Amy Cortese | June 5, 2015
This interview originally appeared on Locavesting.
Marco Vangelisti left his job as an investment fund manager in 2009, after an eye-opening discovery about the kinds of companies the fund, and its mission-driven clients, were investing in. The first thing he did was to liquidate his Wall Street portfolio and reinvest it in local and sustainable investments. The second thing was to embark on a quest to understand the big picture and the large systems shaping our society—the economic system, the global system of finance and the money and banking system. This inquiry forms the basis of his recent talks. We spoke with Marco about what he’s learned along his journey—and what anyone thinking of local investing should know.
Amy Cortese: You had a lucrative career as an investment manager… what caused you to walk away from that?
Marco Vangelisti: I spent the last six years of my career in finance working for a very well respected investment management firm. I was part of a team managing a $20 billion equity fund investing in emerging markets. We were quantitative managers, meaning that the fund was constructed by a series of algorithms that used statistical models we had built, rather than being the result of stock picking by members of the team. The fund was performing very well and our clients, mostly endowments and foundations including environmental foundations, were very happy with us. I discovered that one of the best performing stocks we owned was a palm oil company in Malaysia that had taken down tens of thousands of acres of rainforest and planted a monocrop of palm oil plants for the international commodity market. Its earnings and therefore the stock price got a big boost that year since the company earned lots of carbon credits for planting trees!
“One of the few investments I made that resulted in a total loss was due to my investing prior to gaining sufficient understanding of the entrepreneur’s character”
I’ve always been a nature lover and a big supporter of the environmental foundations whose money we were managing. When I found out that their money, and therefore my own charitable contributions, were implicated in funding the destruction of the natural habitats those very foundations were created to protect, I realized that the financial system was a very destructive force in the world. The level of opacity and intermediation in the global financial system had concealed until then the disconnect between my personal values and my own livelihood, a cognitive dissonance that, once recognized, made it impossible for me to continue working in the finance industry. That’s what led me to leave a very well paid and rewarding job in the middle of an economic recession in 2009.