Colin Butterfield

Managing Partner and CEO, Solum Partners

I wouldn’t be here without Tuck. All of my experiences in Hanover have shaped me into who I am today.

Going into the natural resources industry was a no-brainer for Colin Butterfield T’04 who developed a passion for nature at a young age. Butterfield grew up on a farm in Brazil with a Swiss mother and an American agronomist father. Surrounded every day by soybeans, corn, sugarcane, and coffee, he had plenty of direct experience with Mother Nature but still could have never dreamed that he would one day head the natural resources group within Harvard’s endowment, known as Harvard Management Company (HMC).

When Harvard began its search for a head of natural resources, the timing was perfect for Butterfield, who was working in São Paulo, Brazil, and wanted to come back to the States. While Butterfield is now based in Boston, he still travels all the time, and the diversity is one of the parts of his job he loves most. The endowment has investments across the world in agriculture, food, and timber, which means Butterfield is often on the road or in the air, seeing the world in person.

“One thing about my job that I completely love are the contrasts,” he says. “Just last week I was in London negotiating something in the most beautiful business offices along the Thames. I caught a plane that night and landed in Brazil, then took a small plane to the outskirts of Brazil in a poor rural area where we are developing a soybean project, and I spent three days with my old shoes and my hat on. There’s not a single day I’m looking at the same thing.”  

Traveling is essential in Butterfield’s industry, where there’s a heavy owner-operated mentality. “You need to be close. Any slippage is the difference between making good money and losing a lot of money. You need to make yourself very present.”

I saw Tuck and thought, ‘This is the most beautiful place in the world.’ I always had this vision I’d go to that school.

Although Butterfield travels plenty, he isn’t someone who loves big cities, which is one of the reasons he became interested in Tuck. Because he grew up in a rural area, Butterfield had a greater appreciation for Tuck’s small class size and its student-teacher ratio. He rowed varsity crew as an undergrad at Boston University, and when he saw Tuck at the Head of the Connecticut regatta, it was love at first sight. “I saw Tuck and thought, ‘This is the most beautiful place in the world.’ I always had this vision I’d go to that school.”

Butterfield is still connected to Tuck. He previously served on Tuck’s Latin American Council, helping to expand Tuck’s presence in the region and recruit top candidates, and is excited about his relatively new position on Tuck’s MBA Council. 

Butterfield spends plenty of time in the office, continuously building a strong corporate culture that includes constant collaboration and communication. He prefers an open, lively environment, which means he’s constantly getting up, walking around or having coffee—the opposite of the vibe when he arrived. “You could hear a pin drop,” he recalls. 

Everyone needs to find his or her passion. If you work in something you’re passionate about, it makes your life so much easier.

This is also an approach that is helpful for the investment team in terms of idea-generation. Butterfield describes his investment process as collaborative and bottom-up, not a top-down approach that follows established trends. Butterfield’s team constructs the themes they are passionate about and then tries to learn as much as possible about the themes. A hint of an idea will spur a chase to get as much information about the topic as possible.

Last year, the team delved into specialty coffee, a trend expanding quickly around the world, especially in Asia. “There’s so much untapped demand out there. We started studying the supply side of it.” This meant visits to trade shows, talking to baristas at Starbucks, even traveling to countries like Colombia to witness the dynamic firsthand. “Everyone needs to find his or her passion,” he says. “If you work in something you’re passionate about, God, it makes your life so much easier.”

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