Q&A: Kyle J. Johnson, Investment Consultant, Cambridge Associates

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Describe your career path.

I began as a physics and astrophysics major, and switched to comparative religion, graduating from Harvard. Afterward, I taught religion at Milton Academy in Boston, and later went to Harvard Divinity School. There, I became fascinated with applied ethics. I was interested in the intersection of finance and ethical issues, and various courses I took in graduate school turned me on to thinking about the role of the investor in ensuring positive social and environmental outcomes in the marketplace. I joined KLD Research and Analytics, working as a social and environmental research analyst. I then chaired the Domini 400 Social Index, which was the first benchmark index constructed using environmental, social, and governance criteria. It's a socially screened index that's analogous to the S&P 500. That led me to join Domini Social Investments as head of institutional sales. It was there that I learned about Cambridge Associates, which was looking to deepen its work with mission-related and social investors who seek to incorporate social and environmental considerations into their investment decisions. I've been with the firm since 2005. I like the role of being an unbiased advisor. For instance, we can look at what mission-related investing does well, and note where there may be other ways to address the issues of interest to these investors.

Describe your role at Cambridge Associates.

I have two roles. First, I serve as a client-facing consultant, working with a range of organizations on asset allocation and manager selection. These clients include families and large not-for-profits, such as foundations, hospitals, and religious organizations, as well as some pension funds. Some of these groups have social or mission-related investment mandates and some don't. Secondly, I work on our mission-related investment team, where our goal is to help clients make informed decisions about mission-related investing and help them achieve their social or mission-related investment goals. We are also a resource for consultants in the firm who work with clients who have mission-related investment interests. I've written two papers for clients on the subject of social investing and attend client meetings to help them with their investment strategy on a regular basis.

What is a typical day like for you?

Each workday is part of a broad cycle, built around quarterly client meetings. Early in the quarter I begin to plan and think about how clients should be positioned in terms of asset allocation and manager selection. Throughout the quarter I try to stay on top of our market research to assess valuation opportunities. I also review investment manager performance or organizational developments to see whether we need to make any changes in my clients' portfolios. I work with several client teams and meet with them frequently to prepare for our upcoming meetings. We produce materials for our clients, which will be used to support the arguments and recommendations we'll propose at meetings. Once the meetings have passed and depending on the type of client relationship, my teams and I work to make sure that the decisions made at the meetings are executed. I produce a lot of written material -- executive summaries, commentaries on managers I have met with, and memos on mission-related investing. I'll also meet with money managers that may be of interest to mission-related clients in an effort to determine which ones merit deeper consideration.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students or aspiring investment consultants?

Investment consulting is a fascinating mix of developing strong analytic fluency with mathematics and investment concepts, coupled with an ability to clearly articulate these concepts to clients. A big part of the job is being able to communicate an investment thesis to a client. You need to be a good writer and good speaker or teacher. A lot of what I do is about teaching. It's an interesting combination of working with numbers, managing committees, and communicating concepts well. So, my background happened to be very transferable as being a teacher and working with numbers has been especially helpful in my work.

What skills are most important to be successful in investment consulting?

Having an understanding of financial and investment principles is critical. Any familiarity with the different asset classes or valuation models will help. Also, it's important to be able to communicate clearly with others about ideas as they can be complicated. Half of the battle is making sure the committee you are working with understands what it is you are recommending that they do. To work in mission-related or socially responsible investing I personally think it's helpful to be fluent in economic theory. You need to constantly be reading economic and market literature, and have a passion for capital markets. I truly enjoy reading the vast amounts of materials we have and learning about how markets work.