Episode #41: Today, we’re joined by Claire Veuthey, of the Executive MBA class of 2019. She shares with us her multinational background and influences that led her to pursue a career helping investors better integrate environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) factors into their decisions.
Studied international relations in Geneva
Went on to King’s College in London for her Master’s in War Studies and Conflict
Transitioned into a career in Environmental, Social, and Governance consulting and investing in the private sector
Shares why she came to Haas to move from corporate impact investing to venture impact investing
She looks back at her favorite moment with her Executive MBA class
“Identities are not exclusive, there’s a lot of and’s and not necessarily a lot of or’s.” – Claire Veuthey
Check out our blog article about Claire here.
[00:00:00] Sean: Welcome to the one Haas alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li, and today we’re joined by Clare Veuthey from the MBA for Executives program. She’s a recent graduate from Haas School of Business and in case you’re wondering where her last name is from it’s Swiss. Claire has worked in impact investing for 12 years serving in numerous roles in multiple countries. Her roles included research investment product, and business development spanning across cities like Geneva, London, Toronto, Singapore, Amsterdam and San Francisco. Today she is a venture partner and next gen venture partners, and she is always looking for interesting startups with a positive social or environmental impact. Claire also has a master’s degree from King’s College in London and a license from the University of Geneva. Some fun side notes. She speaks French, Spanish and a little Mandarin and dumplings our favorite comfort food.
[00:00:54] We’re so glad to have you on the show today.
[00:00:57] Claire: Thanks, Sean. Happy to be here.
[00:01:00] Sean: So, Claire, we met actually through a Haas classmate, Esmond Ai. Right?
[00:01:06] Claire: That’s right.
[00:01:07] Sean: I was exploring venture capital at the time. This was actually last fall. It felt like forever ago.
[00:01:13] But before we dive into your extensively long list of experiences, can you give us your origin story or you’re from and what you did before Haas?
[00:01:27] Claire: I grew up in a very multicultural household, and my parents love to tell this story from when I was a kid. People would ask me where I was from, my sister and I, and we’d say, we’re half Chinese, half American, half Swiss and half Argentinian. Obviously, this is before we knew fractions. All this to say there were a lot of different cultural influences in the house, a lot of different languages and people from all over the place. I grew up in Washington, DC. Both my parents spent their entire careers at the world bank. And I pick that up and kind of took it with me. So, I went to college in Switzerland. I did my master’s degree in London.
[00:02:05] I spent a couple of years in Toronto after that. Moved to Singapore on a little bit of a whim. In 2010, I spent six months in Amsterdam, went back to Singapore, and then moved to San Francisco. So, I’ve moved a lot, mostly on my own. And then I married an Indian guy, so we have a couple set of cultures, or at least a big complex one in the house.
[00:02:27] I think what it taught me really early on is that identities are not exclusive; there’s a lot of ends and not necessarily a lot of ors. Many of these things can overlap pretty harmoniously or depending on the moment.
[00:02:42] You don’t have to fit neatly in one box.
[00:02:44] Sean: What’s inspired you to go to school in Switzerland? Were you born and raised in Washington DC?
[00:02:51] Claire: I was, yeah. So, neither of my parents is originally American. My mom has since been naturalized and slight tangent. I was very proud of the first thing she did after she got her citizenship was go volunteer for the Obama campaign. So it was nice. My parents are classic immigrants in a sense, they’re very grateful for what America has given them and allowed them to do. They did well. They had lots of good opportunities. They made amazing friends. I think they met each other and had a life that would have been less likely somewhere else.
[00:03:22] But, the US in many ways is also quite insular, I think because perhaps it’s so big and diverse. They really wanted my sister and I to get exposure to living somewhere else and being able to have a little bit of an outside perspective on the US and the way they decided to implement that was by pushing us to go to college outside of the US so.
[00:03:41] You know how I got to Switzerland is a bit of a contorted path and not a particularly enlightened one. But my brother was there; my grandmother and uncle were there. I had close family in Geneva. I spoke French, was Swiss citizen. It made the administrative part fairly smooth. So, I moved to Geneva at 18 when all of my friends were going to liberal arts schools and entered a very different system. I’m a little lost, but you know, the point is that, assistant change in order to have a little perspective on the one I came from.
[00:04:10] Sean: And what’d you study there?
[00:04:12] Claire: International relations. I did a multidisciplinary degree in political science, econ, international law and history.
[00:04:20] More of these multiple perspectives approach, which again, is now seems very funny and obvious, but at the time, I loved it because the four disciplines were taught completely separately. But we would end up covering some of the same events from these totally different perspectives.
