• Tips for Entrepreneurs

A Look Inside Mark Tercek's Nature Conservancy

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Publisher & Editor
Be Inkandescent Magazine

Mark Tercek likes to be out in nature. Even when he was the managing director at Goldman Sachs, he played a key role in developing the firm’s environmental strategy. So when he heard about the opening at The Nature Conservancy, he applied.

“I figured it was a long shot, but I wanted to throw my hat in,” he told Be Inkandescent Magazine in an interview after the December 16 Bisnow event. “When I got the job I felt like I’d won the lottery.”

Merging his past and present

Tercek admits to being optimistic, but says we shouldn’t confuse that with being what he calls a “Pollyanna.”

With his Wall Street roots firmly planted in reality, he believes that there is a lot the nonprofit world can learn from its for-profit counterparts — such as maximizing their returns, holding people accountable, and investing in the leadership development of their staff members.

“When I got to The Nature Conservancy, I was used to having staff members participate in regular education and training programs,” he explains. “When I suggested that, my team initially said that they didn’t think there was money to support that effort. I disagreed. Investing in your staff is incredibly important because they are one of your biggest assets — especially at a nonprofit where re-training is expensive. Keeping people growing and engaged is essential.”

He admits, too, that nonprofit organizations have a leg up in several areas.

“Because nonprofits are always having to raise money, many are very disciplined about what they spend,” he says. “Fewer resources also require them to do a good job inspiring people internally and externally.”

Education is a top priority for Tercek.

Because Tercek is worried that not enough young people are spending time in nature, he has put a program in place to combat the trend.

In the last several years, The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the Toyota USA Foundation to expand its LEAF program (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future), a comprehensive, environmental leadership program for teenagers and their educators.

Students from the inner city, among others, are being encouraged to become “the next wave of environmental leaders,” through the program that combines enriched environmental curriculum in high school classrooms with paid residential summer jobs for students on Conservancy preserves.

In 2009, a pilot program had eight students spend the summer in the Uplands Farm Preserve in Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island. They monitored preserves, maintained trails, replaced signage, mowed grass, restocked shellfish, restored native plants, and monitored birds.

Last summer, the program supported 10 environmental schools in the New York metro area. In the coming years, Tercek hopes to engage more than 30 environmental high schools in urban areas across the country, ultimately serving more than 20,000 students.

“Today’s youth are more urban, more diverse, and more technologically advanced than any generation in history,” Tercek explains. “They are also more disconnected from nature than any previous generation. What we do today to engage a diverse array of young people in our work will ensure our conservation success in the future.”

Navigating the future

Tercek says that he believes that for nonprofits to continue to be successful in the future, there needs to be a better “charity navigator.”

“It’s important for donors to know how to pick which nonprofits to work with,” he says, including properly assessing the amount of money that the organization spends on overhead and staff. It’s important that we have enough people operate the organization. By simply saying that the overhead ratio is low does not indicate that the nonprofit is doing a good job accomplishing its mission.”

Leadership tips for entrepreneurs

Tercek outlined three areas that he believes are essential for leaders to be effective.

1. Put the right people in the right jobs. “Ask yourself: Are all of my employees doing their jobs well? If not, find ways to help them do their jobs better. If you focus on your employees and make sure they are well-trained, motivated, and happy, that investment will be your greatest asset,” he says.

2. Know what your mission is, and stick to it. “This clarity of vision and goals will keep you focused. Don’t spread yourself too thin or your results will suffer.”

3. Look ahead. Don’t get complacent about your current accomplishments. Always have an eye on the future, and stay on top of the trends.

About Mark Tercek

Before joining The Nature Conservancy in 2008, Mark Tercek was a managing director at Goldman Sachs, where he played a key role in developing the firm’s environmental strategy. He headed the firm’s Environmental Strategy Group and Center for Environmental Markets, which worked to develop and promote market-based solutions to environmental challenges.

Mark also headed various business units at the firm, including Corporate Finance, Equity Capital Markets, Consumer/Healthcare and Leadership Development. He joined Goldman Sachs in 1984 and was named a partner in 1996.

Since joining The Nature Conservancy in 2008, Mark has served as a member of the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests and the Council on Foreign Relations Climate Change Task Force. He was a contributing author to the book Carbon Finance: Investing in Forests and Land for Climate Protection, published in 2009 by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment.

Mark is a member of many boards and councils, including “Resources for the Future.” In 2010, Mark was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to serve on the National Petroleum Council, through which he will provide advice, information and recommendations to Secretary Chu on environmental issues related to oil and natural gas.

Mark earned an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1984 and a B.A. from Williams College in 1979.

For more information, watch Tercek’s YouTube video to see what he had to say about the Gulf Oil Spill. And click here to learn more about The Nature Conservancy.

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