The definition of success is relative. Matthew Patsky, CEO & Portfolio Manager at Trillium Asset Management, states that our legacies will not be measured by how much money we made or how many possessions we collected, but rather how much we impacted the lives of others. And Matt hopes that he is remembered for leaving the world a better place.
The greatest life lessons come from failure. For Matt, this was when he launched a small food business with his husband. While that business failed, it taught him more than he’s ever learned in school. The reality they learned from their venture is that having the best idea isn’t always enough; one needs financing and the best people to operate. Without capital and good people, even the best ideas don’t make it. “Look to any business idea—for instance, when internet retailing began, one of the dumbest ideas I’d ever heard was that you could sell books for 40% off retail, offer free shipping, and still make money. You couldn’t. But they had the people and the financing and changed the business model over time to offer more than just books. In the end, the business model evolved into AWS, which brings in most of Amazon’s earnings today. It won, crushing many better ideas in internet retailing at a time which never had the financing to compete with Amazon,” he explains.
Journey As a Business Leader
As a young man, Matt took a job as an administrative assistant at Lehman Brothers on the 101st floor of 2 World Trade Center. Within 3 years, he was promoted to Assistant VP of Equity Research. While there, he discovered that Lehman was open to letting you do as much as you wanted to do. Within his first year, Matt created and published a research publication on behalf of his team.
“I realized that Lehman encouraged professional development, so I registered for the CFA program and took every licensing exam that I could. By age 22, I had obtained the necessary registrations to manage not only the department but the firm—and I was an admin assistant in the research department. So, I convinced my boss to let me print business cards that read ‘Research Assistant’,” he says. He focused on the job that he wanted while still performing at the job that he had. His strategy was to take advantage of every educational benefit he could find and make himself invaluable to the organization.
“What’s the secret to achieving professional success? Working hard and making yourself useful,” explains Matt. “You can go as far as you want, as fast as you want—finance is an industry where there is always more to do and there’s always more to learn. One of the main things you do in finance is trying to predict the future—it can be fun, it can be challenging, but it will always be busy.”
The Growth and Contribution of Trillium In The Industry
Trillium was a pioneer in the investment management industry, believing that it was possible to incorporate values into the investment process without sacrificing return or increasing volatility. Since 1982, Trillium has been a leader in demonstrating the materiality of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in the investment process. Matt’s contribution was to leverage this legacy into the institutional market, and Trillium’s business has grown almost tenfold since he took the helm in 2009. Today, the broad investment industry has adopted the integration of ESG as a requirement of honoring fiduciary duty.
To motivate his employees, Matt keeps people focused on the mission of the organization―specifically, leveraging clients’ capital for positive social and environmental impact. He also tries to make sure people are aware of the work they’re doing towards creating a more equitable, green, and sustainable planet.
The Future of Trillium
Matt states that Trillium is in the process of “going global.” Having completed their fastest year of growth ever, the firm continues to see increasing demand for its services. Last year, they successfully launched two of their strategies in Australia and by the end of 2022, they expect to launch strategies in Europe as well.
The Journey & Responsibilities of A CEO
Matt was born to a blue-collar Catholic family in the working-class town of Enfield, Connecticut. “My mom and dad married right out of high school and had four kids in four years. My dad worked two jobs and my mom worked one. From early on, we were latchkey kids, letting ourselves in after school while our parents were at work,” he says. Matt started working at quite an early age. By age 11 in 1974, he had saved enough to invest—$500, which was the minimum investment for a mutual fund at the time. He had an incredible curiosity about how investing impacted the broader world. He ordered a large number of prospectuses and narrowed his decision down between two funds which he felt best addressed how he should invest: the Pax Fund and the Dreyfus Third Century Fund (DTCF). After much consideration he invested $500 in DTCF which was his first foray into socially responsible investing. What intrigued him most about DTCF was that it seemed to have captured the objective of investing for the future while avoiding companies that were doing harm.
During his high school and college years, Matt decided to go into economic development. His goal was to end poverty. However, after graduation, it was impossible to get a job, so he turned to his second passion: Investing. But Matt quickly learned the harsh reality of how the world worked: Connections were everything. You didn’t get a job by merely applying; you needed someone to introduce you. He learned to be both persistent and patient, going through his alumni directory page-by-page and writing to every graduate of his university who worked on Wall Street.
Matt eventually secured an interview with the man who would be his early mentor, John S. Bain, and got his start in the industry at Lehman While there, he quickly learned that there was an incredible connection between the quality of management and the performance of companies. Early in his career as an analyst, he started asking companies questions about their environmental and social impact. “You could identify weaker management teams as those that didn’t have answers and looked at you as if you had asked the most bizarre and inconsequential questions they’d ever heard. So this is when I started to incorporate ESG factors into my research—a novel idea on 1980s Wall Street,” he explains.
Matt recalls his supervisor at the time stating, “Matt, it’s nice that you care about these issues; if you don’t stop, it will destroy your career.” At that moment, he faced the challenge of deciding whether he was committed to the field of socially responsible investing. That moment changed the trajectory of his career.
Matt, who defines himself as a persistent person, was named by Barron’s as one of the “20 most influential people in ESG investing” in 2018.
Matt’s responsibilities as the CEO of Trillium include ensuring the firm is honoring its mission to provide for the financial needs of its clients while leveraging their capital for positive social and environmental impact in alignment with their values. “I also focus on maintaining a positive
environment and culture for our employees. This entails hiring talented people and empowering them to make decisions,” states Matt.
Balance In Personal and Professional Life & Personal Goals
Matt and his husband prioritize taking breaks to travel. They enjoy getting to Cape Cod often on weekends. “I can feel my blood pressure go down as soon as we cross into the Cape. I tried to work from home on Fridays even before the pandemic,” he says.
Matt explains that his personal goal is to bring Trillium global and leave the firm with the reputation of being the “go-to” organization for impact investing around the world. His message to aspiring business leaders is to focus on what you’re passionate about and ignore all the naysayers. Everyone who’s ever come up with something new or operated outside the box has had moments of doubt caused by others telling you why your new idea or product won’t work—believe in yourself.