UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
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Tucker Bartlett

Tucker Bartlett


MBA/MRP 2003

"Kenan-Flagler gives you the opportunity to make connections between the hard skills you learn and how you can use those skills to further the goals of sustainability. "

Interviewed December 2005

Tucker is the Director of Commercial Real Estate Development and Lending at Self-Help Ventures Fund and a 2003 alumnus of Kenan-Flagler. Tucker has a passion for economic and community development that can be traced to his formative years in Atlanta, GA attending the inner-city public schools and to the influence of his family. Born and raised in Atlanta, Tucker says that he inherited his interest in community development from his father, an Episcopal priest who devoted his time to charity and community development. As if this didn't offer a developing youth enough inspiration, Tucker credits his aunt, who has been serving in the Peace Corps in Africa since 1961, for seeding his interest in international economic development.

After earning a bachelors' degree in International Studies and Economics from UNC-Chapel Hill, Tucker worked as a financial analyst for NationsBank to develop a set of tangible financial skills. He used these skills when he joined the Peace Corps and worked as a Small Business Development Agent in Benin, West Africa for two years managing a micro-savings and micro-loan program to assist rural entrepreneurs and farmers.

While in Benin, Tucker found he could offer more than micro-finance to encourage community development by establishing a basketball club from scratch. The team raised money by selling t-shirts at their games which they used to help build a new basketball court at the high school. By the time Tucker left Benin, they had a proper basketball court, shoes for the players and actual basketballs to play with. The club had come a long way from where it began — as a group of students playing basketball with a soccer ball in flip flops on a dirt court.

Tucker left the Peace Corps and returned to UNC-Chapel Hill to earn a dual MBA/MRP degree. While at Kenan-Flagler, he discovered his interest in real estate, mastered functional business skills and refined his understanding of sustainability principles as a lens through which he views business. Speaking of his MBA experience, Tucker said, "Kenan-Flagler gives you the opportunity to make connections between the hard skills you learn and how you can use those skills to further the goals of sustainability." He went on to say that, through its variety of electives and by gathering so many students interested in sustainability together to discuss and question prevailing assumptions, "Kenan-Flagler makes it easy to connect the dots" and find where your skills and interests converge. For Tucker, the dots led to Self-Help Ventures Fund, where he started working in 2003.

Self-Help is a community development financial institution with a particular mission to help low-wealth people and communities create wealth. Tucker coordinates the development and asset management of Self-Help's $55 million building portfolio as well as portfolio of approximately $50 million in commercial real estate loans that finance commercial development in low-income areas. When asked how he is working to change the world, he pointed to Self-Help, saying that change will occur as Self-Help keeps experimenting in niches that people currently think can't be served profitably — in serving tough markets, doing ignored projects, and demonstrating to the rest of the world that it is worth investing in these [underserved] areas and people.

All real estate decisions made at Self-Help take a double bottom line (financial and social) into consideration: always thinking about the impact the purchase or project will have on the community and willing to make a little less money on their deals in order to contribute significantly to community development. One example is Self-Help's joint rehabilitation project with Brick Capital CDC in Sanford, NC to transform an abandoned historical school building to house programs like a dental clinic, day care, hygienist training program taught by local community college, child mental health clinic, and a business incubator. This will be a huge asset to the low-income, predominantly African-American community where the old school sits now. Tucker also points out that it is important to note some projects that start off primarily with community development goals end up adding a lot of financial value to Self-Help. He sees this as a benefit of sustainability: getting unexpected returns when you do the right thing. He goes on to say that, "investments in the community will pay off financially over the long term… you just need to have more patient capital."

When asked if he sees an increasing implementation of sustainability practices outside Self-Help, Tucker replied, "A lot of people think in terms of a triple bottom line, but it comes down to which gets weighted most when making the decision." Tucker sees more investment in urban areas now because the market is proven (thanks in large part to Self-Help); although community development turns out to be a side benefit of the project even though most people invest with primarily economic goals in mind.

As time goes on, Tucker says he wants to continue to try to find connections between low income people and communities and the people with the money (capital markets). He points out that "a lot of capital is flowing now, but not to everyone." He wants to change that so everyone gets what they need. He continued, "When you have smart people with the right connections that care about the right issues, then good things happen. I want to be one of those people."

Tucker's Picks

Sustainability Book Recommendation:

Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story By: Timothy B. Tyson

Takeaway lesson: On functioning and non-functioning communities: if a community is not functioning (people not accepting of others, lacks diversity, etc.), you will not attract businesses and the economy suffers. Although not the central teaching of the book, it provides a lesson in how community relations and diversity apply to community development.

Nominee for Sustainability Superstar:

Self-Help (obviously)



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