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Bar News - July 15, 2015

Practitioner Profile: Change Through Smart Investment


Joe Keefe in front of the Pax World office in downtown Portsmouth.
Joe Keefe counts himself among the lucky ones – he’s had two satisfying careers so far in his lifetime.

After practicing law for 17 years as a trial attorney, Keefe took a serendipitous mid-career turn and entered the world of investments. That was 17 years ago, and ever since he’s been helping investors put their money where their values are, through sustainable investing.

“I enjoyed being a lawyer, but sometimes things happen you can’t foresee. In 1996, I had just lost a congressional election, and was back at my law firm when I got a call from a woman by the name of Sophia Collier, who owned a firm called Citizens Funds. At that time, she was looking for in-house counsel, and also wanted someone to head their marketing and sales department. She knew me as a public figure from my congressional campaign and figured I might be able to do both,” says Keefe.

“We went to lunch and talked about the possibilities. It was intriguing, and eventually I decided to leave my law practice. I knew little about investing, but went to work right away to learn everything I could,” says Keefe.

He’s now president and chief executive officer of Pax World Management, and Pax World Funds, a sustainable investment firm on the leading edge of ESG investing – environmental, social and governance factors – motivated by elevating the greater good. Or, more simply stated by Keefe, making the world a better place through “smarter investing.”

Keefe is set on harnessing the power of likeminded CEOs who see the need for a diversity of thinking to solve the world’s problems and truly make a difference – and he sees sustainable investment as an efficient and effective vehicle by which to change the world.

“For one reason or another, public sectors across the globe are fairly dysfunctional, at a time when we have great challenges facing the global economy. I feel companies and markets have to do a lot of the work in place of government action, because the government is so ineffective,” says Keefe.

After three years with Citizens Funds he launched a consulting firm and waded into the deep end of sustainable investing, and was eventually recruited by Pax World as CEO.

“One of the fundamental things about sustainable investing is that it’s a strategy for deploying investments that results in positive social-environmental change. That piece of it appeals to my ‘change the world’ genes – incidentally, the same thing which prompted me to run for congress,” says Keefe.

He’s been listed twice on the 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics by Ethisphere, an international New York-based think tank dedicated to best practices in business ethics. The list is a veritable “who’s who” that also has included President Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz.

International recognition like that underscores Keefe’s strategic shift as an influencer, meaning his positioning as a notable CEO in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state is not squandered.

Two election cycles ago he served as state co-chair of ONE Vote ’08, a voter education project of the ONE Campaign, focused on persuading candidates to make the eradication of global poverty and AIDS top priorities.

He’s also looking forward to a lively 2016 campaign season.

“I’m still a card-carrying Democrat, and I’m supporting Hillary. I’d love to see the first woman president in my lifetime, and I hope it’s Hillary,” Keefe says. “I also think some of the great issues of our time, such as climate change, need to be dealt with in this election, and I hope the candidates address it. We’ll see – there’s still skepticism on one side of the aisle. If government can’t confront it, the private sector has to.”

He’s proud of a new initiative, Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund, the country’s first mutual fund focused on advancing women into leadership positions.

“We implore companies to embrace gender diversity, and we’ve made a difference already; just in the last two months, two companies agreed to put women on boards after we pressed them,” he says.

He’s also proud of his position of advocacy for equal opportunity for women as leaders of industry – not simply as a matter of choice, but as a matter of best practices.

“Yes, I’ve been asked many times why it makes sense for men to be leading the charge. To me, it’s a little like asking a white person why they are supporting the civil rights movement, or asking a white South African why they are supporting Nelson Mandela. In fact, a system of Jim Crow laws or apartheid exists across the globe when it comes to women and girls – honor killings, genital mutilation, systemic rape, women not being allowed to drive automobiles or not allowed to attend school, women earning 78 cents per every dollar earned by men, and limited Fortune 500 seats – this is the great human rights issue of our time, and it seems men need to be engaged on the issue,” says Keefe.

He cites mounting research that shows companies with more women on their senior management teams outperform companies with less diverse management teams.

“Quite simply, it makes them stronger. That’s a fact, which is why it makes eminent sense that what we’re focused on is not just the right thing, but the smart thing,” says Keefe. “I love working on the New Hampshire Seacoast. I’ve arrived at a great place in my career, and I’m not slowing down. I have ambitious plans for the foreseeable future.”

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