149. James Penney of Darwin Alternative Investment Management – Towards Ensuring Dignity at every Stage and Walk of Life

James Penney is Chairman of Darwin Alternative Investment Management Ltd, a firm that offers innovative alpha driven investment solutions for long term investors. Our conversation covers his exceptionally diverse background, and his experience with studying theology, languages and living in Latin America doing mission-based work.

Our conversation starts with his varied university career, and how he landed an 18 year old’s dream job as a whisky salesman in Venezuela. What he saw there motivated him to change his major in law to one of theology and during his summers he spent time working in a Benedictine community in what was then conflict-torn Lima. James describes some of the experiences there that haunted him, including visits made to a prison, and we reflect on what he took from those experiences in terms of a deep respect for the human spirit, a desire to further their dignity and to appreciate their resilience.

We then cycle back to his professional journey and his initial emergence from academia into a consulting role and then the founding of Darwin Alternative Investment Management.  We speak about some of the esoteric strategies pursued by the firm, including investing in bereavement focused industries which are largely fairly fragmented.  These include crematoria and funeral homes.  By consolidating and improving the efficiency of these organizations Darwin can ensure a more dignified experience for users and more equitable pricing.

In his personal reflections James shares his insights as an entrepreneur, including the importance of getting things in writing, the visceral nature of running such a large level of personal financial risk and the lessons learned from a life in both academia and investing. He also counsels us to never confuse enthusiasm for a check.

Darwin Alternative Investment Management kindly sponsored our Next Chapter podcast series focused on individuals at later stages of their careers developing plural roles and sharing their wisdom.  Given the firm’s focus on ensuring the dignity of individuals at every stage of their life it was. a perfect supporter of our own mission of amplifying these voices.

Series 4 was sponsored by Alvine Capital.  Founded in 2005, Alvine Capital is a specialist advisor and placement boutique focusing on assisting European Institutional Investors within Alternative Investments.  It partners with best in class managers, adding value to investors by helping to navigate this very fragmented market.