several professors I think about often, including Prof. Cliff Smith and Prof. Charles Wasley. They had distinct teaching styles and had a great dry humor. I’ve used what they taught throughout my finance career and to this day.

What’s Your Favorite Simon Memory?

I was particularly close to six Simon classmates. To celebrate receiving and accepting our full-time employment offers in our second year, we each took each other out to dinner. We tried many different cuisines throughout the Rochester metro area, which, by the way, has excellent choices!

Why Did You Start Envest Asset Management?

Our company was formed as a grassroots mission-based effort to bring Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI) practices to individuals, families, businesses, and nonprofits ( i.e., retail clients rather than institutional). ESG/SRI augments conscious consumerism from product-focused consumption, which is important, to investment activism that can also help promote and influence corporate environmental and social change. Our company helps bring awareness to the unintended consequences to corporate decision-making.

Are Economic Returns And Social Or Environmental Progress Inherently At Odds? Is It Possible To Prioritize Both In Your Investing?

I don’t believe they are at odds; quite the opposite. The Business Roundtable recently redefined the purpose of a corporation from maximizing shareholder value to maximizing stakeholder value. By considering their financial, environmental, and social impact, corporations can increase revenue, decrease expenses, and manage risk, which can lead to long-term investor value.

Are Your Clients Already Sold On The Idea Of Esg/Sri Or Is There Some Client Education Involved?

Our clients recognize the value of a financial plan and want to augment that with ESG/SRI options, so education in sustainable literacy is always involved. And there are so many options given the size of the market, its growth, and how it’s evolved. For example, over 25 percent of professionally managed accounts are invested sustainably. That’s $12 trillion in the ESG/SRI space, according to US SIF. We help them navigate those options while working toward their financial goals.

What Kind Of Impact Can Smaller Investors Have On Environmental And Sustainability Issues That May Seem Overwhelming And Immovable?

There is personal impact, like reducing your personal carbon footprint. There is also the ability to mobilize companies. As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest asset managers, whose clients are smaller investors through personal accounts or corporate retirement accounts, said, “Companies that fulfill their purpose and responsibilities to stakeholders reap rewards over the long-term.”

What Strategies Do You Use To Construct And Manage Sustainable Portfolios For Your Clients?

We use a combination of passive and active investing coupled with modern portfolio theory. However, the key differentiation is client driven. There are investment options that can home in on clients’ ethics. There are investment options that focus on religious beliefs, social and gender equality, military veteran employment, clean energy, water technology, waste management, and forestry, to name a few. There are also indexed-based ESG/SRI investment options made up of large-, mid-, and small-cap portfolios.

Do You Still Use Your Simon Education In Your Work?

Every day. Not only do we review clients’ investment portfolios using portfolio theory and common practices taught at Simon, but we also look at private investment opportunities into private sustainable companies. This involves in-depth analysis on the financial models, valuation, alignment of interest among investors and the company, along with many other skills taught at Simon.

What Advice Would You Give Would-Be Entrepreneurs Who Are Thinking About Starting Their Own Business?

A business plan is the most important aspect to starting a business. Do research to understand the long-term viability of your idea and its value proposition. Once you’ve done that, leverage your network. The Simon community continues to be a great resource helping create and manage a business.

— More —

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