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Craig Cummins MBA 05 Invests in Global Sustainability

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Craig Cummins’ father started a chain of successful optometry stores in New Jersey during the late 1970s. He sold them and remained with the company, but the new owner sold them to a private equity company, which eventually sold them again.

As a teen, Cummins watched these changes and pondered the role of private equity in business and in society. He followed a very different passion in college, earning first a bachelor in science in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, N.Y.) and then, in 2004, a master’s in this subject at UC Davis.

But private equity continued to intrigue him, and Cummins was drawn to the world of business. He applied to the Graduate School of Management while still at the UC Davis College of Engineering and in 2005 earned his MBA through the concurrent MS/MBA program.

As an MBA student, Cummins received a rare private equity internship at the Sacramento headquarters of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the nation’s second largest public pension fund. He joined CalSTRS after graduation, evaluating a variety of domestic and international buyout, expansion and venture capital partnerships.

Today, he’s a senior associate for private equity at SAM (Sustainable Asset Management) in Zurich, Switzerland. In 2006, Cummins landed a job in sustainable private equity at Robeco, a market-leading European asset manager in the Netherlands. Soon after, Robeco acquired and then shifted its sustainable private equity activities to SAM, where Cummins has worked since 2009. SAM had $11.4 billion under management as of December 2011.

SAM’s private equity team focuses on investing in clean technology, sustainability and resource efficiency. Concretely, the private equity team invests in companies whose products, services or solutions improve the productive or responsible use of natural resources; greatly reduce environmental impact; and are economically viable.

“There’s only a finite amount of supply and too much demand,” Cummins says of these goods and resources, especially in high-growth countries such as China, India and Brazil, which are experiencing a middle-class population boom. Increased disposable income means a higher demand for material goods such as smart phones and high-protein food such as meat and cheese, which are natural resource hogs in their production.

The private equity team’s clients are mostly institutional investors such as pension funds, insurance companies and banks in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

SAM invests directly in clean tech companies and also invests in funds. As a fund investor, it invests in new funds that target around 10 to 20 companies in a specific geographic region. As a secondary investor, SAM buys limited partnership stakes in already established funds.

His work allows the use of both degrees. His engineering training helps him better manage projects and investments because it allows him to envision what needs to happen. It also helps him understand different markets and technologies. There’s a personal side, too. He thinks it is imperative for society to reduce its environmental impact.

“At some point, we’re going to run out or destroy it all,” he says.

Outside work, Cummins flexes his Aggie pride as an evangelist and ambassador for UC Davis, leading efforts in Switzerland to create a UC Davis European Alumni Network. He is working with a half-dozen Europe-based alumni to establish an Aggie presence through networking opportunities that would be marketed to alumni throughout Europe on a listserv. He expects events to include after-work get-togethers in restaurants or bars, wine tastings, museum visits, hosting professor lectures and organizing meetings between study-abroad students and alumni.

—by Joanna Corman

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