DURHAM, N.C. – With a background in forestry operations, conservation and investment, Joe Bachman is in the unique position to advise students at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment on their career options – regardless of whether they want to manage a private landowner’s forest or run a multibillion-dollar resource investment portfolio.
Bachman, the new executive-in-residence in natural resource finance, will teach courses and mentor students as part of the school’s Natural Resource Finance Initiative, which hopes to fill the growing global demand for young professionals who are as adept at financial analysis and business strategy as they are at resource management.
Bachman, who comes to the Nicholas School after serving as global head of asset management at a major forest investment firm, looks forward to helping students understand how to launch their careers and achieve their professional goals.
“I think I can help bring some practical clarity to what it’s like in the real world,” he says. “I’ve struggled with the same decisions they’re making, so I think I can help lead students along that path.”
After earning his Master of Forestry from Duke in 1995, Bachman started his own career working as a forester at Champion International Corporation.
“I got my boots dirty,” he says, recalling his early days marking timber and inventorying trees in the western North Carolina forest where he initially worked before moving up Champion’s ranks to become an operational forester with profit and loss responsibility on a designated land base.
“I always wanted to make decisions and manage,” Bachman says. “And that’s why operational forestry was a great career for me. It’s truly an interdisciplinary field – it’s scientific, it’s social, it’s economic, it’s got all these different facets and is a fundamentally integrative experience.”
This operational background served him well in the realm of corporate sustainability. In the late 1990s, Bachman was in charge of creating the country’s first sustainable forestry third-party certification initiative at Champion, one of the nation’s largest private forest landowners at the time with land holdings in 15 states.
After working his way out of the woods and into more managerial roles, he decided to attend business school with a larger impact in mind.
“That was not a natural destination for me because that’s not the way I was wired,” says Bachman, who earned his MBA in 2003 from Dartmouth College. “And yet, I made that purposeful choice, and it proved to be a good one. It multiplied my effectiveness and empowered me in new roles and organizations, particularly in the realm of natural resource investing.”
He then pursued forest investment – working his way up from being a financial analyst to leading the fund management team and becoming a partner at a major timber investment management organization.
During his time at the company, Bachman spent four years overseas managing the firm’s investments in Australia and New Zealand before returning to the U.S. to oversee their entire portfolio, including holdings across Latin America.
He says that although achieving investment returns was the main driver for the international firm, he was always cognizant that its forestry activities had vast environmental impact
“One of my roles was bringing that environmental conversation to bear openly at the right time at the highest levels of the organization, while also working on the local level to manage impacts systemically,” says Bachman. “That’s where I felt my values and my perspective had its impact.”
Bachman’s vast experience is what set him apart when he applied for the position, says Martin Doyle, who chaired the hiring committee.
“We knew that we needed someone who had done deals,” says Doyle, professor of river systems science and policy. “Several of us here study environmental finance and are involved in the edges of deals, but Joe’s experience is deep in many transactions as well as managing entire portfolios across a variety of areas.”
Doyle adds that having Bachman at the Nicholas School is a valuable resource for students from all programs.
“Students will benefit from his nuanced, real knowledge of this rapidly growing topic—natural resource finance,” says Doyle. “It’s the little things that practitioners and executives pick up over the years that make such experience so valuable.”
Bachman says he was attracted to the job because it allows him to be a positive force at Duke and beyond.
“It’s a great platform for me to continue to have impact on the evolving profession of forestry,” he says. “I thought this would be a great place for my next chapter.”