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Investment Insights Blog: John Wesley, Improv Comedy, and "Yes And" Values

January 03, 2022

Andrew Hendren portrait photo

   By Andy Hendren
   General Secretary and CEO


Happy New Year!

As we turn the page to 2022 and look forward to the boundless possibilities of a fresh year, I’d like to introduce myself to the Investment Insights blog and share some reflections on themes we often highlight on this platform.

Many of you already know that this week marks a pivotal time of change for both Wespath and me. After more than 27 years of faithful service to the Church as Wespath’s general secretary and CEO, Barbara Boigegrain has retired at year-end, and I have officially stepped into the role of general secretary and CEO.

I am excited and inspired to carry on Wespath’s mission, following in Barbara’s footsteps. Thanks in large part to Barbara’s legacy, Wespath is a trusted presence that our participants, plan sponsors and institutional investors look to for calm guidance and steady stewardship.

I’m confident these stakeholders also appreciate the principles under which we carry out our work. For instance, I know many of our participants and institutional investors recognize that their portfolios are invested in a sustainable manner that upholds the values of The United Methodist Church (UMC).

I too value our sustainable investing framework. I see our approach as one that honors the UMC’s commitment to consider all issues in light of concerns for the welfare of all people, the just distribution of resources globally, and long-term sustainability of God’s creation on this earth.

Our approach to sustainable investing is also “win-win,” or to draw on some Chicago improv theater-speak, I might describe it as a “yes and.”

That’s right—though I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with many of you during my 17-year tenure at Wespath—I suspect most of you don’t know that I once took classes for a couple seasons at one of Chicago’s famous improv comedy clubs: IO Theater.

I was 36 at the time, surrounded by 22-year-old guys who all wanted to be the next Chris Farley. Nevertheless, I learned the secret of team comedy espoused by improv legend Del Close: always add to your partners’ scene.

I think of our sustainable investments approach as a “yes and.” We focus always on our core fiduciary obligation to our participants and investors to maximize returns—seeking alpha, or excess returns compared to our performance benchmarks, wherever we can. And we seek to “raise the beta”—a strategy to reduce the systemic risks of financial markets and improve market-wide returns—in hopes of lifting all boats in a way that reaps the additional returns needed to care for those we serve. Importantly, we believe lifting all boats also moves the world toward a more sustainable future.

One could view this as discerning the trendline of future value creation among investments; focusing carefully on those companies that will flourish in a rapidly changing and disrupted world by creating a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable economy; and tuning out the invariable market noise along the way.

When I think about this work, I also draw on lessons from another source—one that our stakeholders are likely more familiar with than improv comedy teachers—that is, of course, John Wesley.

To me, our commitment to sustainable investment embodies John Wesley’s general rules: first to “do no harm” and second to “do good of every sort, and, as far as possible to all.” In this sense, I think of sustainable investing as our brand of stewardship evangelism.

I believe our stakeholders can resonate with Wesley’s teachings and our “yes and” approach to sustainable investing. Our value-add, long-term, consistent investment philosophy is one of the reasons why participants, plan sponsors, and institutional investors view Wespath as a trusted, steady, non-anxious presence amid changes and challenges around us.

Barbara once described Wespath as a “a bright star in the United Methodist constellation.” To our stakeholders, I hope we are something of a North Star—always pointing them to the secure path. In my new role as Wespath’s general secretary and CEO, I look forward to providing services to and collaborating with an ever-greater number of values-based investors aligned with Wespath’s Wesleyan-shaped competitive and sustainable investment services. Together we can pursue stewardship evangelism and lead the broader financial community in raising the beta through building an increasingly sustainable economy.