Solving The World’s Problems
Ron Cordes’s schedule is cluttered with non-stop travel and meetings with people who share the common cause of supporting social entrepreneurship. From a groundbreaking ceremony at an artisan facility in India, to a keynote speech for a conference on impact investing in Miami, to a tour of a banana farm in Costa Rica to promote the fair trade movement, Cordes is constantly on the go.
Cordes’s world is one where no idea is too far outside the box, and the possibilities for solving some of the greatest global problems are limitless. “One of the things I can do effectively is inspire others to make a difference in a new and unique way,” he said.
As the co-founder of his family’s foundation, the Cordes Foundation and a non-profit organization called ImpactAssets, Cordes has dedicated a large portion of his time to blending his expertise in financial strategy with his passion to take up big causes such as global poverty.
Using the Head and the Heart
Prior to diving head first into social enterprise, Cordes was a highly successful financial adviser. In the early 1990s Cordes, along with two business partners, founded AssetMark, a company that provided services to financial advisers. The company’s assets grew to $9 billion before it was sold to Genworth Financial in 2006.
At that time, Cordes and his wife, Marty, established the Cordes Foundation. The two had always had a desire to have a greater impact on the world around them. The process of shifting more of his time to figuring out how to make the most out of his foundation’s investments is what he refers to as connecting his head to his heart.
“We’re not the Gates Foundation. We have several fewer zeroes on our balance sheet. We wanted to figure out how to punch above our weight,” he said.
The solution was impact investing. Impact investing is an investing strategy which aims to create a large social impact along with a financial return. About 40 percent of the Cordes Foundation’s total endowment is tied up in impact investments. These include micro-finance loans for small businesses in developing countries and projects that affect women and girls.
“I am a firm believer that if we are going to solve the big problems of the world, we need to unleash more capital to do it,” Cordes said. “One way to do that would be to have people consider not only giving money away but also making intelligent investments that can solve problems.”
To encourage other philanthropists and organizations to adopt the concept of impact investing, Cordes co-founded ImpactAssets in 2010, a non-profit organization that connects philanthropists with investment opportunities that will have positive social outcomes.
Cordes is constantly traveling, mostly on his own dime, to speak to people about the principle of impact investing.
“I consider it to be an investment in spreading the word and trying to inspire others to make a difference,” he said.
Cordes said that his travel schedule can be tough but his decision to dedicate his life to philanthropic causes is rooted in one single experience.
Encore: From Success to Significance
In November 2008, Cordes found himself in Buyobo, a small village in lush, green countryside of rural Uganda, during a trip for the Cordes Foundation. The poverty-stricken area had been devastated by a civil war. Through an interpreter, a local woman thanked Cordes for a microfinance loan that his foundation had provided her to start a profitable business. She told Cordes that this loan had empowered her and given her the means to support her children.
The experience can be summed up by a Mark Twain quote Cordes likes to share during speaking engagements. The quote states: “the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why you were born.”
It was on that day that Cordes discovered why he was born: to use his knowledge from 30 years in the investment field to solve social problems.
Cordes classifies this epiphany as part of his encore, his transition in life from success to significance. Aside from the work with ImpactAssets, the Cordes Foundation, and AssetMark, the 54-year-old also serves on the board of Encore.org, an organization that targets the baby boomer generation to become involved in philanthropic causes.
His goal is to steer people between the ages of 45 and 80 to transition from their successful professional careers and take up second acts of good.
“I would argue that a lot of Lambda Chi alums… are feeling… in their gut that they would like to leave a legacy. They’re not alone,” Cordes said.
Back to the Beginning
Before Cordes’s encore movement, and before his lucrative career as a financial adviser, Cordes was an undergraduate brother at the University of California, Berkeley chapter, Mu Zeta. During that time he served as the chapter president, his first leadership role.
The men from Mu Zeta held a philanthropic event on Easter week where they would sell daffodils to raise proceeds for a camp for underprivileged kids. They also had an ulterior motive to enlist the help of women from different sororities.
At this event in 1979, Cordes met his future wife, Marty, a member of Alpha Gamma Delta. The two have been married now for 26 years.
“I guess it’s ironic,” Cordes said. “We met at a philanthropic event and today our joint passion is our family foundation that we run. How cool is that?”
Ron Cordes: Professional Profile
Merging his financial savvy with his philanthropic desires, Cordes is involved with a handful of companies and organizations.
AssetMark, Co-founder and executive co-chairman
Co-founded by Cordes in the early 1990s, AssetMark is an investment business that provides services to financial advisers. The company’s assets grew to $9 billion before it was sold to Genworth Financial in 2006. At that time Cordes and his wife, Marty, created their family foundation. Genworth sold back AssetMark to a handful of private equity firms in 2010. Cordes has a part-time strategic role within the company now.
Cordes Foundation, Co-founder
In 2006, Ron and Marty created the Cordes Foundation with $10 million. The family-run foundation focuses on social entrepreneurship. Some of the key issues included in the foundation’s portfolio are microfinance loans with a focus on benefiting women and children and ultra-low cost private schools in Africa. To capitalize on their funds, the Cordes Foundation employs impact investing, an investment strategy which aims to create a large social impact along with a financial return.
Predicated on impact investing, Cordes co-founded ImpactAssets in 2010 with the Calvert Foundation, a large social investment foundation. ImpactAssets is a non-profit financial services company that connects philanthropists with investment opportunities that will lend a positive social impact. The organization has a $25 million donor advisory fund.
Encore.org, Board member
Encore.org is an organization that encourages and inspires the baby boomer generation to use their talents, resources, and personal funds to solve some of society’s greatest problems. Cordes offers advice to people transitioning from a first career of professional success to a second career of personal significance in supporting social causes.
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