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Julie Goodridge talks investing, historic marriage-equality case
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2018-08-08

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Throughout most of her working life, Julie Goodridge has been interested in socially responsible investing ( SRI ). That, and her desire to start her own company, led Goodridge to form NorthStar Asset Management ( NorthStar ) in 1990.

"I was tired of pretending that I fit in downtown, in an office with 125 brokers, of which I was the lone female," said Goodridge. "I moved from EF Hutton in 1987 to Dean Witter ( now Morgan Stanley ), and while my manager was wholly supportive of my interest in SRI, I was very isolated among these traditional guys, and it was just too much.

"I asked 10 of my favorite clients if they would follow me if I started my own firm. They agreed, so I filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and became a registered investment advisor with a mere $10 million under management. I started adding employees in 1994 when I was pregnant with my daughter Annie. Now there are 15 of us at NorthStar managing $500 million."

Until recently, NorthStar was an all-female firm. This past spring, Goodridge added a close friend, an 81-year-old man who was not ready to retire. So now the firm consists of four African-American women, one Asian-American woman, one white man and eight white women. Over one quarter of the staff are lesbians.

Goodridge heard about SRI in 1984 from investment advisor and author Amy Domini. She read Domini's book Ethical Investing, and called her immediately after.

"The next thing I knew, she invited me to co-teach SRI at the Cambridge Center of Adult Education," said Goodridge. "My background as a community organizer made the transition from 'traditional investing' to SRI a no-brainer."

Goodridge puts SRI into practice with her company by screening investments to determine whether they are the right fit to add to their portfolio. She and her team look at their contributions to solving or contributing to problems related to race and gender, income equality, human rights, environmental justice and corporate governance.

"Mostly these areas intersect with each other, and no public company, when we are talking about stocks, successfully pass our social criteria," said Goodridge. "So in the public equity space, we invest and research individual stocks and bonds and do not invest in funds. We engage in shareholder activism by filing shareholder resolutions at the companies in the portfolio to change the behaviors of the companies we are concerned about, and because of those actions we have created a lot of change.

"We went after FedEx about not providing equal benefits to same-sex partners, arguing that they had broad protections in place for our community; that equal marriage was the law in many states, at the time; and [that] the company was discriminating against their LGBT employees by refusing to offer equal benefits. Just before our resolution was to appear on the proxy statement, FedEx announced that they would be extending benefits to all employees."

When asked what she and her team do when they discover corporations in NorthStar's portfolio have given money to anti-LGBT politicians, Goodridge said they file numerous shareholder resolutions asking these corporations to look at their "incongruent" contributions.

As a result of her activism and approach to challenging corporations, Diversity Inc. magazine called Goodridge the scariest person in investment banking in 2011.

"I was honored," said Goodridge. "To aid in pushing companies to improve and take responsibility for their behavior in the global community by using in-your-face tactics is uncomfortable for some, but can really create some important dialogue and change in my opinion. I have never been a wallflower, and now NorthStar embodies that 'creating change without fear' mentality."

Goodridge also received recognition from American Banker magazine as one of their top 25 women in investment banking.

"The recognition from American Banker was a much further leap for me to receive as an activist," said Goodridge.

Recently, NorthStar's team completed a white paper, "Prison Labor in the United States: An Investors Perspective." The genesis came from a conversation she had with clients four years ago who said, "We want to do something about prisons and the homeless population that results when people are released into communities with no skills, no housing and thus, no income."

"I started thinking about how we could address this in our investment portfolio," said Goodridge. "Shortly after that, Whole Foods was chastised for having prison labor in their supply chain. Whole Foods immediately divested, and all I could think was, Did we lose an opportunity for engagement on working conditions and rate of pay? Whole Foods could have demanded fair wages, audited working conditions and suggested job training or post prison placement program as a requirement for being in their supply chain, before divestment.

