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Tom Steyer Champions Good Food, Good Banking, and Good Energy

As a society, we're all in one boat, says asset manager, Tom Steyer. "If part of the boat is leaking, the whole boat is leaking."

Steyer turned early to helping plug the leaks in society’s boat after founding global investment firm Farallon Capital Management. The combined influence of a father on Wall Street and a mother working in New York City’s most challenged public schools led him to begin his philanthropy in earnest by starting a community development bank, One PacificCoast Bank, with his wife, Kathryn Taylor. The bank's reach has expanded quickly from the Steyers’ neighboring community of Oakland due to its strong leadership—a must for nonprofit success, says Steyer.

Community banking is one of three causes – “good food, good banking, and good energy,” – that anchors Steyer’s philanthropy in order to narrow the rich-poor divide and address the moral blind spots of our generation.

Steyer’s efforts to ensure there will be “good food” and “good energy” for future generations have led him down diverse paths. He has broached the world of California state politics to fight for the environment on multiple occasions. At the same time, miles from the state capital, Steyer and Kathryn Taylor own a 2,000 acre ranch, where they are conducting a “huge science experiment” on the right way to raise healthy animals for eating.

For Steyer, raising animals, taking on oil companies over legislation, and starting a bank don’t seem like philanthropy. Instead, “it’s really trying to accomplish the things you care about and who wouldn’t want to do that?”

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Kathryn and I believe really strongly that we’re in one society. That a society cannot succeed for some of its citizens, but not for all its citizen – that we’re in effect, one boat. So if part of the boat is leaking, the whole boat is leaking, and so if part of the boat is leaking, you can’t sit at the other end and think, ‘Oh, this doesn’t affect us.’ It absolutely affects you – you are in the community and if the community is failing, you are failing.

One of the questions that we ask ourselves is, if we were a hundred years from now and looked back, what are the things we were doing that you just go -- those people were so blind? They were so immoral. It was so wrong. The answer that came back is, if the world is that much harsher a place for hundreds of millions of people and it’s something that is preventable, how could you not be working to prevent it? Isn’t that your minimum or moral obligation?

If you can decide what it is you want to accomplish and make that happen, that to me is the most thrilling, fulfilling activity that I can imagine and that’s why I don’t really consider it philanthropy. It’s really trying to accomplish the things you care about and who wouldn’t want to do that?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my involvement in the bank over the last six or seven years is that leadership is critical and I found this in every for-profit and nonprofit I’ve ever seen. You need to have a strategy, a goal of what you’re trying to do, but then you’ve got to have somebody who can actually achieve that goal. Strategy is easy, execution is hard and execution is all about leadership