CDPQ's Kim Thomassin on their New Diversity & Inclusion Fund
Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) announced the creation of Equity 253, an investment fund aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in growing SMEs in Québec and Canada. With a total of $250 million in funding, Equity 253 is the largest Canadian fund ever created to target companies leveraging diversity as a vector of development and expansion.
“It has been clearly established that greater corporate diversity positively impacts innovation, risk management, productivity and financial performance. Through this dedicated fund, we want to encourage SMEs to increase diversity in their organizations using a measurable objective so they can benefit from this additional performance lever,” said Kim Thomassin, CDPQ’s Executive Vice-President and Head of Investments in Québec and Stewardship Investing.
To be selected, SMEs will need to commit to diversifying their workforce so that at least 25% of their Boards of Directors, management teams and shareholding is comprised of people of diverse backgrounds (e.g. women, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples) in the five years following confirmation of financing. To facilitate achieving these objectives, CDPQ commits to providing the companies with operational guidance to implement and execute a customized diversity and inclusion plan.
Equity 253 offers investments from $5 million to $30 million and targets profitable SMEs and promising technology companies based in Québec or elsewhere in Canada. In addition to their commitments to diversity, mid-market companies will need to show strong growth combined with a history of profitability. Tech companies will need to demonstrate strong growth in sales, solid recurring revenue and a competitive technological offering.
“Diversity and inclusion are one of CDPQ’s strategic priorities for stewardship investing. Following several years of promoting gender equality, CDPQ is now broadening the scope of its actions to further address ethnocultural diversity issues. Creating Equity 253 is one way of doing this,” added Ms. Thomassin.
Companies may submit a financing request by filling out the form on www.cdpq.com/equity25-3, where they can also find more information on the fund, including eligibility criteria and details on the members of its strategic committee.
Equity 253 is an investment fund of $250 million to be deployed over four years with the goal of increasing diversity and inclusion in companies in Québec and Canada. It is the largest Canadian fund ever created to target companies that leverage diversity as a vector of development and expansion.
- A $5-million to $30-million investment in your company.
- Operational guidance to help implement and execute a customized diversity and inclusion plan.
- Value-added support through access to diversified expertise, our international network and our ability to secure relationships.
- People of diverse backgrounds (e.g. women, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples) must represent at least:
- 25% of your Board of Directors
- 25% of your management team
- 25% of your shareholding
- Achieve this objective within five years following the confirmation of your financing.
To submit a request for financing, you must:
- Be based in Québec or elsewhere in Canada
- Take concrete action on diversity and inclusion
- Demonstrate strong growth
- Solid economic foundation: quality management team, strong financial performance and healthy balance sheet
- History of profitability
- Potential to enhance your operational efficiency
Why a fund for diversity and inclusion?
- Solid economic foundation: quality management team, considerable market size and sustained annual growth
- Competitive technology offering
- Predictive and proven business model: significant growth in sales and high level of recurring revenue
Studies have made it clear. Greater diversity in our companies fosters better decision-making and has a positive impact on:
- Risk management
- Financial performance
That’s why we want to encourage SMEs to set measurable objectives on becoming more diverse, and benefit from this additional lever to drive performance.
Stewardship investing at CDPQ includes diversity as one of three strategic priorities. For several years now, we have actively promoted gender diversity through various initiatives.
On Friday, I had a very brief but insightful discussion on this new fund with Kim Thomassin, Executive Vice-President and Head of Investments in Québec and Stewardship Investing.
Let me first thank Kim for taking time out of her busy schedule last week to chat with me. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Kim is extremely professional, intelligent, super nice and it's always a pleasure talking to her or exchanging thoughts via email.
She doesn't like it when I state this but she'd make a great leader of CDPQ one day, if that day ever comes.
Anyway, when I read the press release above, I pointed out to her and Charles Emond, CDPQ's CEO, that there was no mention of people with disabilities on that press release and that's just plain wrong.
Kim agreed with me: "Yes, you're absolutely right, thank you for pointing this out, we want to help all disenfranchised groups grow their SME including people with disabilities. The same goes for members of the LBGTQ community which we also didn't specifically mention in the press release."
