Discussion with Mark Howard, Treasurer of Friends of IHES

Mark Howard is the Treasurer of Friends of IHES. He is Chartered Financial Analyst, Senior Multi-Asset Specialist and Sustainability Coordinator at BNP Paribas Americas and UCL Honorary Fellow 2021.

Here below, Mark Howard tells us more about his career, his involvement with Friends of IHES and other charities, his interests and values.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your studies and your professional career journey which led you to your current position at BNP Paribas?

I grew up as a very curious person, in particular thanks to my grandmother, who had a big influence on me and taught me a variety of board and card games that instilled a desire to solve or anticipate problems and then deal with them.

I also grew up playing ice hockey, a game that is not only very fast-moving, but requires a lot of anticipation because you don’t move where the other player does. You move in anticipation of where the puck is going to be. I thus grew up heavily influenced by these games and sports to always be thinking in the future and trying to solve or anticipate challenges, hurdles or opportunities.

I have worked at three banks over my career and obtained my graduate degree in finance at New York University. I started out in the research department of Lehman Brothers, where I stayed for 18 years, doing different types of fundamental securities analysis.

For the next five years, I spent a lot of time in Europe in a research leadership role at Barclays. I then moved on to BNP Paribas where I have enjoyed several similar roles for the last 12 years.

I have enjoyed being part of large global organizations, analyzing markets and developing close relationships with the bank’s clients. I particularly appreciate the opportunity to provide solutions to the challenges inherent with institutional investments.

One other very formative piece of my career development was studying for a year at University College London.  Not only did this provide the opportunity to travel in France and throughout Europe, but it also deepened my appreciation for rigorous scientific and analytical methods. Studying in a large university setting as opposed to a small US college exposed me to many different ways of thinking and the importance of rigor.

Given your numerous professional requirements, why do you prioritize volunteering for multiple charities and civic organizations?

Many years ago, as my accomplishments on the Wall Street advanced, I decided to spend more time and effort “giving back.” Key professional mentors had shown how to set an example for the next generation by assisting deserving charities and the communities in which we live. More specifically, I gained a clearer appreciation of how lending my financial expertise could make a real difference. As framed through the principal of comparative advantage, my time donated on financial issues has allowed charity leaders to prioritize the critical things they do best.

I am referring to schools, hospitals, libraries, and other important community-facing organizations. Charity leaders frequently need assistance with a range of financial issues including budgeting, managing an endowment, and sponsoring employee retirement funds. These needs became particularly acute during times of crisis here in New York, including 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and the Pandemic.

How is it you’ve come to support organizations such as Friends of IHES, University College London’s Friends or the Maine Community Foundation?

My wife and I have two children and as they were growing up, they showed a lot of interest in science. We thus decided to prioritize our support to two broad areas:  one is fundamental science and education and the other is women’s health issues. We have channeled both our philanthropy and our efforts to support those areas, partly because of the interests of our children, but also with a view towards the importance of fundamental science being the bedrock to creating solutions for societal, environmental and other challenges looming in the future.

As the Board Treasurer of Friends of IHES, and a member of the Investment Committee, your financial expertise is put to good use. What do you expect from this new Investment program?

Many years ago, I engaged with Emmanuel Ullmo, director of IHES, on the topic of creating a permanent endowment in the US for several reasons. First, I thought it was important for the long-term financial stability of the charity and could provide resources for a variety of initiatives that would help to maintain the positive engagement with IHES US friends and ambassadors. The second reason was related to the peculiarity of US tax considerations. Having an endowed fund domiciled in the US might encourage donors to give in a tax-advantaged way.

Additionally, from a financial return standpoint, our US endowed funds can be invested differently to generate both a higher yield than endowed funds in France and a more diversified or less risky set of investment returns. It thus provides balance to the funds being invested in France, as well as a higher potential return. For obvious reasons, that can be quite additive over time.

The creation of the endowment fund has been a major collective project, that reflects the remarkable support of Jim and Marilyn Simons and other generous donors. We have worked diligently to create a transparent process so that the investments can be managed smartly, prudently and with a strategic time horizon. Our investment program will be truly durable, benefitting from strong guiding principles that will stay in place regardless of the future composition of the committee.

Your commitment to Friends of IHES has been timely for the charity. What has Friends of IHES brought to you over these years?

At Friends of IHES, we all share a passion for fundamental science and an awareness of the remarkable linkages between fundamental science and society. Friends of IHES helped me to learn and appreciate these overlaps that are so powerful and important. My vision and understanding of the importance of math, physics, and other rigorous methods is much more advanced thanks to Friends of IHES.

Whether it’s a musical composition, a satellite lift-off, a climate change solution or something involving AI, rigorous math is at its foundation. Thanks to IHES, I have a much deeper appreciation of these and related topics. And of course, I have learned so much from different scientists and supporters involved in this beautiful scientific adventure.

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