This interview is part of a new series where leaders in influential positions share their leadership journey – how they got to where they are today. I believe we all have a lot to learn from our stories of where we started, our successes and struggles, and important lessons learned on the way.
This interview is with Antonio Potenza. He is the CEO & Founder of Proodos Capital, which invests in early-stage impact enterprises that pursue a positive social and/or environmental impact alongside an economic return. He is also the COO & Co-Founder of Fund4Impact, which leverages deep and trustworthy relations to help their partners augment their impact and advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals. You can find Antonio on LinkedIn here.
Share your backstory and how you got where you are today. Can you share one or two events (positive or negative) in life that shaped who you are as a person and leader?
After an illustrious career as Investment Banker and Corporate Financier in the Mineral and Mining Sector, I realized that a mind shift in how financial resources are deployed was needed. A significant paradigm shift was needed for the advancement and betterment of society, and to repurpose businesses towards profits that have a fully integral positive impact on the effects to planet and people. I deliberately put the planet first because if we don’t safeguard the planet we don’t need to worry about the rest.
A negative aspect of my earlier career was the mindset of exclusive profit thinking and creating value only for shareholders. The discourse is much broader, and my activities today consider a much larger group of stakeholders. Creating Stakeholder Value rather than illusionary Shareholder Value is much more gratifying.
A pivotal moment in my career was when one of my clients in the Mineral and Mining sector approached me to develop a corporate bond, a debt finance instrument. Funds from this capital raise were programmed to be invested into upgrading existing production facilities AND to build infrastructure for the community and the workers of the factory. This was very unusual to declare it so publicly. This is the moment I consciously realized that capital is agnostic, and it is down to our own actions and respect for the people and the planet in how we put this capital at work.
Soon thereafter two more clients approached me with a similar request and that was my “man-in-the-mirror” moment. It literally was during a morning shave in front of a hotel room mirror that it suddenly struck me that I had to change things for me, my family, and my professional progression.
Clearly, the need for change was slumbering in my subconscious for some time, but it was this defining moment on that particular morning on that particular day where it became obvious to me. It wasn’t long and I resigned from my C-Suite position in the South of France. I took a sabbatical and took my wife on an extended regenerative and reflective trip onto an Island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
This “off” time helped me clear my view and building on the “Money for Good” experience I decided that I need to dig deeper. Out came the decision that I go back to University and get some updates on novel investment theories. I applied, and to my amazement and disbelief, was accepted into the University of Oxford Executive MBA program. A 21-month educational and academic program that would change my life forever.
The University of Oxford is one of the first academic institutions that provide an Executive MBA centred around Social Finance and Impact Investing. I met incredible people, with incredible life stories and realized that I did not need to throw overboard my financial background, my know-how. I needed to reskill myself and learn a “new language” that would help conventional financial assumptions to be transferred into a more equitable, fair and just capital redistribution. It was only after I got back to University that I realized that my late work actually was Social Impact Bonds and Impact Investing.
Fast forward 21 months – this is how Proodos Capital, a Social Impact VC/PE Fund that seeks to invest into climate-smart Agriculture and climate-smart Energy in emerging markets and Fund4Impact, a FinTech product that connects early-stage ventures with a Sustainable mission with Socially Responsible capital owners through Grants and Venture Philanthropy. Fund4Impact is a project that is also backed by the UK Government and received twice funding through Innovate UK.
Upon completion of my Oxford Studies, I also completed a further degree in High Impact Leadership with the University of Cambridge.
I am still engaged with the Business School by tutoring their online programs on Venture Creation and Venture Finance, and with Oxford Summer Courses for Business & Entrepreneurship and Leadership. This allows me to stay in touch with the community of upcoming and very innovative global business ideas.
What do you like about the work you do? What do you find most challenging?
What I like most is that we can give money a more positive connotation; that it has the power to be an agent for positive change and we can be stewards for the present and future generation to provide a positive outlook for all life on earth.
One of the biggest challenges is to create awareness and provoke a mind shift in the conventional capital markets and to ensure that they walk the talk and not just lip service.
What are you passionate about? (or what dreams keep you up at night?)
My passion is money and the power it has to be a force for good if it is employed in the right manner. Money is not bad per se, it’s what we do with it that makes all the difference. So, what keeps me up at night is to make sure that we do all we can to ensure that we detect, build, mentor, and execute the investment strategies that have the power to fuel game-changing outcomes through our support to innovation and research and entrepreneurship.
How do you manage pressure and overwhelm?
This was clearly harder when I was younger but with age comes wisdom and experience and the ability to make more informed judgement and prioritize. Strict time management and a strong team are very important too. I always try to surround myself with people that are better skilled than me and I am also much more selective in engaging in new ventures and commitments to find a good balance.
Enough sleep, a balanced life, family time and a nice dose of “me-time” are equally essential. I like to walk in the Parks and the Streets of London and let my thoughts wander and be inspired by the beautiful nature and architecture that surrounds me. I also like to read a lot.
Who has had the most influence on your leadership? Share a story to illustrate your point.
Most probably my mother. She lost her husband at a very young age and had to raise two very small children in a foreign country and struggle hard to make ends meet to allow my sister and me a good education and a better life. I learned that with passion, devotion, patience, focus and resilience you can achieve great goals and build that inner core that lets you advance against all adversities and obstacles that life (and business) throws at you. To give up easily is not part of my DNA, but to realize when it is time to go, and change is a virtue.
My late father, whom I never met because he died in a car accident the day I was born, is another source of inspiration. I carry his name and what I know about him through the stories that I am told is that he was a hardworking and just man.
Leadership is about empowering others to grow, progress and allowing them to take on responsibility and accountability. I can only be a good leader by leading by a good example. Leadership is also down to followership. I need to be capable of grouping the right people alongside me and taking them on a common journey towards our common goals and desired outcomes.
What are your goals or aspirations for this year?
- Take stock of the lessons learned during the very hard COVID lockdowns we’ve had in the UK.
- Continue building our Investment Fund and unlock additional capital to allow upcoming and inspiring new generations of entrepreneurs to build a better world and see them grow and succeed in realizing their dreams and aspirations.
- To be a good and loving husband, a reliable and inspirational partner/father for my wife and daughter, as well as the people around me.
For more such Leadership Journeys, click here.
Your Leadership story deserves to be heard
Each one of us is on a leadership journey of our own. Our journeys might not look alike, they might resemble more of a roller-coaster than a race track, and that is what makes each one of us special and unique in our own ways.
I am deeply touched when someone takes the time to share their story with me. The readers of my Deploy Yourself newsletter and the leaders I work with are also left inspired when we listen to each other’s leadership journeys.
If you think that your leadership journey is worth sharing and would be valuable to others, reach out and allow me the privilege to interview you. You can send me a message on LinkedIn or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be interested.