Singapore: Richard Van Horne is an atypical senior financial advisor and banker. After a 30-year career in international banking and asset management in New York and Tokyo, in 2012 he made a significant switch and moved to Singapore as the managing director of Princeton in Asia (PiA), a global institution that has worked successfully for the last 115 years to foster deeper Asian-American relations through people-to-people diplomacy and service.
Van Horne says that for over a century, PiA has successfully built strong bridges between the US and Asia by providing a deeply enriching experience for young and talented Americans (some of the top graduates of Princeton and other Ivy League Schools) to better understand and serve Asia.
Each year, 150 PiA fellows work with a spirit of service for a year in over 19 countries in Asia, in the fields of education, health, environment, journalism and business. They try and make a modest contribution to Asia’s development through their efforts. “As someone who has worked in the corporate sector in both America and Asia, I was inspired by the model of PiA,” he says. “They were able to do so much with so little.”
The fellows are drawn from over 110 US colleges and universities; a majority of them are from Princeton. They work in countries such as Cambodia, China, East Timor, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand and Vietnam.
“It is an investment in educating America’s future leaders, while also addressing some of the most pressing challenges in Asia of our times,” says Van Horne. “PiA is widely regarded today, recognized as one of the most effective channels of fostering person-to-person diplomacy between Americans and Asians.”
Van Horne’s exposure to PiA started when as a young American he got posted to a Hitachi group company in Japan in the summer of 1975 as a PiA Fellow. It was the first time that he had travelled abroad and it became one of the defining experiences of his life.
“I lived in a company dormitory with Japanese factory workers; I wore a company uniform everyday and sang company songs at the end of the week with everyone. It was a completely different cultural experience—for both sides and one that launched me on my career in business and in Asia,” he says with much excitement.
It inspired Van Horne to devote an early part of his banking career to working in Japan (1983-1989), and then to return to Asia many times over the years on business and personal trips.
Van Horne began his banking career in the early 1980s with Crocker National Bank in San Francisco and Tokyo. Soon after, he co-founded an asset management firm in New York in 1992, Croesus Capital Management, which specialized in emerging market debt, equity, currency, and private securities investing. The firm grew to about $800 million in assets under management by the late 1990s.
In the next decade, Van Horne founded several successful companies, including Diversified Hedge Investment Advisors LLC, before moving to experiment with his passion of bridging education and finance. He took up an offer from the University of Wyoming to teach portfolio management and corporate finance in 2010.
When asked why he moved from a highly lucrative job in the corporate sector to work in the education and non-profit sector, Van Horne says that the move was not so sudden as it may seem. “It was not a U-turn. While I was running my own investment management firm, I was also involved with PiA as a board member in NYC for many years. I saw first hand how business can work collaboratively with the education and non-profit to influence and shape politics and culture.”
Due to his unbridled passion and countless hours of work for PiA, despite a hectic financial career, the board made a tempting offer. He was offered the position of managing director at PiA in 2012.
Van Horne says that it was too good an opportunity to pass up. After working in the world of banking and finance for three decades, he was ready for a change.
“Most of my peers in the corporate world after having reached a pinnacle of success yearn to do something different and meaningful,” he says. “Princeton in Asia was a perfect opportunity to give back.”
Van Horne is a graduate of Princeton University and has an MBA from Stanford University.
He credits his parents for veering from the normal in embarking on a unique journey. “The idea of thinking for one’s self and going at it alone was very much ingrained since childhood.”
He also believes that the PiA fellows, too, actively resist the “herd mentality” and chart their own adventurous course that often leads to not just professional success but also a sense of fulfilment. They often decline lucrative professional opportunities to work in the West to come and serve Asia for a year or two and “for most of them, it changes their lives forever”.
PiA has been an enduring force in Princeton’s efforts to extend its academic mission beyond the campus and, indeed, national borders into the larger global community. “PiA has survived times of war, economic turmoil and political upheaval, and has flourished as an agent of peace, progress and mutual prosperity,” says Van Horne with some measure of satisfaction.
What has PiA accomplished to date and how has the work of PiA changed in over a 100 years in Asia?
The challenges of development and globalization have, over time, migrated from North Asia to China, to South-East Asia, and to South Asia. And during those decades, the geography of our PiA fellowship programmes has also moved to South and West to contribute to the development of this region.
To date, PiA has organized 3,500 fellowships with over 500 organizations in Asia with an endowment of $5 million to support PiA’s programmes. Our partners, that run in hundreds in Asia across all development sectors, deeply appreciate the commitment and service of our fellows. Founded in 1898, PiA is the oldest and largest independent, not-for-profit organization of its kind, unlike any other in the world.
How does PiA engage the corporate world?
Princeton in Asia has been engaged with corporates since the 1970s.
Our mission is to build bridges between peoples whether in a corporate setting or a school classroom or in the workplace of a non-profit organization. PiA fellows work with many leading corporate institutions across Asia. These include leading law firms, banks, media organizations and MNCs (Multinational corporations) such as JP Morgan, Asian Wall Street Journal, Orrick Law Firm and Hamilton Advisors.
How do the corporates stand to benefit from PiA?
Corporations and the private sector have always played an important role in addressing challenges and solving problems. The problems facing us today will not be solved by government action or by NGOs or by the private sector working separately, but by these three forces working together.
It is good for this generation of young people in Asia and in the US—our future leaders—to have experience in global businesses and to be able to navigate the spaces where business, government, and non-profits can meet.
More specifically, businesses need an educated, enlightened and capable work force that is adaptable and culturally sensitized to support their expansion and vitality.
How can the corporates engage and collaborate specifically with PiA?
There are a couple of ways that a business in Asia could cooperate with an outside organization like PiA for the common good.
One obvious way is to host a PiA fellow inside the firm to bring a different outlook or perspective to the table and to expand the horizons of the firm’s staff. A second way would be for the business to sponsor or support a PiA fellow for a very modest sum of (amount) to work with the local community for a year, where our fellow could assist in education or capacity building while carrying out our mission.
Princeton in Asia fellows are excellent “ambassadors” during their one- or two-year stays in Asia. But, perhaps, more importantly, these future leaders are life-long “ambassadors” for Asia after they return home.
Do you see more people like you making the switch from business and finance to education and non-profit and if so, why?
Yes, I do see more people having second careers in non-profit and charitable institutions. And first careers, too. More and more young people are thinking critically about work choices; many more now want to engage in meaningful work with impact, to address major local and global problems.
Some do this in the non-profit world, but there are also of course myriad opportunities on the corporate side as well. And older, more experienced and skilled people, perhaps with backgrounds in the private sector, are now shifting gears, helping non-profit organizations to grow their capacities and to make an impact. Maybe the kids are rubbing off on their parents.
We recently instituted a senior fellows programme at Princeton in Asia. We provided opportunities for “sixty-somethings” who were ready for an adventure and change of pace to assist with mentoring and with life-skills development within PiA. This has been very successful with a huge uptake of senior bankers and corporates willing to get engaged to give back.