above: Co-founders Alexandra (Ali) Cooley (left) and Jessica Bailey (right) at the TIAA Financial Services Headquarters at 730 Third Avenue in New York City – Photograph: Calderwood Photography
When co-founders and female powerhouses Jessica Bailey and Alexandra (Ali) Cooley met in 2012, it seemed they were destined to become partners. Their backgrounds and skill sets complemented one another and their joint passion for mitigating climate change became the driving force behind the launch of their first company—Greenworks Lending, which they started in 2015. Currently, Bailey is the CEO of Nuveen Green Capital (Greenworks was acquired by Nuveen, a TIAA Company, in 2020) and Cooley is its CIO. We sat down with these two dynamic leaders to learn more about their Darien-based firm and the importance of energy efficiency.
Q & A
Q: Can you describe your background and the genesis of Nuveen Green Capital?
BAILEY: My background is in clean energy policy. I spent ten years at a foundation in New York and became really excited about a state-based policy called C-PACE (Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy) that was being used in California to finance solar projects and other clean energy improvements to buildings. I ended up moving into public service at Connecticut Green Bank, which is where Ali and I met. We worked to build a very successful lending platform, but we were limited to lending in the state of Connecticut. Both of us wanted to have a greater impact on climate change, so we knew we needed to expand nationally and decided to start Greenworks Lending. We finance clean energy loans in over 30 states.
COOLEY: I had come out of the joint degree program at Yale Business School and was very interested in all of the different financing models. When I heard about C-PACE, it was really exciting to think about being able to serve the commercial lending side and also help owners to upgrade their buildings in a way that made sense with efficient clean energy as their properties. When the opportunity presented itself to start Greenworks and help build out the industry, it was a no brainer for me.
What does it mean to you to run a woman-owned firm?
BAILEY: When we started from ground zero, we were really just focused on hiring the best people that could help us turn nothing into something. Most people that we hired just happened to be really kick-ass females. Maybe Ali and I being women ourselves helped attract more female candidates. Women tend to be great problem solvers, multi-taskers and just get stuff done. But, by the way, we also have some kick-ass men on our team!
COOLEY: I don’t think I had really considered that we were going to be a ‘woman-owned firm’ when we were first starting out, but now that we’ve grown so much, it’s exciting to be a success story that can serve as an example for other women. A lot of the time when women are thinking about their careers and how to balance them with motherhood, it can become overwhelming, especially if it’s hard to find examples of others who are doing the same thing. With many women on our team, it has become more important to me to be able to provide an example for our employees.
BAILEY: The fact that our company is headquartered in Darien also helps. Many of our senior leaders are women who used to commute into the city. Being able to work close to home and do school drop-offs has definitely helped us to attract and retain a lot of our top-talent females.
Can you describe what the firm looks like today?
BAILEY: Greenworks was acquired in 2020 by Nuveen, a subsidiary of TIAA, a company that we had known for years and that was responsible for the lending behind much of the capital that we raised. Together we became Nuveen Green Capital. We have about 90 employees spread across divisions. We operate pretty autonomously within Nuveen as their clean energy lending platform. When we began our mergers and acquisitions process, we were looking for a partner that wanted to invest in clean energy as much as we did. Our merger has allowed us to keep the best pieces of what we originally built, while also integrating into this very large $1T asset manager.
How have your backgrounds complemented each other?
COOLEY: If you were looking from the outside in, you’d realize that Ali is simply much smarter than I am. But, many times, I can simplify and communicate things better than she can. Her ability to come up with a way to translate ideas into results, and my ability to explain everything really works for us. We look at problems differently and that’s led us to some great solutions.
BAILEY: After working together for so long, your relationship evolves almost like a marriage where you sort of absorb pieces from the other person. Starting a business alone would be very lonely, and I can’t imagine doing this by myself. As we’ve grown, the decisions that we make impact more and more people, and it would be so hard to do without Jessica. We always have different takeaways from meetings and conversations, and we each hone in on different pieces. Our partnership and working knowledge have helped us to grow our business in a way that’s sustainable and to develop more robust strategies. Having someone to celebrate the good times with you and walk with you through the bad times is so important.
What does the passage of the recent Inflation Reduction Act mean for your firm and the environment more generally?
COOLEY: I’m excited and very motivated about seeing a climate change policy. It’s the main issue facing our generation. As far as what it means for our business, we are lending directly to commercial real estate owners who want to upgrade their buildings for maximum energy efficiency. This will have a very positive impact on our lending ability because it will mean projects will become more affordable.
What do you think the future holds for ESG investing?
COOLEY: From my perspective and what we’ve seen thus far, it seems that demand is still very strong. There is a lot of work to be done around standardization of green bond standards.
BAILEY: Clean energy lenders are providing smart financing solutions to owners by giving them loans for sustainability measures, that once they are paid back, will help them greatly reduce costs. It’s a smart business decision in the long run.
ABOUT THE FOUNDERS
Originally from Chicago, Bailey lives in Rowayton with her husband and four children. Cooley, who is from Westport, currently resides in Manhattan with her husband and daughter, and divides her time between the Nuveen New York headquarters and the Darien office.
For more information on Nuveen Green Capital, visit greencapital.nuveen.com