Yale School of Management

Thomas Mehl ’17

Post-MAM Position: Cape Almonds & Folium Capital

Growing up on a cattle farm in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, led me to increasingly recognize the need for food security amidst global factors such as rising pandemics and climate change. I used that experience to help launch a private equity structure for African agricultural investments at a hedge fund in the United Kingdom. There were clearly opportunities for investment into African agriculture through greenfield and brownfield developments. Several years later I attended the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business to expose myself to different industries and people from diverse backgrounds. As young South Africans, we have to acknowledge our history and take on the responsibility of building a more inclusive economy. Therefore, after several years of direct practical investment experience, an MBA, and time working in Australia, I decided to start my own almond business, with the support of strategic partners.

When I wanted to dig a bit deeper into natural resources, I discovered the MAM: the perfect opportunity to augment the MBA by adding a year at Yale to specialize in forestry-related subjects that I knew would be vital for my career. I had worked on investing in natural resources for an Ivy League university endowment, but I appreciated that I needed to know more about the timber and forestry industries. The MAM allowed me to connect those pieces together with the agricultural industry. I spent much of my time here at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The professors have been beyond outstanding. Yale not only gave me deeper academic rigor, but also allowed me see how my peers think through nuanced challenges and how they execute their business ideas.

I had an opportunity to work on the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, looking at innovative and environmentally conscious startups. It wasn’t just another job; it was an opportunity to learn and experience something that is tangibly connected to the project work I am interested in. Assignments here intersect with real-life projects. For example, I worked as a consultant on a potential big-leaf mahogany plantation in Hawaii. The Foundation explained, “We have our reservations about whether this timber species can actually work here financially,” and asked me to not only develop several scenarios, but also give them alternative solutions. For me, that’s what makes the MAM practical: you can leverage these projects as part of your coursework and gain valuable experience at the same time.

Interviewed on August 11, 2017

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