Good Profiles feature members of our Good Generation who are either out there in the field doing interesting work or still in the trenches of schools and institutions waiting to make their mark on the world. Have your own story to tell? Know someone who would be great to be profiled? Please sign-up or leave a note here!
What do you do for a living nowadays?
I work as the investment manager for Southeast Asia of LGT Venture Philanthropy, a non-profit impact investor with operations in five continents around the world. Our mission is to increase the sustainable quality of life of less-advantaged people, by finding and supporting organizations with outstanding social and environmental impact. We also inspire clients to engage in active philanthropy, and provide philanthropic advisory and implementation services.
As an investment manager for LGT Venture Philanthropy, I am primarily responsible for sourcing and screening potential deals in Southeast Asia. Based in the region, I prepare the relevant investment documents about organizations, and discuss these with my team and board. I am involved in every step of due diligence and deal execution. I am also in charge of monitoring and providing ongoing strategic support to portfolio organizations over the course of our engagement. I represent LGT VP during regional conferences, and more importantly, provide local insight and guidance to LGT VP’s top management regarding the appropriate strategy and approach for Southeast Asia.
This year, for example, we are launching the Impact Ventures Accelerator Program. The iVAP provides hands-on business consulting and customized financial support of up to US$50,000 to outstanding, early-stage social ventures in Southeast Asia with a high potential for scaling-up and positive impact. I developed and pitched this program to our board in response to a perceived need in the region for earlier-stage support of organizations, and in order to build LGT VP’s pipeline and impact in the region.
Is “doing good” a key reason why you chose this job?
Yes, definitely. In this job, I get to work closely with some truly exceptional and passionate social entrepreneurs and their teams to build up their organizations, and hopefully increase their ability to positively impact more and more people in a sustainable manner.
What do you love most about your job?
What’s kind of unbelievable about my job is that it allows me to use my skills, professional background, and interests towards making a tangible impact on the lives of less-advantaged people. I graduated with a degree in Management Engineering, and did a short stint in investment banking before joining LGT Venture Philanthropy. I enjoy understanding and analyzing businesses, writing about them, traveling, meeting new people, and even creating financial models, sometimes. This job allows me to do all that, but the purpose of my work – what I do all this for, ultimately – is to increase wealth and well-being at the base of the pyramid.
My favorite memories from this job are from times spent on the field, speaking with entrepreneurs and the poor to gain unique insights about problems, solutions, and impact. For all that impact investors talk about “scaling-up” and “replicating” impact, I think it’s firsthand experiences more than just concepts that really inspire me. Just last year, for example, a woman employed by Rags2Riches, one of our portfolio organizations – who had been toothless since I first met her two years ago – came to the company Christmas party with a new set of teeth. She was almost unrecognizable with this bright new smile of hers, which she could finally afford after working for Rags2Riches. Perhaps it’s silly, but I’d like to believe that the victories and transformations I see on an individual level are what’s happening on a macro level, in one way or another, as we help organizations grow.
Lastly, I guess, I like getting to spend time with people from all around the world – whether it’s my teammates, colleagues in the sector, or the teams of our portfolio organizations – that share my motivations and are, in their own ways, trying to solve the world’s problems.
What would you wish were different about your job?
Currently, our team is not yet large enough to have regional hubs of operations, so everything is coordinated from Europe, with most investment managers working remotely. For the past three years, I’ve been based in Manila by myself, often connected to my colleagues only through Skype calls and emails. It’s tough to stay upbeat and motivated during difficult times, when there’s not a team that’s physically around to talk to and bounce ideas off of. I see my whole team once a year, and see various team members maybe 2-3 other times during the year for due diligence trips or conferences.
Another limitation is that some of our board and team members haven’t had that much experience working with small, locally-run organizations in Asia, and thus can sometimes apply very strict, Western standards or attitudes when evaluating such firms in my region. Although businesses in Asia and throughout developing countries can sometimes operate very differently from those in developed countries, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re all high risk investments. As we grow, having even more board and senior team members familiar with local contexts would help a lot, I think.
Lastly, I do wish there were more structured training programs and courses – whether internal or outsourced – to help me (and others) become better at our jobs. Given resource constraints, and the relatively immature state of the impact investing industry, most of the learning happens on the job, and by making lots of mistakes, at that.
What were some of the most important experiences that you’ve had that led you to where you are today?
In college, for a class in managerial accounting, I got to be part of a “real world” project to make a cost-accounting system for a public hospital in the Philippines. Our team spent countless hours poring over dusty hospital records, running from one department to another to gather data, and all the while witnessing firsthand the desperate circumstances of impoverished patients and their family members as we walked down the hospital’s corridors. Sitting in front of my Excel sheets, discussing patient treatment costs with my team, presenting our findings and recommendations to the heads of the Department of Health was the first time I realized that what I knew how to do and was good at, could actually make a difference in the lives of people who couldn’t stand up for themselves otherwise.
Since then, I’ve been passionate about helping people make the connection between using their unique skills and resources and making a difference to the world at large. In college, I was one of the founders of the first student-initiated CSR magazine in the Philippines. Our goal was to inspire the next generation of business leaders about the good they could do, by sharing stories about corporations and businesspeople who were creating positive change through various initiatives.
How did you get this job?
A crazy set of coincidences led me to this job. You can ask me about it if we ever meet one day.
