Blog : Green Collar Careers: Progressive Asset Management Investment Adviser Mike Smith

By Ken | Apr 29, 2015 | in

By Ken Johnson

Robert F. Kennedy once said that, “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better." These words ring true at Progressive Asset Management Group (PAM Group) the socially responsible investment division of Financial West Group, a company working to make a difference through socially responsible investing. For many, the idea of being sustainable is limited to recycling, using biofuel for home heating, buying an eco-friendly vehicle and participating in environmental events, like neighborhood clean-ups. But few people know that they can also go green by making their investments (IRAs, individual accounts, 401Ks etc.), socially and environmentally responsible as well through a firm like the PAM Group.

One of the PAM Group's core beliefs is that companies which don't follow socially and environmentally responsible practices have a greater overall potential for liabilities and hidden costs which are eventually passed on to their investors. But companies which manage pollution, which have an eye towards being energy efficient, which treat their employees well, are better managed than those which don’t address these factors. And better managed companies in turn tend to outperform.

The local PAM Group office was first opened in Newmarket in 1996 by Hunter Brownlie, who was later joined by Mike Smith in 2007. Smith and Brownlie are Investment Adviser Representatives with the PAM Group, providing clients with options to purchase socially and environmentally sustainable investments including: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, as well as offering portfolio management, retirement planning, education funding options, and more. They also offer “community investment notes,” which revitalize low-to-middle income areas after economic shifts.

Smith also encourages his clients to consider divestment options, helping them to re-invest in environmentally conscious and/or socially responsible businesses while making sure to maximize returns. Through divestment, areas of investment which are seen as unsustainable or contribute negatively toward the world and its well-being can be avoided thereby helping to use business as a driving force to address global issues.

According to Smith, running their business sustainably is just as important to the company as working with clients on sustainable investments. The New Hampshire division of the PAM Group purchases carbon off-sets for the miles its advisors travel and the in-office staff is committed to recycling.

Ken Johnson (KJ): What do you like most about your job?
Mike Smith (MS): What I like about my job is two-fold. I like the fact that I am able to incorporate my own personal lifestyle and beliefs into the way I earn a living. I feel very strongly about the things that I work around every day, as far as sustainability and recommending clients invest in things that strongly resonate with me. I also like that I'm able to help people match their investments with their values. Clients want to be invested in things which they support and believe in, but they also don’t want to profit from things which they don't support. The biggest thing lately has been the fossil fuel divestment movement. People who believe climate change is real don't want to profit from fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) because they believe these are a major contributor to climate change. I’m able to help these people remove fossil fuels from their portfolio ... and feel good about doing well investment wise by not having to be part of that whole debacle with climate change. That's just one example; there are many many others. Obviously people feel strongly about not wanting to be involved in certain industries, or companies, and it varies with every individual. This can include any range of things from weapons and weapons manufacturing, to military, obviously climate change, animal testing, to companies which don't treat their employees fairly, as well as companies which don’t treat the environment well by polluting and/or exploiting natural resources. Things like that. On the other side of the equation we help people invest in things which they want to be proactive about like clean energy, clean technology, green building, organic food, clean water - things which are good for the environment and sustainable for the planet.

KJ: Where did you go to college? Does your college education help with your current job? What skills from college most prepared you for the work you do now?
MS: I received my undergraduate degree at Keene State College, here in New Hampshire on the western part of the state ... in Biology with a focus in Ecology. And I have a mini-MBA from Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. Having the biology background, I realized I could go one of two ways; I could go into teaching, or I could go into research, but didn't feel passionately about either of those options. I also came to the realization the world works on business terms and recognized my degree in Biology hadn’t provided any experience in this field which could put me at a significant disadvantage. So I went to the Harvard Extension School and got the mini-MBA to see if I could learn more about how business worked. I then went on to get the full Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Suffolk University in Boston. So I believe my academic education has helped by providing a somewhat diverse background of an undergraduate degree in science and biology, plus the business graduate degree. Bringing these two disciplines together provides a unique perspective which I believe has helped me significantly...the combination of the natural sciences and environment coupled with a grasp of finance and business. This has helped me understand the environmental issues which need to be addressed, and how business can be the driving force necessary to bring about the changes needed to deal with these issues.

KJ: What do you look for in an employee in the field?
MS: I would say first and foremost, it is someone who really feels passionate about sustainability and the things that we deal with through our clients, again along the lines of clean energy, clean water, green building, sustainability, businesses that treat their employees fairly, things like that. Somebody who's really committed to that and not just looking for a job in an industry, but really has that commitment first.

KJ: What made you integrate sustainability into your business/go into a green industry?
MS: It has been a long-time interest of mine. Long before I got into this field, I've been interested in sustainable businesses, business which don't degrade the environment but help create solutions for some of the problems we’re facing. That has always fascinated me and that interest is what led me in this direction.

KJ: What are you most proud of in your business as it relates to sustainability?
MS: Probably goes back to what I've said before in some of the previous questions, it’s that business is going to be the driver to bring about the changes we need and how I help people match up their values with their wealth and their investments to support that driver [to create] some of the solutions to the problems which need to be fixed.

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