Class of 2017 Forty Under Forty

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Christopher Barber Associate Director, Ford Foundation
(New York, NY)
Christopher Barber
(Art by Marcellus Hall)

With a keen eye for identifying overlooked assets—and not just financial assets—he has played a key role in launching new assets classes, reorienting the strategy, and integrating new staff into the team.

How have you been a change agent at your organization? What are you particularly proud of?
We sponsor quite a few first-time funds, which can be challenging, but also very gratifying. It’s always fun to participate in something from initial concept all the way to thriving organization. Also, these investments require an extremely high degree of faith in the people, and close personal connections always make success more enjoyable.

What is the asset class or investment that keeps you up at night, and why?
I’ll say student loan debt, in part because of the macro headwinds caused by that $1.4 trillion. But especially concerning is when talking to young people, I see it’s causing a lot of angst, and impacting their careers and personal decisions they make.

What methodologies have you adopted within your institution?
Right now, most institutions are trying to find the right balance between generalists and asset class specialists. Although I work mainly on private asset classes, we’ve done a lot to foster cross-collaboration within our team. For instance, our work on Chinese private equity has been greatly aided by having two Mandarin-speaking colleagues. That language skill is important, but I’d argue just as important has been honing our culture of teamwork and collaboration. I regularly turn to my colleagues for input, and they do the same. It improves decision making, and makes the job more fun!

Where do you fall in the passive vs. active debate?
I believe in active management, but with a healthy respect for the efficiency of markets. Knowing that the vast majority of active managers won’t beat the market is a constant reminder that we must be meticulous in our manager selection.

What are the changes you’d like to see the institutional investing community make in 10 years?
I’d like to see institutions continue to develop in-house capabilities, and rely less on intermediaries. Service providers like consultants and proxy advisors have a place, but excellence will come from organizations with the expertise to make their own judgments.

Who is a manager you don’t currently work with whose brain you’d like to pick?
Jorge Paulo Lemann of 3G Capital. I admire his boldness and global orientation. Plus, how many fund managers can say they competed at Wimbledon?

Ideally, where would that meeting take place?
His hometown—Rio—which is also one of my favorite cities.

What is the software investment tool that helps you most?

What would improve the relationship between you and managers?
How about a “Star Trek” teleportation machine that allows instantaneous travel? There’s no substitute for face-to-face communication, so we all spend a lot more time on planes than we’d like. My amazing assistant, Bonnie, who diligently plans dozens of trips, would love it most!

Why did you choose your current path?
I love my job for many reasons. For one, we’re constantly meeting brilliant, motivated people, who are eager to share their best ideas. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have terrific mentors who took an interest in my career. They’ve been role models, not only as investors, but in how they go about representing a prominent institution. So one of my goals for the years ahead is to pay it forward, and mentor some of the next generation that’s just getting started. That’s the best investment anyone in our position can make.