After being an executive for Goldman Sachs, you joined The Nature Conservancy in 2013. What prompted such a stark career change?
At first I thought it was a crazy idea, a major leap. But once I gave it serious thought there was no turning back and I knew this was the right move, even though I enjoyed my work at Goldman Sachs and was at the prime of my career.
I grew up with easy access to outdoors: When I was young, my mom would shoo me outside with instructions to stay out until dark and family picnics would be held in preserves around my hometown. It was just part of my life. But in my junior year of high school, I was disturbed by this idea that population could outstrip food supply. The Nature Conservancy, a science based non-partisan organization, is all about working to ensure that both people and nature not only survive but thrive. In short, work for nature has always been my passion, I’ve just expressed it in different ways through time.
How has your background in finance/investment helped you lead green thumb initiatives?
There are more similarities between my role as an investment professional and being a senior leader at The Nature Conservancy than one might think. At The Nature Conservancy, we are mostly privately funded. This means we must understand how our work to meet our mission inspires philanthropists to meet their mission.
Just like before, I am working directly with individuals, CEOs, family foundations and endowments to find solutions. The work to mitigate threats from climate change, and to protect fresh water, the air we breathe and open spaces requires partnership and often innovative financial funding mechanisms. Collaborations like these require good listening skills and a willingness to discover what people do to take action.
Since your being appointed as State Director, how have you seen changes in the way Illinois organizations and communities relate to nature? What do you hope to see more of in the future?
It may seem obvious but it is worth saying: people and nature are inextricably linked. At TNC, we are putting forth resources to ensure that, from the outset, our planning and strategy is inclusive of people and our scientists are as informed as possible about the needs of the communities in which we are working.
I hope to see continued community and organizational collaborations here that set global examples to achieve sustainable outcomes that protect our natural resources on this planet, which will need to support some 9 billion people by the year 2050. As people and organizations with various backgrounds and interests are becoming more aware of the needs of our planet, we are able to better use our data to support ecologically important – and sometimes vulnerable – places and species.
With the arrival of spring and summer and the opportunity to explore what Illinois has to offer, could you share some hidden gems, iconic landscapes and/or preserves to enjoy in the coming months?
The Nature Conservancy has several beautiful sites across the state that can only be described as gems. One is just south of the City in Markham called Indian Boundary Prairies. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s a prime area for research that helps us – and some of our conservation partners – advance our work.
About 90 miles west of Chicago sits the Conservancy’s magnificent Nachusa Grasslands. With nearly 4,000 acres of original and restored prairie, it’s best known for the historic return of pure bison, which were on the brink of extinction just 100 years ago, that help us achieve prairie restoration goals.
Emiquon Preserves in central Illinois is just about 40 miles west of Peoria. It’s a world renowned wetland restoration project – the largest in the Midwest – and is open for visitors to witness migrating birds and ducks by the thousands, and is a prime area for fishing and other recreation.