Alumni Spotlight: Donald Wissell Fuses Finance and Sustainability
Sustainability Management alumni Donald Wissell (Class of ’18) comes from more than 18 years as a debt finance expert with diverse experience in trading, modeling, analytics, money management, and product development. He has worked for companies such as Bear Stearns, Bank of America, and BlackRock Financial Management. He also has an interest in sustainability, and felt the underlying skills required for both disciplines were well aligned; both require innovative thinking, analysis and problem solving, complex project management, relevant marketing plans, implementation of new technologies, and public education.
Donald currently works as a business/product manager for Bloomberg LLP, where he is responsible for the design, development, deployment, marketing, adoption, and enhancement in the cash structured products group.
What initially attracted you to the Sustainability Management program at Columbia University?
I knew that I needed to obtain the knowledge and skills associated with sustainability, both micro and macro. Columbia University provided a wide array of resources across this spectrum where a majority of the faculty are currently working in the field of sustainability and sure-footed in current trends. This led to numerous outside research projects involving the financial viability of environmental group initiatives, commercial solar project development, and new-to-market energy technologies that needed to better understand/access private equity requirements and expectations.
What was your favorite class in the SUMA program and why?
As someone with a significant background in finance, one of my main objectives in joining the program was to learn and develop skills in the energy space. Energy Markets and Innovation enabled me to become fluent in energy system concepts, terminology, and technologies. We learned to break down the energy system into microeconomic principles, for example, to develop a framework of costing methods for both energy and power. I have the tools for determining potential winners and losers and believe capital will drive innovation and far more efficient deployment.
What is one of your accomplishments in the program that you are most proud of?
I am one of the founders of the Columbia Sustainable Finance Professional Network (CSFPN) — an association of experienced financial professionals focused on action in sustainable finance and investing. The membership is comprised of Columbia faculty, graduate students, and alumni with a mission to connect academia and industry to work on solutions where finance is used as a lever to promote a sustainable future. I served as vice president from 2016 to 2017, president in 2018, and currently I’m a member of the CSFPN advisory council, where I enjoy working with students and fellow advisors on research projects and connecting with industry leaders. In 2018, CSFPN was awarded the SPS Program Innovation award of the year for providing cutting-edge learning and networking opportunities in the field of sustainable investing.
What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?
Network and attend as many out of class lectures/events as possible. One of the great aspects of the sustainability space is that it can be very broad. I was constantly meeting people in the program who had expertise in industries that I had limited knowledge of. I came out with a much broader perspective on other industries, and ideas on how I can integrate this with my professional interests.
The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges.