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A Conversation with Liesel Pritzker Simmons: Blue Haven Initiative Co-Founder and Principal

Addepar

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Liesel Pritzker Simmons is the co-founder and principal of Blue Haven Initiative, one of the first family offices created with impact investing as its focus. The office oversees portfolios of holdings that generate competitive financial returns, while addressing social and environmental issues through investments across asset classes, and through philanthropy.

Simmons sat down with Addepar to discuss how Blue Haven develops and implements strategies to address her and her husband’s specific values and concerns while achieving desired financial returns. Here are some takeaways from the conversation.

Seeking nuance

Simmons recalls that the traditional financial advisor she initially relied on didn’t have a grasp of impact investing. The bank screened investments for a few objectionable industries, but their approach lacked sophistication. 

“We were able to incorporate bits and pieces of ESG. But they couldn’t comprehend that we wanted our wealth to produce competitive returns and positive social and environmental change,” Simmons says.

One can construct a values-aligned portfolio without compromising financial returns

All investments have impacts (positive, negative, or neutral), whether intentional or not. More investors are beginning to consider how they can align part of their portfolios with their values. But Simmons believes it’s possible to build an entire portfolio that’s values-aligned, so it’s impactful while accounting for risk and return.

Blue Haven fills its market-rate portfolio with risk-adjusted assets that account for environmental and social footprints with no compromises on returns. Other impactful investments might be included in their intentionally concessionary investments, or their philanthropic portfolio.

“The strategies we devise aren’t necessarily labeled as ‘impact.’ Everything we invest in doesn’t need the word ‘green’ in it. We care about what an asset is actually doing.”

LIESEL PRITZKER SIMMONS

Use the right tools and resources for the job

Blue Haven regards certain kinds of capital and resources as better suited for specific interventions than others. It’s for this reason that Simmons and her team have built various portfolios.

“We manage our investment portfolio for competitive returns,” she explains. “But we also have political, civic-engagement, and philanthropic portfolios. You want to use the right tools and resources for the job.”

This might include venture capital-style equity investments in one case, but something entirely different in another to really hit scale.

“The same solution won’t work in every setting or for every intervention—such as trying to achieve a VC-like return if you’re educating children with disabilities in underserved areas of Detroit,” she continues. “This colors the choices we make.”

Why Blue Haven chose Addepar

“With a number of portfolios in various locations doing different things, it’s been challenging to handle analytics and reporting with our lean team,” says Simmons. “We needed a technology partner and an easy-to-use solution designed for purposeful investing.”

Blue Haven places a high value on transparency 

Communication makes for successful relationships, whether it’s a personal one or an advisor-wealth owner relationship. Clients can influence the direction of the banks and advisors they rely on by asking the right questions, expecting transparent answers and “voting with their feet” if they don’t get them.

“For me, transparency is all about accountability from both a personal and practical standpoint. We don’t have a governing body above us. We partner closely with our clients and respond to the public will.”

LIESEL PRITZKER SIMMONS

Impact can be a guiding principle 

At Blue Haven Initiative, Simmons and her husband believe that impact investing should be a fundamental, guiding principle—and their due diligence reflects this. “Our goal is to put our wealth to work not only for competitive returns, but also to foster meaningful social and environmental change,” she notes. “This requires higher standards than traditional investing. But we work every day to make purposeful, intentional, mission-aligned investments a reality.”