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John Quarterman, General Counsel, New Island Capital Management

John Quarterman, General Counsel, New Island Capital Management

February 7, 2021

Tell us how you got into the “mission-driven” world and what you love about the work? New Island is a pioneering impact investment firm, which means that we seek a market or above-market risk-adjusted rate of return on invested capital, while investing almost exclusively in businesses that are dedicated to creating positive social, community and environmental change. We seek to use private investment capital to help create social and environmental change at scale.

I had a traditional background and training as a corporate lawyer, specializing primarily in private debt and equity investments. My professional work has always been challenging and intellectually stimulating, and being something of a “deal junkie”, I have always enjoyed the work. Nevertheless, I have always aspired to engage in professional work that served a higher and deeper purpose than simply enabling corporate clients to achieve higher profits. I have always had a strong interest in social and environmental issues. Throughout my career I have tried to take on pro bono projects and engage in volunteer community work, but almost all of my paid professional work was for purely profit-driven and return-seeking investors and organizations.

Around 2007, I started working for Applied Materials, supporting its corporate business development team and venture capital investment arm. At the time, Applied was making a significant corporate investment in the solar energy space, and I spent most of my time involved with investments in solar energy technology and the financing of utility scale solar energy projects (which was relatively new at the time). At about the same time, my wife began working for Social Capital Markets, an organization which brings together academics, nonprofit organizations, private investors and social entrepreneurs and which produces the annual SOCAP conference, one of the largest and most important conferences in the impact investing world. A strong background in private investments, combined with my work in solar energy finance and my wife’s involvement with SOCAP, was apparently enough to persuade New Island to take a chance on me as an impact investment lawyer.

I’m incredibly grateful to be able to do the work that I do at New Island. Working at New Island has given me the opportunity to bring my whole self into my professional life. We work on a wide variety of complex, sophisticated investments, to which I apply all of my training, experience and expertise, but impact is always at the core of what we do, so I get to bring my deepest personal values into my work. Instead of simply serving to boost my clients’ financial bottom line, I get to spend my days on projects involving things like affordable housing, renewable energy, regenerative land use and economic inclusion. My personal and professional satisfaction is through the roof.

What are your thoughts on leading, mentoring, and collaborating with your team? I am fortunate to have people on my team who have the desire and the willingness to put in the effort to become excellent lawyers, and it is a great privilege and responsibility for me to work with this talented group and provide such training and guidance as I can offer. I want the members of my team to know that I care deeply about their personal and professional growth, and they can count on my support at all times. I have very high standards and expectations for my team, and our jobs are not easy. We work hard on really complex and sophisticated matters, often under very tight deadlines, with deal teams that can sometimes be extremely demanding. So, I also want to help my team keep our work in perspective. We can be really good at our work and maybe not take ourselves too seriously. We can strive to achieve a healthy work-life balance. We can remember that our families and personal relationships take precedence. We can care about each other and even have fun with one another. And because my colleagues care so passionately about the mission of our organization, I ask my team to constantly remind themselves of the amazing impact outcomes that we are facilitating through our work. Very few corporate lawyers have the opportunity we have to work full time on large-scale projects that address so many fundamental social and environmental problems in such a meaningful and beneficial way.  My team can and should be proud of what our work is accomplishing.

What have you found to be the most challenging personally and professionally since the start of the pandemic? Here’s something I never thought I would say before the pandemic: I miss the office. Like many people, I find the days full of Zoom meetings to be exhausting. I miss the easy and informal collaboration that would occur naturally and routinely when we were all in the office together. Colleagues who used to simply drop by my office to discuss issues they were working on now are kind of reluctant to call, either because they are worried about disturbing me or because it is such a pain to set up a call. I am really looking forward to seeing my colleagues again in three dimensions.

What advice and tips could you offer for those passionate about joining a mission-driven company? There are two main things that seem kind of obvious and trite, but they’re really important. First, for newer lawyers especially, it is critical to develop the skills that a mission-driven company needs. Learn as much as you can about the things you would be passionate working on. If you want to work on renewable energy or affordable housing, then become an expert on how renewable projects or affordable housing developments are financed. If you want to be an impact investment lawyer, first become a really good investment lawyer. Second, if you have a passion for mission, then go follow your passion. There are so many social and environmental problems – all over the world and in every community – that are crying out for intelligent, well trained, analytical problem solvers. There are dozens of organizations, many in your own backyard, full of like-minded people who are looking for your help to address the problems that you care about. Go volunteer your time, talent and expertise. Become involved. You will get to meet and work with wonderful people who will inspire you and who share your passion. Perhaps this community involvement will lead you to find a mission-driven company that you want to work with full time, but even if this is not the case, the time you spend with your chosen community will be fulfilling in and of itself. The world needs you; your community needs you.