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Making Strides in Ag Investing: Carolyn Bailey, Partner and CFO at AgIS

Contributed Content from AgIS (May 11, 2021)

(NOTE: This story first ran in our sister publication, Global AgInvesting News)

As an independent agricultural investment manager, we at AgIS Capital believe two of our strongest differentiating characteristics are the high levels of commitment our people demonstrate to their work and professions and the degree to which they invest themselves in serving and representing the interests of our clients. To acknowledge their importance to our business, and the value they add for our investors, we periodically profile members of our team.

Meet Carolyn Bailey, Partner and Chief Financial Officer

A founder of AgIS Capital, Carolyn Bailey oversees the firm's financial and operational platform. Among other things, she is responsible for financial management, client and portfolio accounting and reporting, compliance, and human resources. She also sits on the firm's Investment Committee and plays a key role in analyzing prospective acquisitions.

Carolyn's story is unique. She is one of the few women globally to own and help lead an institutional agricultural investment firm, but unlike many who pursue careers in the asset class, she had no background in farming prior to entering the sector 20 years ago.

Growing Up in Boston

Carolyn grew up in Dorchester, a traditionally working‐class section of Boston where the streets are lined with triple‐decker, multi‐family homes – many inhabited by families of Irish dissent who are proud of their heritage and the tight‐knit neighborhoods in which they live.

Carolyn attended parochial school as a young girl and then was admitted to one of the city's public exam schools, Boston Latin School. Starting as a sophomore in high school, she parlayed an internship and part‐time clerical work with State Street Corporation into a successful career in accounting and financial management – continuing to work at the bank while she commuted to nearby Bentley University, where she earned both a Bachelor's degree in Accounting and an MS in Accountancy. Upon earning her undergraduate degree, she was offered a full‐time job at State Street.

Building a Career

In the years ahead, Carolyn would climb the corporate ladder at State Street, during her tenure with the firm she had a two‐year stint in Australia, where she helped direct accounting, reporting and regulatory compliance for its regional International Trade and Finance operations. After joining the Hancock Agricultural Investment Group (HAIG), where she worked for 12 years, helping the firm attain status as one of the world's most prominent farmland investment managers, Carolyn left the John Hancock subsidiary in 2012 to find a new challenge. That led her to collaborate with her former colleagues, Jeffrey Conrad and Kenneth Warlick, to found AgIS Capital, LLC in 2013.

Q: You have had an interesting career path. Given your background, did you ever envision yourself working in agriculture?

Carolyn: No. I never considered it an option. When I was in high school, I was interested in science and medicine and I was accepted into the pre‐med/biomedical engineering program at Boston University. However, I soon realized that it would be a long haul if I eventually wanted to work in that field and I simply didn't have the luxury or time to pursue it. I knew I needed to get an education and get out into the workforce as soon as possible to create financial stability for myself. I met people at State Street who had attended Bentley when I was doing my internship in high school and I found that I liked working with numbers. They encouraged me to go to Bentley and study accounting and finance so I could pursue a career in banking. Given my situation, that seemed to make sense. Throughout high school and college I worked 20 to 30 hours a week at State Street as a receptionist – doing clerical work and supporting the Commercial Banking Comptrollers staff. When I graduated with my accounting degree, they created a position for me in that group. After a couple of years, I went back to Bentley to get my MS in Accountancy and I was fortunate that State Street had a program that would help me pay for it.

Q: What was it like walking into work at a big, global, financial services company like State Street at the young age of 16? Was it intimidating?

Carolyn: It was different, I'll say that (smiles). I came from a working‐class family. No one had really worked in business or finance so I had to find my own way. My dad was a lineman for the telephone company and unfortunately he passed away when I was just fifteen. As a result, our family had some financial struggles so I had to go to work to help out. Boston Latin had a partnership with State Street where they would bring on students from the school as paid interns so I applied and was accepted. I remember I was excited to be earning $4.35 an hour! Like most of the big financial institutions in Boston at the time – this was the mid‐to‐late 1980s and the early 1990s – State Street had very "proper and blue‐blooded" vibe. It was a formal suits and ties, buttoned up culture and I had no idea how to even dress for work. I remember my first few weeks on the job I kept rotating my black skirts and blouses until I could accumulate enough money to expand my wardrobe and blend in (laughs!). I recall thinking to myself: "I need to buy six suits!" Other than that, however, I adapted pretty well. People were very nice to me and I just showed up on time, worked late, listened closely, asked questions and did whatever I could to help out. In the process, I learned a great deal and made important connections that would help me later on.

Q: You seem to view your experience at Boston Latin as formative. Why is that?