[00:04:35] And it was a really helpful process to get a bit of a holistic view and see how an economic imperative might be very different from a legal approach to the same problem or, or actually a political one.
[00:04:45] Sean: So, what’d you do after that?
[00:04:46] Claire: I went to grad school. I was, candidly, not very imaginative on my part. I think I just kept going and got a master’s degree at Kings College in London, in the similar field, with a much cooler title. So, the department was called the war studies department.
[00:05:00] But I studied conflict security and development. So many of the same issues, but focused on, mainly civil wars in mostly emerging economies, which is frankly most of the wars except for US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq since decolonization.
[00:05:18] Sean: How did you go from that to going into ESG?
[00:05:21] Claire: ESG is a clunky acronym that’s emerged and hopefully will eventually get replaced by some better words, but it stands for environmental, social, and governance. It’s essentially a catch all used in the investment industry for things that don’t fall into information you get from financial statements. So, if you think about what ESG encompasses there, essentially it covers the same issues as what I was studying in my degree, right? It was questions of human rights, environmental degradation. My studies had focused on government as a central actor, and ESG and corporate responsibility really look at the company as a central actor, but the outcomes and the topics you’re looking at, and some of the metrics are the same.
[00:06:06] So it ended up being a fairly smooth shift. I think what happened was that in between my undergraduate and my graduate degree, I did a couple of internships. I essentially took, uh, the year ended up little cycle of internships around the UN. In Geneva and was pretty quickly frustrated with how dull the work was.
[00:06:25] Know, of course, candidly, I was 23 had almost no work experience, like didn’t have that much to bring. So, it’s definitely some hubris on my part on what I expected to do. But, Switzerland’s pretty conservative in a lot of ways. And it felt to me at the time that I’d have to like phone it in for 10 years before I could do anything interesting and working on corporate responsibility issues felt like, again, the same issues that motivated me in the first place. But in a private sector organization where there’d be some dynamics and focused on the bottom line, which I think is a fairly primitive measurement of performance, but it’s has the benefit of being very clearly understood and very widely shared.
[00:07:06] So I moved into that after grad school, after doing a little bit of consulting, kind of into research, essentially evaluating companies on ESG issues for an investor audience.
[00:07:17] Sean: So, what led you to hire through Executive MBA?
[00:07:19] Claire: I have spent my entire career really in ESG investing. I’ve played almost every role there is. I started out, as I mentioned, doing research on companies. I moved to selling the research. I moved to a buy-side team with investment management shop, working with financial analysts on selecting companies, and I felt a little stuck.
[00:07:41] I really liked the space I was in and I wasn’t ready to go two years without a paycheck, but I wasn’t looking to make a really big shift in my career in terms of a completely other function or a totally different industry.
[00:07:51] I wanted to move forward, but I felt like I was missing a big, kind of theoretical underpinning of business. I wanted a bit more of a Bay area network, and Haas actually was the best. Clearly by far and away the best fit in terms of things I wanted. Right. So, a solid business education, I should say is historical focus on sustainability. Corporate responsibility issue was a big driver. I felt like in my day to day work, I was already sort of the local tree hugger. And there was a period where I thought, well, you know, if I want to go change the corporate world in the investment world, that’s what I need to do every day. But it felt a little exhausting to think about doing that in the classroom and at work. I liked the idea of being around folks who at least would, were more likely to be inclined or open to those issues.
[00:08:42] Also my boss at the time was a lecturer at Haas, and had a lot of good things to say about Haas and really had me come speak in his class once or twice. I met a couple of students.
[00:08:51] So it was a pretty warm introduction to Haas in particular and then I ended up picking the executive program cause it fit, by then I had whatever, 12 years of work experience, I felt like that was about the right fit for what I wanted from the MBA.
[00:09:05] Sean: I see. Well, I mean, you’ve been out of Haas now. What are some ways you’ve been able to engage with Haas still? I know you audited this science of productivity class. What other ways have you really taken advantage of the Haas network?
[00:09:22] Claire: In many big and small ways? So, I’ve continued to rely on some of the formal resources.
[00:09:27] I still regularly have coaching calls with the coaches mainly assigned to the executive program. Luke Kreinberg, who’s great, and he’s been very helpful. In my job search, in my interview prep, he’s been really great. The friends I’ve made and the network, which is somehow both friendly and professional, has been an amazing resource. I’ve found people to be really good sounding boards and in that they’ll be honest with me, but I know that they have my interests at heart, so they don’t have an agenda beyond me doing well or the best I can. But they also don’t want me to be delusional.
