David Gelbaum, the famously private greentech investor and founder of the investment group The Quercus Trust — who by his own estimates has between 40 and 50 greentech investments — has done one of his only high-profile in-person interviews published in this weekend’s Sunday New York Times. While we published one of the first interviews with Gelbaum in years in February — when Gelbaum took the CEO role at Entech Solar — the Times article (from writer Todd Woody) goes into interesting detail about what Gelbaum’s portfolio companies, peers, and partners, think of him. (It’s also got a color photo, if you’re interested in what he looks like).
The picture painted of the former math whiz, hedge fund manager and philanthropist in the article is almost saintly — as the story puts it, “he has engendered a loyalty bordering on adoration,” with the executives that he’s invested in. “He’s close to egoless, like a monk,” GridPoint’s CEO Peter Corsell is quoted as saying. Carl Pope, chairman of the Sierra Club (Gelbaum has been one of the Sierra Club’s largest individual benefactor) tells the Times that many of the environmental justice programs the group has carried out have been Gelbaum’s idea. Idealab founder and CEO Bill Gross says Gelbaum’s “impact on green technology is huge,” and that Gelbaum’s investing style means that he could have a “wider opportunity for success.”
What the article doesn’t go into is some of the investing hurdles that Gelbaum has met lately. Albeit, most investors have yet to make much money in greentech. As Gelbaum told me back in February, “I haven’t had any exits and I’ve lost money in this business. It’s just part of the general shortage of credit.” Last December Gelbaum said he would have to rein in his contributions to some charities because of “a shift in my financial circumstances.”
But as all greentech industry watchers know, it’s not an industry that can expect quick returns. Gelbaum told us back in February that he is very optimistic of his investments, and he thinks his investments “have huge promise,” and could “all have huge upsides.”