Upon finding out about the job, towards the end of December 2008, I sent an email to LGT VP’s managing partner, my current boss, and asked if we could talk. He obliged, and we had a very pleasant 1.5 hour conversation. Though I lacked the work experience and networks they were seeking for the investment manager position at the time, I think there was a real fit in terms of values – and I think he might’ve been impressed by the CSR magazine I created back in college. After that call, I had follow-up interviews with two other senior team members, which also went well.
Shortly after completing my third interview, our managing partner called to offer me a two-month internship, where I would write-up preliminary reviews for several potential investments, and then go on due diligence with him at the end of February. At that time, I could have taken a full-time job with a microfinance ratings agency, a boutique investment bank, or this internship. Because the work seemed more interesting, and I’d had such great calls with these three guys so far, I decided to risk taking the internship.
By the end of February 2009, I’d received an offer from LGT VP. Compared to what I would have made working for a global investment bank, the offer was perhaps between 25-50% of what I would have earned. It’s more than enough to live off of, but you probably won’t be seeing me driving a BMW anytime soon.Our managing partner and I had discussions about this before I joined – we talked about people we knew who said they’d only stay in investment banking or consulting until they were “secure,” but then ended up never leaving because along the way, they acquired a lifestyle that needed even more money to maintain. We talked about “sustainable quality of life,” and what that meant – not just having a lot materially, but getting enough time to rest, to spend time with family and friends, to travel and enjoy life. Most importantly, I guess it means getting to do something you love. For all these reasons, I decided to accept the pay cut and focus on creating more wealth for less-advantaged people.
Since then, it hasn’t always been an easy path to stay on. Financial markets recovered, and my former bosses from investment banking urged me to return. My dad retired in 2010, making me the sole breadwinner for our family (bills have an annoying way of piling up). As I get older, I think more and more about saving up for retirement or health emergencies. To be honest, I’m not sure if I can accept this level of pay for the rest of my life, but I will for as long as I can, because I can’t yet imagine any other work that would fulfill me as holistically as this.
If you had to make trade-offs, do you think they were justified or should it be different for others in the same situation going forward?
To summarize the main trade-offs I’ve mentioned so far: (1) Lower pay, (2) lack of structured training programs, (3) limited physical team interaction and regional infrastructure. Honestly, I think these trade-offs are not so unexpected, given that my company is only about to celebrate its fifth year anniversary. I do think that this will improve for us over time, and that people who join us 2-3 years from now will benefit from what we’ve learned, built up, and gained along the way.
If you had to do it all over again, knowing what you know today, what past choices would you have made differently with regards to your career?
In 2009, I was offered a position as an equity research analyst by a top global investment bank in the Philippines. Back then, I was having so much fun at LGT VP that I couldn’t imagine leaving it behind. Since then, though – especially during tough times, when deal flow was thin, or when I felt like I could learn more in a structured environment or more mature industry – I have looked back at that opportunity, wondering if I shouldn’t have taken that job first to build up my business and financial analysis skills (and bank account balance). But then the grass always seems greener on the other side, doesn’t it?
That said, I do think this job has given me a deeper, more firsthand understanding of social enterprises and impact investing than I ever could have gotten sitting in an office all day. I’d like to think that what I lack in glossiness and polish, I make up for in practical knowledge and humility. One way or another, though, I think I will find a way to gain a bit more commercial sector experience, before either returning to impact investing, business consulting for social impact, or setting up my own enterprise.
If you did not have this job and time/money were not a constraint, what would you ideally like to do?
Honestly, I think I’d like to spend 50% of my time traveling the world and being with my family. In the long-run, I’d still like to find and support social entrepreneurs, but maybe just not with the same intensity as I do with my current job. I’d like to take more time to understand global issues – get a bigger picture view of what’s happening and who’s doing what about it – and see where it would make most sense to devote my resources. Maybe I’d do this by going to school, which would also be a great way to meet new people.
Finally, what advice would you have for others in the Good Generation who are interested in your job or career path?
If you are interested in a career in impact investing or venture philanthropy, you should try to gather the key work experiences needed to be considered for it – business consulting, venture capital, private equity or investment banking, and some development exposure.
Many impact investing firms are quite young, at less than five years old, so bear in mind that these firms usually have very small teams and are barely out of the start-up phase themselves. A certain maturity and entrepreneurial spirit are needed from people who join – it’s really not just about being technically competent and taking home a paycheck at the end of the day. A lot of the infrastructure and resources you take for granted working at a multinational corporation aren’t going to be there when you transition into impact investing. For instance, can you deal with booking your own flights and scanning your own receipts? Doing your own legwork and not having access to thousand-dollar research reports? Learning things on the job because there’s no formal training program? Making mistakes and coming up with creative solutions out of necessity?
Beyond this, you need to check whether your values align with the firm you’re joining – for your sake, and for the sake of the work you are both trying to achieve. What are the most important things to you in life? Impact? Compensation? Time for family? Professional fulfillment? Discuss this with your prospective employer and teammates – see if you stand where they stand. With regards to investments – are you more of an impact-first or finance-first investor? Look through the portfolios of the firms you are considering – do you like the investments they’ve made so far? If at all possible, do an internship with this organization – there are just things you will never learn from the outside looking in.
Good luck, and I hope you find something that makes you happy!