[00:10:05] So they will be really candid with me in ways that are extremely valuable and frankly, rare to find. Right? It’s hard to find folks who will be, who know you well, who will be frank to your face. Cause often those relationships are at stake. And in this case, the relationship hasn’t been formed with that expectation is that we are here for each other including ways that may not be socially the easiest. That’s been hugely valuable.
[00:10:28] Sean: You know, I’m really curious to ask, what was your path right before coming to Haas, during Haas, and now after Haas.
[00:10:37] Claire: Because I’d always been in the same field, I felt pretty set. I still feel pretty set. There’s a lot to like about my broader industry. I think my professional aspirations with the program and activities on the side was to get myself to a different part of the same industry.
[00:10:54] We’ve talked about this, right? I’m really interested in moving to an impactful focused venture firm. I’ve been doing impact focused investing for a long time, but not in venture, which is kind of its own special flavor of investing.
[00:11:07] Sean: Can you explain a little bit more about the differences between what you were doing before in impact investing versus what you’re going into now? In the impact investing venture space?
[00:11:20] Claire: Sure. Yeah. And I’m glad you asked because I think to anyone outside of this space, they sound exactly the same. So, it’s the tyranny of small differences, right? I think, so what I spent the first decade of my career doing, was working in public markets, which is either researching, creating data, selling the research, or using the research to invest in public companies. So, stocks and bonds, essentially, with an environmental and social lens. What that means is, not only looking at the financials, of course the typically that was left to a different analyst.
[00:11:59] It means looking at a company’s environmental footprint there, governance around how they engage with communities, customers, their employees. It’s a historically has been a very qualitative look at companies. Increasingly there’s more data to make it a little bit more quantitative, but it’s looking at things that, again, you are not going to show up in a financial statement, at least not directly, but are probably almost immediately adjacent to some of the financial issues that you care about as a fundamental analyst.
[00:12:26] Then that was usually the interesting bit, if you could find information that undermine their messaging somewhere else, or if there were risks and that they weren’t out lighting, but that we could predict from our understanding of social issues and markets those were useful conversations with my colleagues.
[00:12:42] Sean: So as for example, as the head of ESG, right? A position that you held, do you guys proactively look at companies where there’s an opportunity for them to be more sustainable or environmentally friendly and invest in them and try to push them that direction. Or is that, you know, you look at your portfolio of investments and then think about how you can influence the existing investments like, how does your role work there?
[00:13:11] Claire: Yeah. all of the above. There’s a pre-investment you examine companies and make sure you’re not picking the worst ones, right. Even on the SG side. So, there is a little bit of a filtering mechanism. Once you’ve invested in the company, hopefully you’re picking companies that are great performers; are some of the best performers on ESG issues, but there’s always, you know, no company is perfect.
[00:13:35] So there’s always issues that to press on and emerging issues that come up, right? Data privacy and cyber security was thought to be an issue only for banks and tech companies even five or 10 years ago. But now it’s clearly a company problem. If you have anything digital, which every company should have now, then you need to be worried about customer, proprietary data payments, et cetera. So, there’s the pre-investment piece. There’s the holding period, right? When you hold the companies, you can push them to be better, make sure that they’re on top of emerging issues. And so, to your point, there are some investors who go the other way, right?
[00:14:11] They pick companies that are maybe great fundamentally, but not doing great on ESG and invest in them as an opportunity to push them, thinking that it will help boost returns and improve the business. There’s another way to do it, which doesn’t involve necessarily interacting with the company as much, which is, inserting those elements into valuation work and essentially the fundamental work. So, let’s say you can tell from the ESG analysis that a company’s supply chain operations are choppy, not very smooth, that could, cast a shadow on the business. That might change how you value it, right? It might change your terminal multiple. I might change how as an analyst you think their strategy is going to play out in terms of growth opportunities.
[00:14:51] Sean: Makes a lot of sense. I mean, hearing you talk about terminal multiples, right? And, knowing your background in international studies and conflict, where along the way did you learn?
[00:15:06] Claire: Yeah. Good question. I mean, I’ve worked in this space the whole time, so a lot of it is stuff I just picked up on the fly because I was interacting with investors and kind of had to educate myself about what they cared about. There was a crucial component of sitting being part of an investment team, right?