"At the time, however, we had no real facts on the prevalence of public companies using prison labor, what best practices would even look like, and how we would engage with companies to fix this problem. We have spent the last three years collecting information on prison labor in the supply chain of corporations and we wrote this white paper to begin to educate our colleagues on this prevalent and complicated issue."

The company has released two other white pages, Corporate Electioneering Contributions and Fossil Fuel Divestment. According to Goodridge, these papers allowed NorthStar to "debunk and/or expose faulty thinking and assumptions about the intersection of corporate America and the impact on our communities. There is a lot of green washing out there, companies touting their wonderful contributions to the environment, sustainability, our community, if it involves a marketing effort, and we want to expose the truth."

Goodridge got her degree in philosophy from Boston University ( BU ), where she paid her tuition and room/board with loans and a 30 hour a week job at the BU public relations office. At graduation she took a community organizing job at ACORN, the former Association of Community Organizations for Reform. Goodridge joined the ACORN team in Philadelphia where she organized neighborhood residents around socio-economic justice issues such as housing, transportation and access to local government. She did organizing in a working-class white neighborhood in Philadelphia, a Hispanic community in Denver and an underserved Black community in Tampa, Florida.

"I loved learning from these communities about their struggles to survive and working with them to try and address some of the obstacles that they faced," said Goodridge.

In 1981, Goodridge decided to go to Harvard's Graduate School of Education where she focused on human development. Goodridge explained that she chose that program because she wanted to study the intersection of depression and oppression.

When Goodridge received her master's degree in 1983 she, like most students today, was faced with considerable student loan debt, and needed to make enough to pay back that debt. Faced with a job market for her field of study was sparse at the time, she got a job in finance. Goodridge said working at Merrill Lynch put her in the black, but she hated the men she worked with, the sexual harassment, being in the closet and "most of all the values of the company."

Goodridge moved to EF Hutton in 1985 and it was there that she learned about financial planning and ethical investing. She said ethical investing was the only way she could survive in the for-profit world. Working at EF Hutton changed the trajectory of her career and it was there that she came out to all of the other brokers in the office one by one in the conference room.

"I said, 'I am a lesbian—what questions do you have?.' and that was that," said Goodridge.

Outside of the world of finance, Goodridge is known for her involvement in the landmark 2004 court case Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which led the way toward marriage equality. Goodridge and her then-partner Hillary, who were divorced in 2009, sued Massachusetts alongside six other couples for the right to marry.

When asked what made her want to put her name on the case, Goodridge said their lawyer from GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders ( GLAD ), Mary Bonauto—who also argued the Obergefell v. Hodges case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court—asked them to be the lead plaintiffs. Goodridge explained that at the time they had no idea what being the named plaintiff would entail.

"Our case was booted up to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and our 'activist judge,' as identified by George Bush in his 2004 State of the Union address, Margaret Marshall, wrote the opinion confirming our right to marry the person that we love," said Goodridge. "Interestingly, because she stayed the decision for 180 days, we ended up getting married on the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision—May 17, 2004."

Goodridge said the case was emotionally torturous because some of their close friends, Annie's classmates parents and their enemies opposed the conservative idea of them getting marriage. She explained that they got death threats, hostile and targeted leafleting in their neighborhood and targeted harassing mailings from 2001-2004.

"In the grand scheme of things, and when looking back at social movements and change, winning equal marriage in three short years was extraordinary and a breeze compared with the important civil rights struggles of the last 60 years," said Goodridge. "That said, we are in danger of having all civil rights achievements torn away right now in this country. There is movement afoot to have a constitutional convention under the guise of the need for a balance budget, coming from the right and the desire to overturn Citizens United from the left.

"If both sides are successful in winning the support from the requisite 32 states in support of a constitutional convention, they will be able to bring up and challenge every protected civil right, create an amendment to take away same-sex marriage and destroy a woman's right to choose. This cannot happen under any circumstance."

See northstarasset.com/ for more information .


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