At Verger, we believe that promoting leadership at all levels is crucial to our success. Our team member Craig Thomas embodies this belief – he’s been a key member of Verger’s leadership team since inception, and, while acting as Managing Director of Investments, he has helped grow and develop Verger’s team of investment professionals.
In recognition of his recent appointment as Co-Chief Investment Officer (Co-CIO) we spent some time with Craig learning about his day-to-day work, his leadership style, and his approach to nurturing and developing team talent.
Investment Team Institutional Memory
As Co-CIO, Craig will continue to oversee asset allocation, portfolio construction, and manager research for all the assets Verger manages. Since he was the former Director of Investments for Wake Forest University’s Office of Investments and a founding member of Verger, Craig is very familiar with how the portfolio has evolved over the years. “We are constantly recalibrating the balance between upside capture and downside protection. Since Verger’s inception, we’ve been very purposeful about expanding our team, our experience, and our relationships in private markets to further that balance. In recent years, as we’ve seen the private market portion of our portfolio grow and mature, we’ve seen the positive results of that ongoing work. I am proud that our portfolio reflects the continuous thought and care that goes into our process,” Craig shared.
The process of constantly fine tuning the portfolio’s balance between risk and reward requires an open minded team devoted to iterative discussion and debates, and a team that reflects diverse industry experience and market perspectives. Craig has been instrumental in building this team over time and setting the tone for this collaborative and constantly evolving environment.
Jim Dunn, who now shares the CIO role with Craig and will continue to act as Verger’s CEO, echoed this idea: “Craig has been foundational to Verger’s success. He leads by example – constantly encouraging reevaluation and evolution.”
Craig Thomas leading a panel discussion during Verger's 2022 Investor Conference
Nurturing and Developing Team Members
Craig describes his leadership approach as grounded in principles of mutual learning and growth. Verger has been thoughtful in building the Investment Team, and Craig feels it’s important to honor the diversity of thought his team members bring to the table. “I always want to create an environment where we can all learn, grow, and support each other along the way,” Craig noted. “I seek to model that age and title are not important during a truly collaborative discussion – depending on the topic, the senior most person is not necessarily the expert.”
Indeed, Craig’s team members often point out that Craig embodies one of Verger’s core values: “be humble, be human, be helpful.” Investment Team member Taylor Jackson, for example, shared that “Craig is a model of genuine intellectual curiosity. We all know that this industry is constantly evolving and changing – and he keeps that idea at the forefront of our team discussions. He comes to meetings very well prepared – and instead of using that preparation to lecture or share information, he asks thought provoking questions that spark engaging conversation and debate.”
Similarly, Investment Team member Madison Moses shared that Craig “is constantly helping others and lifting others up. He has made it clear that he is happy acting as a resource – any question or brainstorming topic is always welcome. He always has the space on his calendar or a moment for a quick chat in passing.”
Both Madison and Taylor noted that Craig supports them in all aspects of their lives – not just as colleagues. “It’s important to him to connect on shared interests outside of our day-to-day work,” Taylor said.
Another one of Verger’s core values that really resonates for Craig is: “challenge the status quo.” Craig explained, “I try to consistently communicate and model that we are open to a fresh perspective or a better way to do something. We value our process of constantly reviewing and debating the merits of our current portfolio positions – both informally across our open office plan or formally through regularly scheduled ‘re-underwriting.’ Openness to new ideas or information, combined with our iterative and collaborative process create the space for constant evolution.”
Taylor echoed this idea: “The openness and constant evolution allows us to have strong conviction in the portfolio. Comparisons to peers who are doing things differently do not phase Craig. He is happy to be different, and very effectively communicates why that is the case.”
Madison added that, in service of constant evolution, “Craig encourages me to try new tasks or explore new ideas that are outside of my comfort zone. He provides the support structure to make it happen – for example, he’ll help me prepare, debrief with me after, and provide space for all my questions.”
Mentoring the Next Generation
Craig regularly shares his skill for nurturing talent beyond his Investment Team colleagues. He serves as a mentor for Verger’s interns each semester and recently served as an ambassador for two students participating in the Girls Who Invest Summer Intensive Program. Girls Who Invest (GWI) is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of women in asset management – a “crucial resource in evolving the finance industry and supporting the development of diverse talent,” Craig points out. “For Verger to be a small part of this effort is quite meaningful and fulfilling.”