Carolyn: Boston Latin is a great school and I was very fortunate to be able to go there. It provides an excellent education – one that is on a par with any elite prep school. However, it is open to any kid who lives in the City of Boston who can pass the entrance exam – regardless of your background or financial situation. It was an ideal place for a kid like me. I clearly remember my first day there. They welcomed us into the school's auditorium and I looked up at the ceiling, which is covered with the names of many of the school's famous graduates. Then the headmaster welcomed us – but he finished by issuing a bit of a warning. He asked us to look around at the students sitting next to us and to recognize that one or more of us wouldn't make the cut – that we would ultimately graduate from Boston Latin.I went home that night and told my mom about this and she was ready to have me quit and attend one of the local Catholic schools. However, I told her I belonged at Boston Latin and that I intended to be among those who would graduate. The opportunities I was afforded as a result helped me make my way in the world.

Q: Talk about your career at State Street and how you ended up working in Australia.

Carolyn: The internship and work I did in high school and college were in the Commercial Lending group and as I said, when I graduated they created a position for me. After a few years, I went to the International Treasury department and worked to support the Finance Team. Later, I transferred to the International Trade and Finance group, which issued letters of credit and did trade finance‐related work. At one point, my boss approached me and told me he wanted me to go to Australia to help resolve some regulatory challenges we were facing down there. I was brought in between two very senior, very strong and influential women who were engaged in a bit of a power struggle. One of them was out on a 12‐month maternity leave and my job was to walk a fine line between the two of them and to get things buttoned up to the satisfaction of the Australian regulators. I was only 30 at the time and I was working with people who were much older and more experienced, but I didn't let that bother me. I just tried to get on top of the situation and do the job. The interesting thing was that when my boss told me he was sending me down there, I only had two weeks to take care of my affairs in the U.S. I needed to get there fast and get to work and that meant packing and shipping my things, making travel arrangements and finding a place to live. On top of all that, I think I had only been on an airplane twice up to that point in my life so it was a whole new experience for me.

Q: How did you like working in Australia?

Carolyn: I enjoyed it. I wasn't afraid of the change and I had friends down there because I worked with people in our Australian office when I was based in Boston. That said, it was a different work culture. Unlike Americans, who live to work, Australians work to live. They enjoy life and that can be a bigger priority for some than their jobs. I remember being surprised that on Fridays much of the office would clear out at around midday and people would go on long lunches that sometimes would last all afternoon. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. Times were different 25 years ago (smiles)… One thing I regret as I look back on that time, however, is that I didn't see as much of Australia as I should have. I was completely focused on work and I didn't travel around the country. In the years ahead, when I went to work for the Hancock Agricultural Investment Group (HAIG), I made up for that because we had operations in Australia. When I would go there for work, I always made more of a point to see the country.

Q: How long were you in Australia?

Carolyn: I was there about two years and then I came back to Boston to work in State Street's Corporate Accounting Group where I was put in charge of helping to forecast the corporation's assets and liabilities. I wasn't back very long, however, before I decided that after 15 years it was time to make a change. I knew if I didn't make a move, State Street would be the only place that I ever worked and I wanted the challenge of something new. In 2001, Jeff Conrad, who at the time was president of the Hancock Agricultural Investment Group (HAIG), reached out to me through a mutual friend about interviewing with them to oversee financial operations. I knew nothing about farming, but I think Jeff liked the fact that I had worked in virtually every facet of finance and accounting and that I had international experience, which was very important. Everything was on track for me to make the change and then 9/11 happened and the world was turned upside down. In fact, I was scheduled to have my final interview with Jeff and others that afternoon. Because of the attacks on Wall Street in New York, things were very chaotic at State Street for several weeks. It was pure bedlam and I felt an obligation to stay and help out. I eventually made the move over to HAIG in November of that year.

Q: What was the biggest surprise or challenge with your transition to working in agricultural investing?

Carolyn: It was the time it took to generate and account for financial performance. I was used to having access to forecasts and performance numbers and being able to do financial analyses in a matter of hours or days when I was working on State Street business. You always knew how you did from one day to the next. With farming, you watch growing seasons progress, you watch events like weather and market forces influence your crop yields and pricing dynamics, and you don't know how well you have done until all of the numbers come in at the end of the production cycle. The lack of immediacy took some getting used to for me because I'm not a very patient person by nature (laughs). That first year working in farming was pretty interesting as a result. In fact, I had to go through a couple of crop cycles before things began to feel more comfortable.

Q: What compelled you to join Jeff and Ken Warlick in launching AgIS

Carolyn: Well, Jeff had left HAIG with the idea he was going to retire early, but then he got restless and decided he wanted to start his own firm. For me, I just felt like with him no longer at HAIG, it was time to think about doing something different. The idea of pursuing something entrepreneurial appealed to me because, just like when was at State Street, I wanted to see if I could actually do it and be successful. I think another part of it was that when you work for a big company, like State Street or John Hancock, your destiny is often determined by others. I wanted to have more control over my future – so helping to found AgIS Capital made sense to me.

Q: What were your biggest learnings from helping to get AgIS Capital up on its feet?

Carolyn: I learned very quickly that you no longer have the resources of the "big machine" to rely on. You don't have an IT department. You don't have a human resources group. You don't have benefits experts to provide your employees and their families with what they need.