She also told me that CDPQ has an internal committee looking at hiring more people with disabilities by 2022 and they're working with the la Commission des droits de la personne et de protection des droits de la jeunesse (see more about this commission here).
That was music to my ears and it's about time CDPQ starts hiring more people with disabilities but as I keep stating on my blog, I'll believe it when I see it. (The same criticism can be laid on all of Canada's large pensions which have zero representation of people with disabilities or a infinitesimally negligible representation).
Moving on, Kim told me the impetus behind this new Equity 253 fund came from employees at CDPQ and the depositors (ie. CDPQ's clients) embraced it. "It was a grass roots fund and employees are very proud of it."
They should be. Think about that. Employees at CDPQ were able to voice their concerns following events that took place this past summer (George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery) and they got senior management and depositors to sign off on this new fund.
Actually, Kim told me three people in particular deserve the credit: Wils Theagene, Senior Director, Québec; Martin Laguerre, Managing Director, Capital Solutions and Tom Birch, Managing Director, Global Venture Capital and Technologies.
All three of them sit on Equity 253's Strategic Committee along with Kim and some other key members:
This is one hell of a committee made up of different people of different backgrounds, some who have extensive experience and others who are less well known but are equally important as they bring fresh perspectives to this committee. I'm confident they will do a great job deploying the $250 million to SMEs committed to embracing diversity & inclusion.
Kim reiterated the ticket sizes are $5 million to $30 million and they aren't just targeting gender diversity but all diversity and the new fund isn't limited to only Quebec, which is good given that CDPQ's dual mandate is to focus more on developing Quebec based companies.
Having experience working at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), I applaud this new venture and think it's very wise to make it pan-Canadian.
In fact, I told Kim that CDPQ might want to work with the BDC or another large pension (CPP Investments) if this venture proves successful to do follow-on funds that target SMEs.
Let's not kid ourselves: systemic racism is alive and well in Canada, not just the United States.
We love pointing the finger to our neighbors down south but we have serious issues here too and we need to promote diversity & inclusion at small and large businesses.
Let me be even more blunt: when it comes to diversity & inclusion, the free market does a terrible job allocating equal opportunities to disenfranchised groups.
Again, this is me talking, not Kim Thomassin, but I suspect she agrees with me.
The world in 2020 is much more diverse than what it was twenty years ago.
CDPQ itself is more diverse than it was 20 years ago when I was there, far more diverse.
I give credit to Michael Sabia, the former CEO, for promoting competent men and women from all backgrounds to senior positions and to Charles Emond for continuing to do so.
In fact, if I had a chance to sit down with Charles Emond, Louis Vachon, Guy Cormier, Jean-Guy Desjardins and other leaders of Quebec's financial community, I'd tell them straight out: "You need to do more to promote diversity & inclusion or else Quebec will permanently lag behind other provinces."
I'm not mincing my words here, these are my views, I'm unapologetic and if you have different views, feel free to email me and I'll post them here.
This afternoon, I had to go pick up my wife who teaches at an elementary school in Park Extension. It's one of the poorest neighborhoods in Canada which is currently undergoing gentrification and it epitomizes multiculturalism.
I love that neighborhood, it's authentic, many immigrants from all over the world have passed through there including my parents a very long time ago for a brief period.
Today, I saw young Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Indian and other kids from immigrant parents from around the world playing with French, Anglo and European Canadian kids (gentrification means there's a good mix of socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures).
What went through my head? Twenty years from now, Quebec and the rest of Canada will look radically different from today, and that's why diversity & inclusion are now more important than ever.
It's not just a moral duty, it's good business, those that choose to embrace diversity and inclusion will lead the pack and those that don't will be left far behind.
That's one thing I admire about the United States. In the US, if you're good, you will rise to the top no matter your race, religion, gender, color, sexual orientation or disability. That's why the US will always lead the world in terms of innovation and growth.
Anyway, back to Kim Thomassin, I mentioned to her that in the US, many public pensions invested in minority owned funds with mixed results. I told her: "I gather this isn't a charity, you expect these businesses to be profitable and/ or grow in the case of tech companies."
