Alumna Margo Alexander helps Haas craft its vision for social impact
During her 30-year finance career, Margo Alexander, BS 68, rose to become one of the most senior women on Wall Street as chairman of PaineWebber’s Asset Management Company (now UBS Global Asset Management). She was the first woman to head a top-ranked research department and to oversee a major trading floor and among the first women to head a large asset management business. After retiring in 2003, Alexander joined the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that raises charitable donations to invest in companies and entrepreneurs working to solve problems of poverty. She served as board chair for nine years and is currently chair emeritus and chairman of the company’s social impact investing committee.
Alexander serves on the advisory boards of the Haas School and the Center for Responsible Business (CRB). A consistent and loyal annual donor to the Haas Fund, she was a driving force behind the new Institute for Business and Social Impact (IBSI) and has provided support for the tenth annual Women in Leadership Dinner and a faculty fellowship for the CRB.
When I read about the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership, the Global Social Venture Competition, and the Center for Responsible Business, it seemed to me there were many overlapping issues and that it would benefit the school to have a singular focus. There’s much work to be done. For example, how do you really measure and track impact? The new Institute has the right platform, the right leadership, and is tremendously exciting.
We’re in a crazy phase of “impact investing” that will be refined and shaken out. A fund can’t maximize social value and maximize profitability. Some managers propose that they aim to make 10–15 percent returns. That seems unlikely to me based on our experience. At Acumen, we stand first with the poor and secondly for sustainable returns. It takes a long time for our investments to reach a sustainable point. We originally thought it would be five to seven years; it is more likely to be seven to 12 years. These companies need a lot of hand-holding, follow-up tranches of investing, and patience. That’s why we refer to our model as patient capital investing.
IBSI is an exciting idea because there are so many different issues. For example, governance. What is the impact of policy and principles on governance? Who benefits from those policies and principles? The same with the environment or any social impact target. It sounds easy to talk about impact investing, but it’s complicated.
There is an incredible hunger among students to do work that is meaningful and makes a positive contribution to our world. This “space” offers all that and the chance to affect the ways that investment, development, and philanthropy work. The intellectual and personal rewards are tremendous. So, in answer to your question: Go for it!