Summer Associate 2022
My name is Jeff Pontell, I was born and raised in the Washington, DC area. In my undergraduate studies I was trained in Mechanical Engineering and Business. The first eight years of my career were spent at Shell. I found myself drawn to the global nature of its work, the sophisticated and challenging projects, and the opportunity to participate in an industry that is important to the economy and relevant in peoples’ lives. At Shell, I held technical, operational, intrapreneurial, and general management roles and supported work across parts of the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Asia-Pacific. I also spent time in Kenya exploring sub-Saharan Africa’s decentralised renewable energy sector. I am grateful for my time at Shell – which very much confirmed my interest in the areas that drew me to the company – but ultimately sought work better-aligned to my values: a stronger performance culture, on the cutting edge with greater “additionality,” and with more ownership at the individual level. More broadly, I find purpose in life by working toward solutions that help make the world a better place, particularly in service of those in greatest need; having strong relationships with the people around me; and helping unlock potential in others. The quest to act on this purpose led me to business school. I started at Stanford University in the MBA + MS in Environment & Resources program in September, 2021.
Entering business school, I suspected that my post-MBA career would be in renewable energy in the growth markets. However, as I arrived, I started to realise the significance of other, similar, global infrastructure challenges – for instance, in transportation and digital hard assets. I also realised how intertwined they are. With this, I quickly became very interested in work at Actis. The idea of providing essential services to people across the globe, particularly in areas where they may not be as readily-available – creating world-class companies that catalyse local development, and providing best-in-class returns to pension funds and other impact-oriented Limited Partners along the way – really excites me. Between its growth markets focus and heritage, “Builders and Operators” mentality, thought leadership in Sustainability, and expertise across a variety of hard asset types, Actis is one-of-a-kind.
THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
The interview process for the Associate Programme was rigorous but excellent, a unique learning experience. I was struck by Actis’ commitment to getting to know its candidates in an unbiased way, as well as the thoughtfulness, intelligence, and care involved in each step. For instance, after my case presentation, one of the interviewers set up a follow-up call the next day to provide a coaching moment and help me identify potential areas for improvement. This meant a lot to me and showed just how invested the firm is in its people. This commitment holds through the present day. And, because Actis cares about what you can do, not only what you have done, you find people from all walks of life at the firm (finance, big business, entrepreneurs, etc). The intern class and firm are diverse, values-driven, capable, and committed. Personally, I felt very “known” at Actis, and confident in the ability to align interests and values with my colleagues, even when we came to the table with different perspectives. This was really energising for me and is the basis for high-performing teams.
The Summer at Actis was similarly wonderful. I was a member of the Long Life Infrastructure (“ALLIF”) Operations team; a relatively new but quickly growing strategy in the firm. The work was diverse, global, and challenging; the people were incredibly competent, values-driven, and committed; the physical environment in London was pleasant and collegial. My contributions ranged from helping evaluate a prospective investment, to supporting fundraising, to structural work across investee companies ranging from governance to continuous improvement. Functionally, the Operations team supports everything from technical due diligence, to commercial and organisational strategy, to continuous improvement and value creation, to governance. The fund I supported held assets in regions ranging from South America (Chile and Brasil), to Asia (Turkey and India), the Middle East (the UAE) and in sectors ranging from Renewable Power, to Transmission & Distribution, District Energy, and Toll Roads. The global reach and diverse nature of the work made every day exciting. The work is a very interesting mix of pragmatic and intellectual.
Actis really positions its interns for success. Each of us arrived to the firm with a clear Personalised Summer Plan and supporting documentation with which to familiarise ahead-of-time. We were given ownership over our workstreams and the agency to prioritise in our and the firm’s best interest. Before we even began work, we spent a week participating in the Summer Investment Essentials training. In this program, we heard from experts across Actis’ business. Our discussions ranged from the macroeconomic environment, to Diversity & Inclusion, to the Investment Committee processes, to the firm’s Values and Vision. This was incredibly rich as it brought Summer Associates from across all of Actis’ offices together in London, and gave everyone a common ground and understanding of the firm. The relationships we formed across Actis at the Summer Investment Essentials – from the other Summer Associates, to Partners – lasted the duration of the Summer, and we had nearly-unlimited access to perspectives and thought leadership across the firm. This training is indicative of the numerous meaningful ways to learn from experts and continue to develop as you progress through your career at Actis.
Actis Acts was also an inspiring experience. I worked with a team of three other Summer Associates, and a recent investee company, to pitch a project to the board of trustees to help upskill underserved young adults in one of the investee company’s markets and install a 20 kWp rooftop solar array at a local community health center. We and the trustees loved the project because of its intersectional impact – it supported the country’s renewable energy ambitions, gender equity (the country had the third-lowest female workforce participation rate in the world), and technical capacity building. I enjoyed Actis Acts because it was really fun to collaborate and stay connected with Summer Associates located elsewhere (my team spanned London, Tokyo, Singapore, and Mumbai), engage with the portfolio company, and help bring Actis’ ethos of “Values Drive Value” to life. Actis Acts is representative of the many different ways to make a positive impact at Actis, which is appealing to me.
WHAT I LEARNED AND ADVICE
In addition to being a very rewarding Summer, I learned so much. I explored transport, a new sector that is very different than my prior work. I observed which skills from my prior career were transferable, and which required adaptation in a very different context. I practiced some of the leadership and interpersonal behaviors I had been working on through the MBA, with colleagues from across the world and many functions. I made a number of friends with whom I plan to stay close for years to come. My advice to future candidates would be to find what you are truly passionate about and where you can become involved at Actis. Then, once you have the opportunity, take every chance you get to help the firm move forward in your area of interest. “A rising tide lifts all boats!”Contact Us