She confirmed this and told me they are using the "same KPIs" they use to evaluate other investments, will provide capital AND operational support and expertise to these SMEs and leverage off "CDPQ's vast network in Canada and the rest of the world".
You can read the criteria above, this isn't a blank check to SMEs, they need to make sure they build on diversity & inclusion within five years of getting financing and respect the financial objectives set out above.
Kim Thomassin ended our conversation by stating this new initiative respects CDPQ's strategic goals of building a more diverse, inclusive and sustainable future in a post-COVID world."
She also mentioned Blackstone's new diversity push, making a wider push to increase diversity in portfolio companies and their boards of directors with new initiatives.
Again, the world is changing and leaders like Blackstone aren't reactive, they're proactive, and so is CDPQ with this new initiative.
Once again, I thank Kim Thomassin for another great conversation, always a pleasure, and I thank Serge Vallières for setting up this call.
Lastly, before I forget, I did speak to Kim about AddEnergie securing $53M financing to accelerate the expansion of its North American EV charging network. Very cool company, read about it here.
And today, I had a Zoom meeting with McGill Finance professor Sebastien Betermier and McGill Finance student Tania Kuoh, one of the MPIC organizers, regarding an event taking place this Friday morning.
Sebastien sent me an email last week:
I want to bring to your attention an event that I believe will be of high interest to you. Four years ago, I founded the McGill International Portfolio Challenge (MIPC), a student-led university competition where the brightest finance students from around the World address complex societal issues such as the retirement savings shortfall and climate change. MIPC has since grown into the World’s largest buy-side finance challenge, with $50,000 of cash prizes for the top student teams. This year, 93 university teams from 18 countries and 5 continents have joined the challenge. The theme is about how the finance industry can address the rise of social inequalities and protectionist tendencies in the midst of the current pandemic. We will focus on Brexit and study the portfolio design of a (fictional) newly launched sovereign wealth fund that has a unique triple mandate, which is to make the UK more economically independent and equal while generating risk-adjusted returns over the long-term. Here is a short video about the case prepared by my students.
The competition is taking place virtually this year and we will live-stream the grand finale of the top 5 teams on Friday Nov 6 9AM-12PM Montreal time. A panel of pension fund executives will hear the proposals and grill the student teams during Q&A, before choosing the winners. Past judges include Geoff Rubin, Chief Strategist at CPP Investments, Ed Van Gelderen, CIO of PSP, and Patrick Odier, head of Lombard Odier. You are certainly welcome to join us. This year’s MIPC is a unique opportunity to mobilize student talent and leadership, bridge academia and industry, show how finance can be a powerful mechanism for social change, and generate solutions that strike a balance between creativity and rigorous pragmatism. You are welcome to look at our past cases and winning proposals at www.mipc.ca.
I thank Sebastien and Tania for taking the time to chat with me earlier and look forward to seeing this event Friday morning (it's open to all) even if McGill students are not allowed to compete (they can't, they make the cases and talk with pensions all year long so it wouldn't be fair).
Below, Verdun Perry, Head of Strategic Partnerships and Chairman of Blackstone's Diversity & Inclusion Network, Jon Gray and others discuss how Blackstone seeks to attract talent from the broadest universe possible.
Blackstone President and COO Jon Gray recently discussed the historic dislocation in markets brought on by the pandemic, the themes driving Blackstone’s investment strategy moving forward, and the importance of “high conviction” in his approach to investing in an episode of "Talks At GS Presents: Insights From Great Investors."
Third, the McGill International Portfolio Challenge returns in 2020 and invites you to represent your university. Find more information at www.mipc.ca. Looking forward to watching this year's competition.
Lastly, my favorite disability advocate, Kevin McShan, had a conversation with Jonathon Shanahan on why diversity of opportunities is critically important for the full integration of individuals with disabilities within the workplace. October marked National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Kevin has done more than anyone I know bringing awareness on this important topic. Another great conversation, take the time to watch it.
Update: Wils Theagene, Senior Director, Québec at CDSPQ posted this on LinkedIn:
"Equity 253' the largest Canadian fund ever created to target companies that leverage diversity as a vector of development and expansion."
It most certainly is and he and all CDPQ employees who recommended and pushed for this new fund should be very proud, they're leading by example. Very well done.