Q: What inspired you to found Gratitude Railroad?
Eric: I am a big fan of capitalism, and I think it’s the greatest invention of mankind in human history. I also worry about the major problems facing humanity and wonder how we solve those problems on a grand scale. Leveraging the power of capitalism is the only way I know that has the power to really make a difference.
Howard: First and foremost, Gratitude Railroad was inspired by Eric and his early learnings around impact investing. We were motivated by our participation in Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative to find a meaningful project to dedicate the rest of our working lives to. For me, Gratitude Railroad is a way to build upon my life’s experiences, apply them in a purposeful, productive and rewarding manner, and most importantly, share the learning, growth and stimulation of my ALI experience with others in search of mission and purpose.
Q: What influenced you to choose the name Gratitude Railroad?
Howard: ‘Gratitude’ is an obvious factor in our lives, but it became more resonant for me after I watched a video, “Amo la Vida,” (linked on our website) which tells a very special story of sacrifice and enduring gratitude. Initially I was hoping to use the name in another business of ours, but we determined that the market wasn’t quite ready to accept that word in a commercial sense. I was also inspired by the name of another impact organization, Impact Republic, where the dissonance of the two words struck me as memorable and sending a strong message.
‘Railroad’ was at first purely serendipitous and more about poetry than anything else. We held one of our earliest organizational meetings at Eric’s weekend home in the Uinta Mountains. As an avid antique toy train collector he had the house decorated with train memorabilia. For example, the railings on the stairs and the toilet paper roll holders were made from train track spikes. The word ‘railroad’ just tumbled out. At first it was just about the sound of the name. Now it seems so perfect. Ride the train with us, moving, traveling, and learning together. It also makes it clear that we are business-focused industrialists who are rooted in fairness, centeredness, and being thankful.
Q: What differentiates Gratitude Railroad as a unique leader in impact investing?
Eric: I think there are a lot of great impact investing entities/efforts out there, and I believe we need many, many more. If we’re all going to make this happen, it takes a movement, not one entity. Our small role in this is focusing on the intersection of compassion and capitalism and proving that investing in this confluence can actually generate superior returns, not concessionary returns. If we can prove this and show the big money on Wall Street, real change can happen.
Howard: We seek to partner not to garner capital. With all due respect to the impact investment industry writ large, populated by great, dedicated, brilliant and hard working people, what makes us different is that we only share investment opportunities with our community that have been diligenced, vetted, tested and -importantly - invested in by our board and partners. We are in alignment with our core principles in everything that we do.
Q: You say that conscious capitalism is an approach that informs all of Gratitude’s investments - what do you mean specifically?
Eric: If operators and investors focus on a higher purpose and really making a positive impact to humanity, it actually increases returns by lowering employee costs, reducing customer acquisition costs, creating greater customer and employee loyalty, etc. The hard-to-measure benefits are extremely powerful not only in improving the world, but in improving returns.
Howard: We believe that businesses and people who are kind, thoughtful, and aware of their stakeholders will do better in the long run. We want to work with people who are grateful for what they have and considerate of all. We believe a focus solely on the bottom line and exit strategies is counterproductive and limits growth and opportunity.
Q: One of Gratitude’s core activities is building community to open investor mindsets - why is this important to you?
Howard: We believe that capitalism is the solution to most of mankind’s problems. In order to leverage capitalism to do so, we need trillions of dollars of capital to recognize the issues and the role business has. Every time we recruit a new member of our community or inspire others to apply the same basic principles and philosophies, we are that much closer. Capital begets capital. The more empirical evidence we can provide to skeptics or change-averse institutional investors, the more capital will join in this work.
Eric: The gratitude community, with all its extraordinary knowledge, passion, wealth and experience is still drop in the bucket in terms of the world at large. We MUST expand the community exponentially if we are collectively going to make a real difference.
Q: What do you envision Gratitude Railroad growing in to?
Howard: I would like GRR to retain a leadership role in impact investing. I would like to be able to move ever-larger pools of capital. One semester at ALI I lived in the Charles Hotel and during recruiting season saw all the big names in finance and consulting there seeking Harvard students. Someday I hope GRR and its associated businesses and funds can stand alongside and compete for talent not just based on mission but in compensation and upside potential. I want us to serve as a role model and resource for others seeking to travel the same journey. This is not a job for GRR alone.
Eric: A place where smart, caring, experienced investors learn, build friends, have fun and make a real difference not only in their personal lives, but in the world.