Remembering Tessa Tennant

Responsible investors around the world have lost a powerful advocate, force for good and persuasive fighter.  Tessa Tennant fought for universal human dignity and ecological sustainability with every fiber of her body, travelling globally to advocate and encourage responsible investment practices, respectable corporate behavior and personal responsibility.  She was also a friend. 

I first met Tessa in 1987 when she interned at Franklin Research & Development (now Trillium), seeking to learn from Joan Bavaria and her team.  Though it was a difficult period for her personally, she dove into the waters of our field with great enthusiasm and distinction.  Upon her return to the United Kingdom, she became head of environmental research for ethical investment firm Merlin Jupiter.  From there Tessa moved to Hong Kong to give ASrIA, an Asian trade and research group dedicated to responsible investing, its launch.

But let me share two short vignettes of Tessa.  In 1999 she and I were called to Tokyo by Mizue Tsukushi, CEO of The Good Bankers, to meet with management of Mitsubishi with the goal of persuading them not to build a salt factory on a remote beach in Mexico. The meeting was fascinating for many reasons, but the sight of the tall, steely eyed, Tessa, with her curly mop, rigidly repeating her position, was seared into my memory. She stated the value of the pristine lands, including as whale nurseries, and that honor would accrue to the firm if they saw this.  I do not know why Mitsubishi abandoned the plan (at least for a while), but I suspect it was Tessa’s directness. 

Then there was the time we met in Thailand where we met with several business owners who wanted to launch a network of responsible businesses.  My talk was rather a diatribe on the depth and breadth of the issues they faced, hers was a gracious acknowledgement that we start where we start, and the importance of taking that first step.  Afterwards she admonished me, “If you want them to do what they can, don’t begin by making a list of demands.” She was elegant in her rebuke, and right.

Our last time together was in Amsterdam, at the 2008 Triple Bottom Line conference representing the old guard of the field and providing a global perspective on its growth.  Again, Tessa was straight, to the point, deliberate, and kind.  The world has lost a remarkable person.  We owe it to her to continue her work. 

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