Not long ago, when reporters wrote about Robin John, the cofounder of Eventide Asset Management, a subtle snicker rumbled under the surface. One called him “The Believer”; others pointed out the odd language on his Boston-based mutual fund company’s website: business as an “engine of blessing” and “biblically responsible investing.”
Theology as the foundation for picking stocks? Is this guy for real?
Today the murmurs seem to have faded, and for good reason. Since its launch in 2008, Eventide’s flagship mutual fund (a pool of money professionally invested in stocks, bonds, and other securities), the Gilead Fund, has given shareholders a 13.70 percent annualized return as of September 30, 2016, compared to 9.03 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500. To put that into perspective, an investor who put $10,000 into the fund at its launch would be worth $26,050 today. The Gilead Fund has been covered as a top performer by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, among other publications. Over the past three years, media attention has helped Eventide explode from $50 million in assets under management to nearly $2 billion.
But there’s more to Robin John than a focus on profit. Challenging Milton Friedman’s declaration that the only social responsibility of business is to increase profits, John says, “Profit is only the byproduct of a job well done.”
John, an evangelical living in Dallas, is a leader in the growing field of biblically responsible investing, which applies Christian theology and social concern to investment analysis. Eventide, founded in 2008, has garnered attention because of both its results and its uniquely faith-filled investment philosophy, driven ultimately by Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself.
His journey to investing, however, was fraught with vocational doubt, uncertainty, and a heart-wrenching journey to India, the land of his birth.
Longing for a Calling
John grew up in a village in southern India, influenced by the faith of his grandparents. “I remember looking out my window as a child and seeing a cemetery,” John told me. “The church needed land to bury the dead, and so my grandfather, poor as he was, donated it.” John learned the Bible originally in his native tongue of Malayalam and saw a sacrificial faith lived out at an early age.
When John was seven, his family moved to Medford, Massachusetts, following his uncle, an international pastor at Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston. “We moved into a community where I was one of the only non-Italian and non-Irish students in class,” John says. Due to an error on his Social Security card, his last name became an abbreviated version of his middle name, Cheriakalath, while he was in school. It was nearly impossible for his Anglo peers to pronounce, just one factor that made growing up an Indian immigrant in American schools tough. So he studied hard and graduated in the top 1 percent of his high school class.
A few years later, John graduated with a degree in economics from Tufts University and took a job at a large bank. “I would pray for a calling to go into ministry,” John recalls. “But I didn’t hear from God. So, because I didn’t feel like I had a calling, I said, ‘I guess I’ll just make money and support those who do.’ ”
One of his first assignments took him from Boston back to Pune, India, near Bombay, to train new employees.