[00:15:20] Even if it wasn’t my work to build the DCF for the DDM, I had to sit with those analysts and say, well, here’s what I’m seeing from the industry point of view. Can we walk through your model and see if like, does this change any of your assumptions? It goes back to why did the MBA bid is that there were pieces, there were concepts I understood in the context in which I operated, but I felt like I needed a little bit of a zoom out, to have a bit more context on, you know, really fundamental concepts.
[00:15:48] Sean: Well it’s a follow-up on the last part of the previous question how is impact investing in the venture space different?
[00:15:53] Claire: I’d say that ESG and impact, you know, using those somewhat interchangeably is much less evolved in the venture space. And I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. I mean it because the companies that investors are looking at are often much earlier stage. So, when you’re analyzing a big public company from an ESG point of view, you’ll look at their products.
[00:16:17] You’ll look at their governance structure. You look at their engagement with their employees, with a regulator, with their community, their environmental footprint. Often for startup, most of those things don’t matter or they’re not big enough to look at. Right? Almost the only thing that matters is the product.
[00:16:32] And then maybe governance to some extent though, that’s almost always bad with startups because there are really small lean companies. You’re not going to have a very comprehensive, thoughtful decision-making process when it’s like three people in a dog. So, I mean, you could in theory, but it’s rare.
[00:16:47] So, it means that you hone in on like one or two issues, which again, tends to be the product or sometimes the customer served. I’d say impact in VC is also fairly broad in the sunset. You know, by and large, an ESG investor wouldn’t invest in occidental or general dynamics just because there’s a woman CEO.
[00:17:11] That might be a nice plus, but that’s clearly not enough. Whereas in the venture world, it’s probably also not enough, but it I think it can be a bigger influencer on the decision if that’s part of the investor’s thesis, right? If their thesis is underrepresented, founders then that’s how you cut checks. I’d say it’s pretty distilled approach to USG. There’s a similar element of that you’re doing a fair bit of guessing and reading between the lines. ESG data by largest, still often qualitative or very imperfect.
[00:17:41] It’s often very hard to compare. Otherwise comparable companies on the same issues and metrics. So, you kind of put together the most complete picture you can for each of these companies. And you often have different blind spots for different companies, and you kind of take a step back and say, okay, well, which of these looks the best from the imperfect information we have when every company, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a VC describe some of their investment process in the same way. Right? You’re betting hard on the founders because so much is unsaid and undone, that you’re basically trusting the human capital there to deliver on the thing that they have committed to try to deliver.
[00:18:20] Sean: That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing. Alright, well, to wrap up the interview, we like to end on a fun note. We got some quick questions here and just stay round as we call it.
[00:18:39] What’s content are you consuming right now? You know, like a favorite book show or even.
[00:18:45] Claire: Actually, my TV is not a wind down activity for me, so it’s never really been something that like slips in at the end of the day when I’m tired. It’s like a thing I decide to do. And my husband’s the other way. So, we’ve recently started watching together just my commitment to him that I will stick through the show with him. It’s actually been very good. is the Plot against America.
[00:19:05] I’m a big David Simon fan. He’s the guy who wrote and directed The Wire and Trauma among others.
[00:19:13] Sean: What’s your one favorite thing or memory about Haas?
[00:19:20] Claire: There was just some amazing comradery in our class. So, one, when we started the program, one of my classmates was, I kid you not commuting from Shanghai. Every three weeks, she’d fly over from Shanghai for the weekend, the long weekend, and fly back and then do all of her study team calls, et cetera, like crazy hours for her because everyone else was in the US and that this whole time she was working on getting her company to sponsor her visa in the US because she wanted to live on the West coast and moved to California.
[00:19:49] That happened maybe a year into the program. It took forever, but at some point, she kind of made a spontaneous announcement in a class and like the entire class erupted in cheers, right? Like, it didn’t change any of our lives, but we just knew it had been this like cross for her to bear for the last year.
[00:20:06] And it really drove home to me, the fact that we felt very deeply bonded to each other and really were genuinely happy for each other. Successes and wins. But it was, I think a relief for all of us in a really joyful moment to know that it wasn’t a pain for her.
[00:20:24] Sean: And I think that’s a sign of family.
[00:20:27] Claire: Yeah. We definitely had a real mix of personalities, which is part of what makes it so amazing is that some folks I would have probably met in some other way, or I wouldn’t have been surprised to meet in some other way. And some folks I clearly never would have met in any other way, but I don’t feel any less connected to them.
[00:20:45] Right. I just, we just know each other. I know in like a weirdly deep, way.
[00:20:51] Sean: Awesome. Thanks for being the podcast today.
[00:20:52] Claire: Yeah. Delighted to be here. Thanks a lot. Thanks for doing this.