Green.Org sits down with Andy Hoffman, the founder of Rock Island, LLC, to learn more about connecting investors with sustainable opportunities. Rock Island LLC was formed with a goal of linking sophisticated institutional investors with direct investment opportunities in the agribusiness, real estate, energy, infrastructure and other real asset sectors.
Andy, thank you for being here. Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
I grew up in Wisconsin as the youngest of eight children and like most of my brothers and sisters, graduated from UW-Madison. From there, I went straight to Wall Street as a financial analyst with Salomon Brothers. Within four years, I was married and working with Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong. I spent the next six years in the Asia Pacific Region as a power, utility, and infrastructure investment banker. I finally found a path to the investment side of the business in 2003 when I took the position as Managing Director of Investments for Jeff’s Skoll’s family office. In 2017, I launched my own investment firm to source and execute on sustainable real assets investments on behalf of family offices, fund sponsors, and other institutional investors. I’ve continued to work in real assets for my entire 30+ year career and looking to raise an investment fund this year.
What is a fun fact about you?
Most people say I have an endless stream of interesting stories from the early years of my career when I was travelling to lots of remote places. One fact that surprises many people is that I’ve travelled to China 63 times and could probably still name every province in China from memory.
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
When Jeff Skoll met with his investment team in 2004, he told us that we should all think carefully about our investment decisions as they relate to the risks and opportunities surrounding “climate change”. For those that do not know, Jeff Skoll was the first president (most say “co-founder”) of eBay and executive producer of An Inconvenient Truth that featured Al Gore. I have to admit, we all looked at each other and responded with, “what exactly do you mean by climate change?”. Back then, few of us fully appreciated the gravity of the situation and how climate change would transform the global consciousness on just about everything. This is probably the first time in history when mankind is faced with an undeniable reckoning for its endless quest for economic growth and consumption of resources. I often thought of all of those coal fired power plants that I helped build in China when reflecting on this issue. And yet, despite the scientific data that has been presented, politics between political parties and between rival countries may impede true progress on this issue. For investors, there are still tremendous opportunities to be rewarded for innovation and for stepping away from industries that are likely to be eroded by regulation and changing consumer preferences. Many of these opportunities reside within the spectrum of real assets and I believe the next ten years will reward those that invest in impactful solutions.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
The pace that some industries are changing is beyond what I could ever have predicted twenty years ago. So extrapolating from here, I would bet that within 10 years, many gateway cities will move to fully autonomous EV transportation. That means autonomous taxis, delivery vehicles, long haul trucks, light rail, and possibly ships. If we do return to offices, the idea of the “nightmare” rush hour commute will be largely resolved by taking the human driver out of the equation. Farming will also be dramatically transformed with the emergence of controlled environment agriculture displacing open field in just about every product where automation is feasible. Grid infrastructure will be designed around renewable sources of power with innovations in battery technology as a major tool in grid stability. Global food production will become more concentrated in countries with natural competitive advantages while food science will continue to innovate with plant based proteins, bio-refineries, sugar substitutes, and super foods. I just hope insects are not on the menu in my lifetime, but they are coming too.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
It starts with knowing that you can and must try to make a difference. It can’t just be corporations, our government, or some other country that has to pay or adjust their behavior. So I’ll share this… I always like to start a speech at a conference with a question. Pre-Covid, in a packed conference room on a hot summer day, I asked the audience if they believed in climate change. Just about all hands went up. Then I asked, “Is it likely that humankind contributed to climate change in some way?” Most hands stayed up. Then I said, “OK, so how many of you turned off your AC in your hotel room before coming down here?” Just about all the hands went down and that was shame. If you can’t just do something as simple as that (even when hotel energy is “free”) then you just aren’t walking the walk.