Last week, on another one of those chilled evenings that have become so familiar this winter in New York, I attended one of Manhattan's most cherished hedge fund industry events: the 16th annual Hedge Funds Care benefit. On the night of March 6, nearly 1,000 hedge fund executives sat amid the towering marble columns, soaring ceilings and twinkling chandeliers of Cipriani's 42nd Street to celebrate the industry's dedicated philanthropic efforts to preventing and treating child abuse. An industry whose reputation could benefit from some good press-especially in light of recent happenings.
I smiled when I walked into the room and thought, "Hedge Funds Care--Yes, they really do." While I mingled with the guests, I thought more people need to see this side of the hedge fund industry. I was struck by the contrast between the culture of giving that the hedge fund industry embraces, and the culture of greed that many Americans project onto the industry--and that is so often depicted in film and the media. When I attended this event last year for the first time, I felt a similar dissonance. However, even my taxi driver who whisked me to the event scoffed at the very name of the organization: "Hedge Funds Care." The taxi driver's union could benefit from some positive press themselves!
It's not a stretch to say that for average Americans, hedge funds are synonymous with Gordon Gecko, the fictional lead character of the 1987 film Wall Street, who made "greed is good" a household phrase. Gecko may have been a stockbroker, not a hedge fund manager, but today much of the American public see hedge funds as the pinnacle of a Wall Street hierarchy built on money lust. The housing crisis of 2007-2008, when a handful of money managers profited from the financial distress of others while the market collapsed, only made matters worse.
But the vast majority of hedge fund industry professionals are hard working, dedicated individuals with long-term objectives that align with those of their investors. And as those attending the Hedge Funds Care event can attest, many of them are deeply involved in philanthropic activities, in some cases putting their expert money management skills to work for nonprofits and foundations that need their help. They care not only about the welfare and portfolios of their clients, but about the broader social environment in which they live and work.
"This is probably the most philanthropic industry there is," said Rob Davis, Founder and Chairman Emeritus of HFC, as we chatted during a break in the program. "But it's very rare that you hear anything about that." There are very few industries that contribute to the issue of child abuse, added Davis, who is also managing director at McAlinden Research Partners, an independent global strategy research company. It's a cause that is almost exclusively supported by the hedge fund industry, he said. A former elementary school teacher, Davis witnessed first-hand the effects of abuse on some of the children he worked with and knew he had to do something about it.
As someone who provides marketing to financial services firms, including hedge funds, it's my mission to help my clients position themselves via social/digital media and targeted public relations to create positive and transparent messaging that promotes trust and confidence. I continue to wonder what it will take to overcome some of the misguided perceptions that the public has about hedge funds. But getting the word out about their philanthropic generosity through events like these seems a very good place to start.
In the decade and a half since the founding of Hedge Funds Care (HFC), also known as Help For Children, the organization has donated $3.3 million annually to 100 organizations and made over 900 grants. Each year, the organization recognizes one donor for his or her great work for the cause with the so-called Award for Caring. This year, that award went to Marathon Asset Management's Bruce Richards. The award was presented by former New York Yankees Manager and prior HFC honoree Joe Torre, who had this to say of Richards: "It takes people like Bruce and an industry like this one to step up, take a stand, so we thank Bruce and his many contributions as well as his firm's contributions, to HFC over the years." Torre took home the award in 2012 and is also Chairman of the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation.
Richards offered heart felt praise to the organization granting him the award: "Hedge Funds Care knows something about managing risk: risk within the household, specifically, child abuse. It's amazing the work it's doing, and the impact it's having, for those children at risk and I'm very honored today to be the recipient of this award." Richards supports not just Hedge Funds Care but numerous other philanthropic organizations, including Safe at Home, Earth Day Network, UJA, the Birds Nest Foundation, the R Baby Foundation, and numerous other non-profits.
Thursday night's event generated $2 million in proceeds, which will go to fund programs focused on the prevention and treatment of child abuse in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. That money will go a long way. In the most recent grant year, HFC provided service to more than 50,000 individuals, including clinical treatment for more than 8,000 children who had been identified by the authorities as having been abused. It was a successful night, and will surely serve as one step toward righting the public image of a very caring, giving industry.
I hope that more people will take a look at the hedge fund industry, financial services/Wall St, and see how some of the smartest investment minds in the world have dedicated their time and intellectual capital to children in need.