12 May 2008

Conservation: What's Ahead for Nature Conservancy with New CEO Mark Tercek?

The announcement last Friday that The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has hired Goldman Sachs' Mark Tercek as CEO came as a surprise.

Many familiar with TNC expected longtime employee and acting CEO and current COO Stephanie Meeks to get tapped for the job. Others felt it was time to look outside of the organizations ranks and bring in a global player.

But Mark Tercek, currently a managing director at Goldman Sachs and head of the Goldman Sachs Center for Environmental Markets as well as the firm’s Environmental Strategy Group, was a candidate from left field. That could be a good thing. (I speculated earlier in the year that another Goldman alum, Henry Paulson, might be considering the post, but alas, he has his hands full at present.)

Mr. Tercek, according to TNC, "combines global business experience, experience working effectively in different cultures and recognized leadership on climate change and other environmental issues."

"Building on our 57 years of conservation results, The Nature Conservancy is working with partners to expand our global reach to achieve our challenging 2015 Goal of effectively conserving 10 percent of all natural habitats on Earth," said John P. Morgridge, chairman of the Conservancy’s board of directors.

"At this important time for conservation and for our organization, Mark's knowledge of global cultures and governments, his passion for conservation and his experience as a decisive consensus builder in an intensely results-oriented organization positions him to lead the Conservancy to accelerate our work around the globe.”

"To ensure a smooth transition of leadership," according to a TNC press release. "Ms. Meeks, who has served as the Conservancy's acting president and CEO since October and as its chief operating officer since January 2007, has agreed to continue in those capacities through the beginning of Mr. Tercek's tenure."

"I have long admired The Nature Conservancy and have an enormous amount of respect for its global mission," said Mr. Tercek. "As climate change, habitat loss and other global trends continue to threaten our planet's biodiversity, the world needs the Conservancy's effective, practical solutions now more than ever."

"Mr. Tercek is currently collaborating with Resources for the Future, the World Resources Institute and the Woods Hole Research Center on projects concerning climate change.

"He serves on the Council on Foreign Relations' independent task force on climate change and the Wildlife Conservation Society's Chilean Advisory Council. He is a member of the Steering Group on the Prince of Wales' Princes' Rainforest Project.

"In addition, Mr. Tercek has worked with Nature Conservancy board member Dr. Gretchen Daily, professor of biology at Stanford University, and Conservancy chief scientist Peter Kareiva on advancing finance and policy mechanisms for valuing forest ecosystems for the vital roles they play in supporting human well-being, thereby creating alternatives to rainforest destruction."

"Mark is opening innovative possibilities for aligning economic forces with conservation," Dr. Daily said. "His vision is central to taking conservation to scale, incorporating the values of nature into real decisions and engaging leaders globally."

With his background at Goldman and focus on market-based solutions, this could be a new era for TNC as it wrestles with threats to its mission from climate change and the undervaluing of the benefits provided to people by natural capital.

It will be interesting to watch how new blood influences the organization, specifically in terms of how it plays in the carbon market-generation space, where it could have a huge role.

Some of the more immediate impacts of climate change are already being felt at Conservancy sites around the globe. Will the new CEO marshal the resources necessary to assess and address climate-based threats to its portfolio of places and risk to its land-rich asset base?

An interesting move. We'll keep an eye on how this plays out over the coming months.

(Disclosure: The author was an employee of The Nature Conservancy until August of 2007.)