Mission Markets Musings: Rob Thomas

Apr 1, 2011 4:34 PM ET

Mission Markets Blog

I realized Michael Van Patten was following me after the third conference. 

Social Venture Network, Slow Money Gathering, and SRI In The Rockies are all conferences I have attended for quite some time.  The beauty of these conferences is the opportunity to network with like-minded members of our community.  Michael is the founder and president of Mission Markets, and we soon sat down together to learn more about each other’s business.   

To say Michael is enthusiastic would be a gross understatement.  He radiates a passion for his work. Mission Markets is an active and robust community marketplace for impact investments of all kinds. I heard Michael out for an hour, and when he finally stopped for a breath I chimed in. I told him that Mission Markets is much like Social(k), in that we are both building investment products to fulfill a demand for conscientious investing--a demand that has reached critical mass. Our two businesses also took root in the same community of innovators who are looking for investments that make more than one kind of return.

Roughly put, Social(k) and Mission Markets put investors’ money to good work on the two opposite ends of the investment spectrum. Mission Markets fuels the growth of new firms, and Social(k) provides a place for employees of those firms to save and grow their money...where it can, in turn, grow the market more. It’s sustainable investment that sustains itself.

Social(k) offers organizations a chance to provide employees a way to learn about Triple Bottom Line accounting, Environmental, Social and Governance screens, and saving money for another day.  Matching the investments in a retirement plan with the overall culture of the organization makes a huge difference to the employees, and grows the market share of sustainable business. Imagine a natural vitamin company asking employees to pick a fund heavy with Monsanto, or one loaded with Pfizer.  Now imagine that same employee realizing they could invest in funds like Portfolio 21 as opposed to The Vice Fund. Let’s take a look at the difference between those funds, from the managers’ mouths:

From Portfolio 21’s website:

Portfolio 21 invests in companies designing ecologically superior products, using renewable energy, and developing efficient production methods. Portfolio 21 companies seek to prosper in the 21st Century by recognizing environmental sustainability as a fundamental human challenge and a tremendous business opportunity.

By contrast, the manager of The Vice Fund spoke gleefully to the AP of how he’s taking advantage of a dying demand for holdings in predatory companies. (Some of these quotes are so sinister that they may sound made up, but check the article out yourself.) Here is a highlight reel of his answer to the AP’s questions:

Were you at all reluctant to manage the fund because of its focus on sin stocks?

Not at all [...]These are stocks with the (financial) characteristics everybody says they want, and we're getting them at a discount. That's because certain people don't want to own them.
Your top holding, at about 12 percent of the fund's assets, is Philip Morris. What do you find attractive about one of the world's largest tobacco companies?

Philip Morris has international tobacco exposure, which is still growing. In emerging markets, people are smoking more, and they're going for brand name cigarettes.

Why have you cut back on gaming stocks?

Because gaming companies hold so much debt, and their U.S. growth prospects are limited.

We at Social(k) and Mission Markets are happy to welcome the rush of “certain people” who decided they have had enough of owning a stake in sin. We’ll happily welcome ex-Vice Fund investors when governments in foreign countries ban things like advertising Marlboro to children and reduce Philip Morris’s growth more and more. The message is clear: Gambling is so 20th century, and its growth prospects are limited.

Sustainable growth is, by nature, limitless.

To succeed in business is a challenge and a thrill. To see that, finally, the success of our sector is flying in the face of the old Gordon Gecko guard, that’s a milestone. I love that my client list reads like a who’s who in the Progressive world, and that we are all growing together.

As I became more familiar with Mission Markets’ clients, it became clear we were going to work together in some way. Many Social(k) clients can use a service that helps bring investment dollars, free up shareholder positions as needed, and, after they succeed, invest in some of the most exciting opportunities coming to market today. Mission Markets provides all that.

As I said before, the need for a marketplace for our community has been at critical mass for awhile. The work to bring this concept to life was challenging to say the least.  It’s a good thing Michael does not need sleep.

The team at Mission Markets is deep with talent and experience.  To think I could add value to that group was a little intimidating.  But I have been here before.  In March 1998 I was introduced to Bill Guerin, father of the  NHL hockey star of the same name.  Bill ran one of the most successful PaineWebber offices in the country, Hartford CT.   The team, or teams, of talented people Bill had assembled was literally of legend.  Ask any Kidder Peabody or PaineWebber manager about Bill Guerin, and pull up a chair.  I never looked back.  April 1st 1998 was my greatest April Fools Prank.  In that office, there only two weeks - trainee, we still laugh.  I spent 11 years there with four of the best teams in the UBS system, developed and own Social(k), and still thank them for the opportunity.   So here I am again.  A little different path to common project, with a great team.

- Rob Thomas, Mission Markets Relationship Manager


Mission Markets:
Mission Markets operates transaction platforms facilitating transactions within the social and environmental capital markets. The Mission Markets investment platform provides companies and organizations with access to funding and impact investors an efficient way to evaluate, invest in and monitor sustainable investment opportunities. If you are an accredited or institutional investor or social or environmental company seeking capital, click here to become a founding member.