Web Entrepreneur (Priceline.com), Impact Investor, SCA Alum 1974
Before he helped found Priceline.com and went on to start MissionPoint Partners, an impact investing firm looking to speed the transition to a low carbon economy, Jesse Fink spent some time on the trail with SCA. We had a chance to catch up with him recently. Read our conversation below.
Hometown: Long Island
Current town: Wilton, CT
College: SUNY-ESF for undergrad, Syracuse U for MBA
What’s your most memorable SCA moment? Sitting out at night and seeing the Northern Lights for the first time.
What’d you learn from your SCA experience that still applies to your life today? I learned about being on a team and working together, especially about team dynamics and leadership. I learned that there are times when you need to be a leader. Sometimes that means leading from the front; other times you can lead from the back. Still other times, of course, you just need to be a good participant. SCA was really my first experience working on a team.
Another thing is that my crew leaders were a wonderful married couple, Annie and Bill Vanderbilt, and to me they were a great role model of what a nice marriage can look like, especially one that includes the great outdoors as a central part of it.
What did you learn at SCA that helped prepare you for your career in business and finance? An appreciation for people and diversity. It was my first experience with understanding that people come from all different kinds of backgrounds and have all different kinds of strengths. So, I learned the importance of recognizing individual strengths and finding ways to bring them out to build a stronger team. Also, group dynamics stuff like making people feel included and working through the challenges that come with living and working with the same group of people 24/7 for several weeks.
How did you come around from your early focus on environmental science and forestry to a career in business and finance? I’ve always been interested in the environment and I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurial solutions to environmental challenges, so I went to forestry school and then business school because I thought I could put those two together. I couldn’t at that point, so I went on and had a business career that eventually led to working with Walker Digital, and from there to the beginning of Priceline, where I was Chief Operating Officer for a couple years. After Priceline went public and I essentially retired from it, I was able to go back to environmental issues. My wife Betsy and I are involved in environmental philanthropy through our foundation [The Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation] and also impact investing for environmental issues through MissionPoint Partners.
I’ve always felt that environmental solutions and economic return do not need to be sacrificed one for the other, that in a long-term sustainable economy you need to be able to find business models that are in concert with environmental solutions.
What do you see as today’s most urgent conservation issue? I think the biggest issue in land conservation is how you deal with climate change. Conservation will have to be more resilient and adaptive than perhaps it was before.
What do you see as the key approach to tackling this challenge? I think we need a price on carbon. We have to change the way we’re doing many things in our economy and if you put a tax on carbon, behavior will change.
Who do you see doing the most for the future of conservation and the health of the planet right now? Well, I hope that SCA is doing it by training the next generation of conservation leaders!
What makes you optimistic about the future of conservation? I’m optimistic because of the next generation. They’re optimistic, they believe that they can make changes. From my experience mentoring and observing them, I think we’ll eventually have people in leadership positions who will be thinking more about the environment, and thinking about it more long term than the people we have right now.
What can we do to encourage this next generation to embrace a leadership role in restoring and protecting the environment? I think we need to give the next generation their voice and respect their enthusiasm and energy. We need to provide opportunities for them to express their beliefs and give them opportunities to make things happen.