Tom Mitchell is a 2007 graduate of the Daytime MBA program. Before entering Fuqua, he worked at KaBOOM! and consulted for the World Bank. He is now Managing Director at Cambridge Associates, a leading investment advisory firm.
What activities were you involved in at Fuqua?
I was very involved in CASE when I was at Duke, channeling a lot of that involvement through the Social Impact Club (now Net Impact), so I could meet people with similar interests. In addition to Net Impact, I put myself on a lot of other club mailing lists because they brought in speakers and had great events and I wanted to be exposed to as many people and topics as possible. What was even more helpful and amazing about the Fuqua experience were the informal networks I was able to establish. I lined up my summer internship at Agora Partnerships through a coffee chat with a second-year who had a fellowship through USAID to be COO at a microfinance bank in Nicaragua. Everything Agora was doing was right up my alley so I was able to get a lot of real world experience with them that was attractive to my current employer.
Describe the work you are doing today and how did you get here?
Cambridge Associates is an investment advisor to foundations and endowments, private wealth, and corporate and government entities. At the time I was hired, they didn’t have a dedicated group for impact investing, which is what I was interested in, but I felt like there was so much to learn. As luck would have it, within a few months of joining firm they decided that they did need a group focused on impact investing and I got in on the ground floor of our Mission Related Investing Group as one of the three founding members. It gave me a great opportunity to think about how to build out the infrastructure and platform of the group within the firm.
Ultimately, we help impact investors build out high-quality portfolios and meet their holistic return goals – both on the mission/impact side and their financial returns. We are now six years into the group and we have about 10% of our clients engaged in very meaningful conversations around mission-related investing and over half of them are putting capital to work in the area. And from the core group of three founders, we have grown to 16. In addition to managing the group, I am advising my clients directly in very hands-on relationships and I would say over half of my clients are forward thinking impact investors—putting capital at risk for global markets.
What’s the impact that you are hoping to have with your organization/role?
I plan on doing this for the foreseeable future – it is very gratifying to help people make better decisions. When it comes to investing, people make a lot of bad decisions. It’s like a snake pit of behavioral traps, so in my job it is very rewarding to help people understand what to do with their valuable capital.
Being able to be an ‘intrapraneur’ and shape the understanding of impact investing and strategies for how to implement impact investments at a firm as prestigious as Cambridge Associates allows for a great scope of impact. There are a lot of people that want to do impact investing but we need to help people find the right investments. I need to lead people to good ideas and good decisions, which is not easy to do. It is about understanding how we get the best ideas with desired and measurable impact, but also serve as a demonstration to others who may want to follow our lead.
What are the skills you learned at Fuqua that have been most relevant to your career path?
CASE’s Initiative on Impact Investing is great and provides valuable resources for students that are interested in a path like mine. But my advice to students is don’t forget the ‘investing’ component of impact investing. The impact part is obviously very important, but you have to understand how that impact is woven through capital allocation. If you don’t have a good sense of the finance side or can’t gain the respect and trust from others, it’s going to be hard to be a successful impact investor.
I viewed business school as a great way to gain exposure and depth to many things, and came away with valuable tools. Being able to dig through financial statements and do valuation through venture capital classes was very useful. If you want to be involved in investing, you have to know how to price assets. You can gain that great fundamental understanding in business school, but then you can decide how you want to apply it. Even if your weakness is finance, you can become really great at it by pushing yourself.
I think Duke is a fantastic place to do things that are unconventional because there is a lot of support for students who are looking to forge new ground. Don’t expect to know exactly what you want to do when you walk through the door because there are so many opportunities that can become available to you.