You also don't have people managing and being responsible for business compliance functions – like your SEC and Registered Investment Advisor documentation. I found that one of the biggest challenges was putting all of these pieces of the puzzle in place because you can't run a successful investment management business without them. Furthermore, when you are a young company and you and your partners are "bootstrapping" the business yourselves, you don't have a ton of extra capital sitting around to put the infrastructure in place that you need. Figuring out how to do that creatively and cost effectively was a real challenge, but I think we met it. Another challenge for us was determining our approach to property and farm management. Our initial strategy focused on using a distributed, outsourced business model where we would manage the investment side of the business directly and engage farm managers to operate our clients' properties on a contract basis. We intended to oversee the transactional, client relations and reporting, and operational oversight functions of the business. However, we soon learned that we needed to have more control over what was happening on the ground because we have a permanent crop focus and that requires a greater degree of consistency and oversight. Ultimately, we solved this problem by creating a farm management subsidiary underneath the AgIS Capital parent, but that took some strategic thinking and a great deal of work to execute.

Q: As a woman in a sector of the economy where there are few like you in senior leadership positions, what hurdles or obstacles have you faced?

Carolyn: Honestly, I've never really thought about it. I've always worked in environments that were male dominated – although I found more diversity working in international business circles than I have seen here in the U.S. At State Street during the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, the company was run by the "Old Boys Network." There were very few senior women or minorities heading up key functions of the business. I guess what I learned early on was that, as a woman, you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to believe you can achieve what you want to achieve and ignore, or find ways of overcoming, the challenges you are likely to face. You need to be aware of them, but you can't let them become a preoccupation or to distract you from what you are trying to accomplish. Again, you have to believe in yourself and carry yourself like you do. I also think you have to enjoy a challenge. I know I do. I like to explore multiple ways of addressing business challenges or solving business problems. I have found that the best way to face a challenge is figuring out how things work from the bottom up.

Q: Where did the need for understanding things come from?

Carolyn: I have always liked to study things and understand how they work. I think when you grow up financially challenged, there's not a lot of room for failure. You either have to resign yourself to your fate, or be willing to go out and change things for yourself so you can improve your situation. In addition, when you grow up in a house that was built in 1863, like I did, and there's not a lot of extra money available to call a repairman when things break, you learn pretty quickly to be self reliant and to solve your own problems. I think those things, the confidence that was instilled me by going to the Boston Latin School, and being the first person in my family to go to a four-year college, really helped shape who I am as a person.

Q: Finally, what do you like to do in your free time?

Carolyn: I enjoy spending time with my nieces and nephew. They think I'm crazy and we have a great time together. I have seasons tickets to the Boston Bruins and I love bringing them to games and spoiling them! I also love going to their sporting events and cheering them on – especially their hockey games. They bring a lot of fun and great happiness into my life.

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About The Boston Latin School

Carolyn Bailey's journey began, in part, when she was accepted to attend high school at the Boston Latin School – an experience that helped shape her worldview and realize her potential. Boston Latin describes itself as the oldest public school in America and admittance is selective and based on one's academic performance and score on a challenging entrance exam. The school was founded in 1635 by the "Town of Boston," one year before the establishment of Harvard College in nearby Cambridge. Today, any student residing in the City of Boston is welcome to apply and the school's classical curriculum emphasizes the humanities. According to its website, its founders shared the belief of the ancient Greeks that "only good things are the goods of the soul." From its beginnings, the school has prioritized critical thinking and informed dissent, which its leaders have believed are the hallmarks of good citizenship. Distinguished graduates of Boston Latin School include famous authors, artists, journalists, jurists, musicians, poets, politicians and public officials as well as military and religious leaders, entrepreneurs, and titans of American business. Some of its most distinguished graduates include:

  • Benjamin Franklin, American Patriot and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

  • John Hancock, Businessman, Governor of Massachusetts and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

  • Samuel Adams, Journalist, Publisher, Governor of Massachusetts, Leader of the Sons of Liberty and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

  • Charles Francis Adams, Minister to Great Britain, Congressman, President of the American Academy of Arts and Grandson and Great-Grandson of Presidents John Quincy Adams and John Adams

  • Henry Knox, Publisher, Major General of the Continental Army and the First Secretary of War under President George Washington

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Moralist, Natural Philosopher and Author

  • Godfrey Lowell Cabot, Founder of the Cabot Corporation, Philanthropist, Aviator and Decorated U.S. Navy Pilot in World War I

  • Henry Ward Beecher, Minister, Author and Leading American Abolitionist and Women's Suffragist

  • Leonard Bernstein, Renowned Classical Composer and Symphony Conductor

  • Theodore White, Acclaimed Author, Time Magazine Journalist and Presidential Historian

  • Sumner Redstone, Entrepreneur and CEO of American Amusements

  • Christine Elise (McCarthy), Film Actress

  • Rebecca Hall, Singer, Songwriter

  • Helen Magill White, Academic, Professor and the First American Woman to earn a Ph.D.

To learn more about the Boston Latin School, please visit this link.


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