Building bridges toward sustainability and impact

By Jenny Clare

Alyssa Farrelly, MBA 21, had qualms about the magnitude of the career pivot she aspired to achieve: from nonprofit administration to impact investing. Without a traditional finance background, she knew it would be a stretch, but she had confidence in herself and in the skills and network she would gain in the Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA program.

Her career pivot accelerated when she met her study group at WE Launch, the program’s signature student orientation weekend. The study groups are the building blocks of your new community, according to Alyssa. And in her case, the bridge to her new job, through her classmate and friend, Michael Firestone, MBA 21.

Before enrolling at Berkeley Haas, Alyssa had spent nearly eight years in China, where she was the executive director of a nonprofit committed to developing the next generation of leaders in the U.S. and China through cross-cultural student exchange and leadership development.

“After working in the nonprofit sector for a long time, I was curious about how to drive capital to impactful organizations outside of the traditional philanthropic approach. Michael was intrigued by the potential to incorporate social impact into investment management,” she said. “My background in social impact complemented his experience in finance.”

Michael founded Fire Capital Management and shortly after, Alyssa joined him. Today she is Fire Capital’s chief operations officer and director of social impact. The burgeoning boutique investment management firm is on a steep growth trajectory. In two years, its team has grown to five employees, and assets under advisement have grown from zero to more than $700 million by offering private wealth management and multi-family office services with an eye on sustainability to high-net worth individuals, families, and foundations.

The company is proud to have joined the Pledge 1% movement, creating a new normal where companies of all sizes integrate giving back into their culture and values. Pledge 1% empowers companies to donate 1% of product, equity, profit or employee time to causes of their choice.

Gaining skills in class and in competitions

Typical of a small firm, Alyssa wears many hats at Fire Capital. In addition to managing day-to-day operations—the client experience, accounting, human resources, and compliance—she is responsible for researching and doing due diligence on opportunities that support their clients’ desires to have a positive social impact from the way they invest to the way they give.

She gives the example of building a portfolio for a client with a foundation whose mission is to empower women and girls in the Middle East and West Africa. “I found organizations that work in that space, researched their financial needs, and built a strategy for our client that will help her have the impact she wants through philanthropy,” Alyssa explained. “And on the investment side, Michael built a portfolio that reflects her values and goals as well. For example, we helped her make an investment in a women-led VC firm based in Africa.”

Alyssa is bolstering her finance and investment skills with courses like Financial Information & Analysis with Panos Patatoukas and Accounting, which Professor Yaniv Konchitchki “actually made fun, which I thought was impossible,” she quips.

Her participation in the Haas Impact Fund and the Invest for Impact competition, gave her the opportunity to develop and pitch a sustainable supply chain venture for an equity investment by the fund. “These are exactly the sort of analysis and presentation skills I can translate to my work at Fire Capital,” she said. “We also hope to start our own impact fund at the firm in the future, so these experiences are really helpful in our journey.”

Creating an equitable culture

Alyssa and her colleagues are laying a foundation of integrity, trust, and equity at Fire Capital, inspired by several of their Berkeley Haas professors. One of them is Kellie McElhaney, whose class, Equity Fluent Leadership, was pivotal for Alyssa. “This class was one of my favorites,” she said. “It influenced our determination and approach to integrating DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) principles at Fire Capital from the get-go."

McElhaney also leads the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL). As a member of EGAL’s student advisory board, Alyssa helped to organize the Investing in Inclusion Pitch Competition, an opportunity she welcomed to expand her awareness of sourcing companies and organizations that are committed to DEI.

As classmates, colleagues, and friends, the founders of Fire Capital share a strong ethical core that echoes the Haas Defining Leadership Principles. ‘’We’re just at the start of our journey and every decision point has consequences,” Alyssa said. “There really are no shortcuts when you are Questioning the Status Quo, going Beyond Yourself, and are committed to working with intentionality, transparency, and honesty.”

Learn more about the Evening & Weekend MBA program

Posted on May 6, 2021
Themes: Finance  |  Social Impact
Jenny Clare
Jenny is Senior Associate Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals. She hopes these blog posts provide you with useful insights into the Berkeley MBA experience and answer questions you may have about the MBA in general.