By Rebecca Beyer
Commuting from New York City to the Yale School of Management’s MBA for Executives program every other weekend for two years, Jenny Chan ’18 grew accustomed to getting a lot done on trains.
On that train, she performed some of her duties as a senior investment officer for a philanthropic foundation; read and completed assignments for class; and, one day, after a conversation with two of her Yale SOM classmates on the train, agreed to become, in addition to a full-time employee and student, co-host of a podcast on impact investing.
“It was very much outside my comfort zone,” Chan remembers. “It would never have been my epiphany to do a podcast. But it appealed to me in the sense that the [EMBA] program appealed to me: It would push me, open me up to experiences I otherwise wouldn’t have had.”
Seeking out new challenges is par for the course for Chan, who, as a young child, was granted political asylum and came to the United States from China with her mother and two older brothers (Chan’s father immigrated a few years ahead of the rest of the family). Chan worked at her family’s Chinese restaurant on Long Island; won a scholarship to finish high school at the Loomis Chaffee School after her family moved to Connecticut; and secured an internship at Salomon Smith Barney during her senior year at New York University, where she was a finance and accounting major. After a career that included stints as an analyst on Wall Street and at a quantitative-focused hedge fund on the West Coast, she moved into the nonprofit world. She now serves as senior vice president and chief investment officer at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“I need to be in an environment where I’m constantly learning,” Chan says.
The podcast Chan co-hosted while a student, co-created by Kodjo Adovor ’18 and Kristina Whyte ’18, was called Impact on Record. Chan says recording the episodes was “nerve wracking” and a major time commitment in an already very busy schedule. “While our classmates were doing fun things on Saturday nights, we were in the studio,” she laughs. But the show was also a way for Chan to continue cultivating a personal and professional interest in impact investing, which aims to produce positive social or environmental results in addition to profits. Chan’s interest in the field developed over time during her pre-EMBA career but became more focused when she was asked to present on the topic for her then-employer, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
In the context of a philanthropic organization, “it just made sense to me,” she says. “If there were areas that we could invest endowment dollars—not just grant dollars—that would help further our mission, why wouldn’t we do that?”
Chan’s decision to enroll in the MBA for Executives program with a focus on sustainability was part of an effort to deepen her understanding of impact investing as a field, and the podcast was a major part of that process.
Over the course of two years, Chan and her co-hosts—both students in the MBA for Executives program’s asset management area of focus—put together 17 episodes with notable impact investors, including Kesha Cash of the Impact America fund; Karl “Charly” Kleissner, an early pioneer of impact investing; and John Denniston, a former senior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In 2018, Chan, Adovor, and Whyte also launched Yale SOM’s first-ever Impact Investing Conference (the third annual conference is scheduled for October), which featured keynote addresses by Sir Ronald Cohen, former chair of the G8’s Social Impact Investment Taskforce, and Clara Miller, who was appointed to the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund by President Clinton. Another speaker, Yale SOM lecturer Cary Krosinsky, has been a mentor for Chan in the impact investing space.
“He is a big reason why I believe in impact investing’s potential to change what capitalism means in the 21st century,” she says.
Chan says the conference was a highlight of her time at Yale SOM, especially because of the support she and her co-founders received from the school’s International Center for Finance and its faculty director, Professor William N. Goetzmann. When she sat down with Goetzmann, whom she didn’t know personally, to discuss the idea for the conference, he immediately signed on to help.
“It didn’t even take the duration of our conversation for him to say, ‘This all sounds great. What do you need?’” she recalls. “It was such an extraordinary experience.”
Chan says SOM’s leadership development curriculum was particularly impactful. She was able to apply what she was learning about organizational and communication tools in real time when she returned to the office after her alternate weekend and four week-long residencies at SOM.
“Even when you’re part of a small team that you’ve known for a long time, there are still ways to improve the team dynamic,” she says. “I found that to be quite powerful.”
Chan helped pave the way for impact investing at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation before she left in 2018 to head up the investment office at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), which has an endowment of almost $3 billion in assets. She says one of her priorities so far has been building a diverse team focused on risk-adjusted performance and managing against permanent loss of capital.
“That’s the type of opportunity that doesn’t come along very often, and when it does, you just have to grab it,” she says. “Coming to such a reputable hospital with a wonderful mission that I strongly believe in is incredibly motivating.”
Eventually, she hopes to implement more impact investing strategies at CHOP. “Do I see a scenario where we would be doing more investing around biotech and healthcare services, which are aligned with what we do at the hospital? Yes,” she says. In the meantime, her job is to “maximize performance relative to risk.”
Chan says her experience at SOM was “transformative” and helped prepare her for her current role—in part because of her classmates’ high level of “collective commitment and energy,” despite having full-time jobs and other personal and professional responsibilities outside the classroom.
“Succeeding in a program like that while you have so many other demands on your life, you come out on the other side a better person, a better manager, and a better teammate,” she says. “It was very encouraging to have this group of accomplished, good people who really understood what you were going through. A lot of the success I was able to take away is a credit to the amazing class I had.”
Interviewed on January 23, 2020