NAME: Ben Willauer
OCCUPATION: Portfolio Manager
WHAT’S YOUR CONNECTION TO MAINE?
My family descends from Winslow Homer, so the property on Prouts Neck has been passed down for a long time. I grew up coming to Maine in the summertime. When I was 12, my father was given the opportunity to leave Wall Street and he jumped at the chance to move our family to Maine. I went to Waynflete, took a solo trip around the world, and graduated from New York University. I met my wife, a Mainer, working for Outward Bound in the Florida Keys. We traveled and worked as boat captains, eventually moving back to Maine. We really missed the seasons.
WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN YOU RETURNED TO MAINE?
The easiest job for me to fall into was on the water. I worked with a guy running a 24-hour water-taxi service out of Portland. I loved that job and miss working on the water, but being on call all the time is not easy. In 2006, my wife (also a captain) decided she wanted to become a nurse practitioner, and I was encouraged by friends and family to look into finance.
HOW HAVE PAST EXPERIENCES INFLUENCED YOUR APPROACH TO INVESTING?
There are many parallels. To safely navigate the ocean, the critical skills boil down to situational awareness, anticipation, succinct communication, and decisiveness. These attributes are also essential in today’s investment climate.
I WOULD IMAGINE IT WORKS BOTH WAYS; YOUR BACKGROUND IN FINANCE PUTS YOU IN A UNIQUE POSITION TO OFFER ADVICE TO NONPROFITS.
One of the things I’m passionate about is helping nonprofits develop sound business strategies. In the financial world, we’re always evaluating investments based on their merits, good governance, and risk. In the nonprofit sector, donors are doing the same thing. A person who gives a large donation wants to see that donation act as an investment that will grow.
WHAT NONPROFITS DO YOU CURRENTLY WORK WITH?
I am a trustee of the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center in Boston, and I helped found the Hurricane Island Foundation in 2008. The owner of Hurricane Island approached my family about what to do with the island, since the Outward Bound campus my uncle founded about 50 years ago had moved onshore. We saw a huge opportunity to form a campus focusing on science and leadership education.
WHAT DREW YOU TO THESE ORGANIZATIONS?
They all think out of the box to solve intractable problems, particularly with environmental and social challenges. Thompson Island and Hurricane Island are bringing hands-on science and leadership training to urban and rural public school students. TNC is succeeding in providing market-based solutions to the ground-fishing industry and changing the face of the Penobscot watershed by removing dams and increasing power generation. They are all truly remarkable.
HOW WOULD YOU RECOMMEND YOUNGER INDIVidUALS GET INVOLVED WITH NONPROFITS?
There is a huge need among so many organizations for emerging leaders. Everybody looks at younger professionals and says, “they’re inexperienced.” I would argue that we are widely experienced, it’s just that our experiences are often different from that of the older generation. Our youth is one of our greatest assets.