In his role as ambassador, Craig met with his GWI mentees Kaylynn Xia and Isabel Walter weekly via Zoom and supported them in their roles as full-time summer interns at Barings and the State of Oregon Treasurer’s Office, respectively. Isabel described these weekly meetings as a nurturing space, where “I could ask the most simple questions about finance or networking and Craig would provide a complete answer and ask if I had any more, ensuring I could have as much time as I needed to understand the concepts.” She further noted, “I hope to lead and communicate with others as intelligibly and kindly as Craig does.”
During their summer internships, Kaylynn and Isabel spent a day in person at Verger learning about the different teams and roles within day-to-day operations. Both mentees pointed to Craig’s openness to discussing any topics and his ability to explain complex ideas in very relatable and understandable terms. Both cited a conversation about derivatives they had during that in person visit, with one of them noting “I had no idea what they were before that moment, but Craig was able to relate them to the knowledge I already had and talk about applications that made sense to me and my work.”
From left: Isabel Walter, Craig Thomas, and Kaylynn Xia
Colleagues, interns, and mentees alike point to Craig’s patience and ability to explain complex concepts in clear and concise terms. In response to the idea that his co-workers consider him akin to a “patient professor,” Craig shared, “My father was a professor, so perhaps some of that rubbed off on me.”
A Well-Respected Allocator
Craig’s reputation for hard work, open mindedness, and depth of knowledge extends beyond his colleagues and his mentees. Within the nonprofit asset management and broader investment industry, he is widely considered to be a thoughtful investor and effective communicator. “Many of our managers list Craig as a reference for their prospective investors,” Taylor shared. “They value the way he can simply describe what makes their strategies unique.”
Jim echoed this idea: “For years I have relied on Craig’s investment acumen, his ability to capture why an idea or concept is important, and his talent for effectively communicating the importance to team members and managers.”
Madison agreed – when Craig’s reputation doesn’t precede him he quickly establishes himself as a standout thinker. She pointed to an example from a recent due diligence event where managers had a quick 30 minutes to pitch their new strategies to allocators. “The managers told me they were blown away by Craig’s depth of preparation and knowledge. Out of all the allocators present, Craig stood out as the one asking the most thorough and thoughtful questions,” she shared.
During a recent due diligence trip to London, Edinburgh, and Oslo, Craig brought his signature combination of thorough preparation and thought provoking questions. “The common thread through this round of international manager meetings was the current European energy crisis,” Craig explained. “The question of how companies can balance short-term energy demand with a long-term energy transition remains a challenge. While companies previously were able to ponder this question hypothetically, they have been recently forced to put more concrete plans into action.” Craig further shared that “this is a great practical example of the ever changing balance between risk and opportunity that Verger is constantly weighing. We feel confident that our managers are well positioned to weather the current storm and thrive over the medium to long-term.”
View of the London skyline from Craig’s September 2022 international due diligence trip
Leadership at All Levels
During Craig’s recent travels, the goings on at Verger’s Winston-Salem offices continued apace. Investment Team members take turns traveling for offsite manager meetings and research expeditions and enjoy the group preparation and debriefing that is a crucial part of the process. “In my first few years at Verger, Craig and my team members took great care to share the tools I would need to run effective and efficient manager meetings,” Madison shared, noting that she is the most recent addition to the Investment Team, having joined in 2020. “Now I enjoy contributing to the face-to-face portion of our due diligence and manager monitoring process.”
Craig’s team members consistently echo that he promotes a collaborative environment where they feel empowered to participate in the investment process, contribute to rich debate, and execute their best ideas. “Craig maintains a team environment where we’re each working in alignment with Verger’s mission and our long-term development goals,” Taylor added. “His passion for the nonprofits we serve inspires and motivates us all.”
Craig takes great pride in his team and noted, “I’m excited to partner with my team members on their continued development, and I look forward to growing together. I see myself as a ‘player-coach’ – right there on the field with them – and I don’t anticipate that will change.”
Congratulations, Craig, on your new position! We look forward to continuing to celebrate your depth of knowledge and work ethic, your passion for developing and mentoring talent, and your open minded leadership.