Q&A: Chris Grant MBA ’19 talks Opportunity Zone investing

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Chris Grant MBA ’19 was named to the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 List for his work as an Opportunity Zone investor — investing in distressed communities to increase economic development — and investment manager at Blueprint Local. Based in Baltimore, and working in Opportunity Zones stretching from Maryland to Florida, Grant uses his knowledge of finance and investing to increase capital in historically under-resourced communities and decrease economic inequality. 

The Stanford Daily (TSD): What inspired you to go into finance and investing?

Chris Grant (CG): I’ve always been very interested in business and how different businesses work. I spent a lot of time helping different businesses, primarily banks, when I worked at a company called Promontory Financial Group, and I did that right out of undergrad. Through that experience — in learning about banks and how they made money, and basically networking with different people across the industry just more broadly — finance and investing stood out to me as a really interesting career path.

TSD: Can you tell me about the work you’re doing with Opportunity Zone investments at Blueprint Local?

CG: At Blueprint, we are trying to increase access to capital in distressed communities across the country. We leverage a program called the Opportunity Zone Program to raise Opportunity Zone funds. We try to identify a place where, in the next 10 years, through additional investment dollars in that area — may it be through the development of new real estate or helping the local businesses that exist there — there are different factors that may be able to come together in a way that should help the community grow and be better over a 10-year span. We invest today, and then look to be there for the next 10 years through the Opportunity Zone Program.

TSD: While at Stanford, did you have a class moment or memory when your career path became clear?

CG: Yes, I had a professor named Steven Callandar, who teaches a class called Strategy Beyond Markets. He invited me to present at this event where I got to talk about how there is a gap in access to capital across different communities in the country, and I spoke about it from a legal perspective — that there are laws that have been in place to try to level the playing field, but they haven’t been as effective as the legislators thought they would be.

So when I talked about that and then heard the feedback from the crowd, some positive, some critical — and there were a lot of questions and people that wanted to continue to talk about it — it helped me realize that, wow, this is actually something that I should continue to work on, because there’s still a gap here that exists, and I’m passionate about it, so I might as well devote my time and my career to this idea of trying to help increase access to capital in communities that matter to me.

TSD: How did your time at Stanford studying business administration prepare you for the work you do now?

CG: Stanford gave me a lot of the skills and confidence to do what I do now. I took a few classes related to investing, but I took one class in particular on impact investing and formation of impact ventures. The work that I do is a type of investing that tries to not only maximize your returns for the profitability or the financial returns of the investment, but also takes into consideration the social, environmental, governance factors that are relevant for the business in the context that they’re operating in; so the curriculum helped me get a better understanding and a toolkit around that piece.

In terms of the confidence piece, by having a chance to be in business school for two years to hone those skills, practicing in a safer environment than with my investors’ capital, by the time I left school and started work I felt really confident that I had some practice, had built my own skillset, had a little bit of a track record of how to do it before I did it and didn’t have the luxury of making mistakes.

TSD: Why did you choose to specifically go into Opportunity Zone investments?

CG: I chose specifically to go into Opportunity Zone investments because of the inequality that has persisted in the financial system for generations in the United States. There was a policy back in the 1920s and ’30s that created a system called redlining that basically caused a disinvestment in many predominantly minority communities across the country. As a result of that, there is a very wide wealth disparity between white and Black Americans in the United States. While there have been different policies and different things to try to decrease the issues of that inequality, there have not been many programs as expansive as the Opportunity Zone Program that could help channel dollars toward communities that have been traditionally disinvested. 

So, when Opportunity Zones came out, there was a study that said that there could be as much as $4.6 trillion of capital gains that could be funneled now through the program and to the different Opportunity Zones across the country. Even if only 1% went in that way, that would be billions of dollars. And to me, that really mattered a lot, and I wanted to be a part of that process and try to help move that money in a way that would be not only beneficial to the communities, but also powerful to see over a period of time and to be a part of that. 

TSD: What does being on the Forbes 30 under 30 list mean to you?

CG: To me, it means that the work that I’m doing matters at the national level. It means that I have a new network and community that I can tap for support, encouragement and resources when necessary to help fulfill the mission and vision of helping increase access to capital. It also means that the expectation to do it increases in my opinion — it means that there are people who have their eyes on this, who also care about it and who want to see it happen. And they have some confidence in me and my ability to help move that forward.

This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Contact Leila Feldman at leila.feldman.24 ‘at’ bishops.com. 

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Leila Feldman is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Winter Journalism Workshop.