In 2020, the MIT Sloan School of Management strengthened its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by establishing the Endowment for Enduring Diversity and Inclusion—a fellowship program that aims to encourage and empower students from underrepresented populations. The MIT Sloan community has since responded. Here is one of their inspirational stories...
For Chris Chia, MBA '98, one of the most impactful memories from his time at MIT Sloan happened before he even arrived on campus. When Chris was departing for his first semester, his father offered a piece of advice: “Always be aware of the present moment. Enjoy what is coming ahead of you these next two years. You are about to enjoy what will be some of the best years of your life."
The insight has stayed with Chris in the twenty years since attending MIT Sloan and has helped shape his dynamic career in sustainable investing. Chris leads Singapore-based financial firm Kendall Court—named in homage to MIT's location in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kendall Court operates on the principle that sound financial investments can produce ethical returns, maintain long-term sustainability, and enrich local communities. "There are ways that you can make money and do well by being good,” says Chris.
While greater interest in impact investing and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) is quickly growing, Chris and his partners at Kendall Court were pioneers in the space. “ESG is not just about hugging trees,” Chris explains. “It’s actually about doing good in business. You cannot have a factory that continually dumps toxic waste in the river and expect the business to thrive on a long-term basis. The business cannot thrive.”
In the early stages of his investment career, the benefits of ESG were not as obvious to Chris, but a challenging situation with a fraudulent investee who revealed themselves to be deceitful in their business practices altered Chris’ perspectives. An ensuing court and criminal case to recover their investment, as well as a financial loss, was a trial for Chris’ firm that ultimately inspired him to realign his focus. “I looked back and asked, what can I learn from this situation to prevent it from happening again? We can always play victim and blame the other person but what can we do different?”
Chris reflects on a time when he witnessed this fraudulent investee treating his employees as if they were disposable. “At the time, it jolted me that I could have paid greater attention to this red flag as to his character. I started on this path of saying, I need to be alert to these kinds of signals: ecological, societal, and social. Looking back, I can say that this was probably the best lesson I ever had.”
“MIT Sloan really opened my eyes to different viewpoints,” says Chris. At his MIT Sloan orientation, Chris recalls being part of a student group that was diverse both in gender and racial identity. From that point forward, Chris understood the power of harnessing diverse perspectives and backgrounds in meeting common goals and how not doing so was detrimental. “Continual dialogue can only happen from education and conversations. It makes our world a better place. If you can see the viewpoints of other perspectives, it really opens your eyes. Misunderstandings avoided take far less effort than correcting them later.”
“Every expectation that I had about where I would end up was turned on its head,” says Chris, who joined Goldman Sachs after completing MIT Sloan’s MBA program. It was always Chris’ aspiration to study in the United States, but he assumed that he would return to work in his family’s business upon graduation. Instead, plans for his professional future evolved at MIT Sloan.
Chris and his wife Karen recently established the Chris and Karen Chia Fellowship Fund as part of the school’s Endowment for Enduring Diversity (EED) Fund. Education has been essential to Chris in his own life, and he hopes to create opportunities for others through his support of the EED fund. “I’ve always wanted to find a way to give back. There are a lot of people who are suffering as a result of this pandemic. My wife and I hope to do more.”
When asked what advice he would pass on to current MIT Sloan students, Chris responded with a suggestion that is reminiscent of his father’s wisdom. “Not to preach, but if I could go back in time and advise my MBA self, I would say… learn how to meditate,” he says. “If I could give advice to young people coming up in their careers or going to MIT Sloan: If you learn to quiet the mind and be in the present moment, you will become a better, more centered person.”