By Rebecca Beyer
When Jessica Feingold Thye ’12 graduated from the Yale School of Management, she had two job offers in hand: one to work on energy policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, and another to work on clean tech and renewable energy investments at an investment bank.
“I felt like I had a pretty special and unique opportunity to be choosing between these two places,” she remembers.
The only problem? Feingold Thye, who earned a joint degree at Yale SOM and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, didn’t want to choose between her commitment to environmental justice and her passion for fast-paced financial deals (she had previously worked as a trader at Goldman Sachs).
Ultimately, she didn’t have to. In 2013, after spending a year at EDF, where she advocated for programs that allow customers to repay loans for renewable electricity and energy efficiency projects through their utility bills, she moved to New Island Capital, a mission-based investment advisory firm that pursues investments that maximize both profit and philanthropic impact.
“I wanted to be somewhere that I could have the discipline and rigor and competitive dynamics that I really like about working in finance in a way that fully aligned with my values,” she says.
Feingold Thye came to Yale envisioning a career in socially responsible investments, drawn by the joint-degree program between SOM and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the first such joint degree in the country. The two merit-based scholarships that she received, the Forté Fellowship and the Michael P. Dowling Scholarship, helped clinch the deal.
“The financial support Yale offered did make a big impact,” she says. “I was paying for graduate school myself, out of savings I had accrued, so every dollar made a big difference. It certainly helped me to think a little more broadly about how to spend my time there and to worry a little bit less about making all the ends meet at the same time.”
“I loved the real-world approach that they offered,” she says, “especially in Policy Modeling: where to best place public services or infrastructure to serve populations that need care.”
Feingold Thye says she uses the skills she learned at Yale almost every day at New Island, where the goal of dealmaking is different than it might be at a firm focused solely on increasing returns.
“We’re not extractive,” she says. “We’re not going to approach a company thinking, ‘What’s the maximum we could earn?’ We’re actually trying to think about what the best outcome is for the company and what’s fair for New Island. That’s pretty cool.”
New Island, headquartered in San Francisco and led by Chief Executive Officer Chris Larson ’09, is a so-called family office, making investments on behalf of a single, anonymous family. The firm’s focus areas are the environment, alternative energy, sustainable agriculture, and communities. Feingold Thye works in the firm’s private credit team, helping direct investments in companies all over the world.
Feingold Thye says most of her investments come to her through word-of-mouth recommendations and that she often works with fellow Yale SOM alumni. One of her early deals at New Island helped support a U.S. solar lending company. At the time, the company had only made a handful of loans; today it is a leading residential solar lender. Another more recent deal involved supporting the expansion of a family-owned creamery in northern California that sources its organic milk from local farmers who prioritize the environment and animal welfare.
“A lot of what attracts New Island to an investment is ‘the how,’” she explains. “How do they do what they do? It’s not that the dairy sector is necessarily high impact, but this is a family-run company with an authentic commitment to sustainability. They have been pioneers in supporting the development of organic dairy in their local community and have longstanding partnerships with family farmers.”