PJ Deschenes (C’00) returns to the Mountain as Graham Executive-in-Residence

In the Torian room, PJ Deschenes (C’00) delivers his presentation on Sustainability vs. Investing. Photo courtesy of Isabel Butler (C’20).

By Anna Mann

Before his interview with The Purple, PJ Deschenes (C’00) took an early morning hike with biology professor Deborah McGrath. They walked through his favorite place on campus: Shakerag Hollow. 

“I always try to take a hike or a run through Shakerag when I visit,” he said. “It’s like being in a cathedral, and so beautiful with the diversity of trees and the different layers of the canopy and understory… It’s just incredible.”

After a five year hiatus from campus, Deschenes returned as the Graham Executive-in-Residence to speak on environmentalism and life beyond Sewanee in Sustainability vs. Investing. The Sewanee alumnus lives in New York City with his wife and three children. However, as a former forestry and math major, Deschenes was eager to return to his alma mater. 

When he returned on September 9, the Torian room was packed with his former professors, friends from around the Mountain, and current students passionate about sustainability. 

As a partner at Greentech Capital Advisors, Deschenes combines his love of nature with the practicality of investment banking. Greentech partners with companies to help them transition to more sustainable technologies through investment. 

During his talk, he spoke about his journey from Sewanee to Yale and Harvard master’s programs, the difficulty of finding a job during the 2008 recession, and his recent transactions at Greentech. 

When asked about the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, Deschenes explained that “It’s not something we’re going to turn off over night. It’s an industry that produces way more jobs, investments, and tax revenue than the renewable energy industry does at the moment.”

However, he did explain that current trends in the market show a movement to wind and solar energies. Especially solar, which has a potential for lowering costs as coal companies continue to go under. 

In an interview with The Purple, Deshsenes gave three tips to students wishing to follow his path: take a diversity of classes, get started early, and network. 

“The challenge of there being record low on employment and a strong economy means that the competition for talent is intense,” he stated. “Companies are recruiting earlier and earlier in the cycle… We rely on internships for about 70 percent of our hires.”

Even if Sewanee isn’t a traditional recruiting college, Deschenes claims that the diversification of knowledge that stems from the liberal arts environment is exceedingly helpful in a shifting work environment. 

He finished by saying, “it’s easy to forget the things that are special or magical about Sewanee that you don’t get to see in New York. Things that I missed but I’d forgotten how I’d missed them.” 

As any true graduate of the liberal arts, Deschenes truly exemplifies a marriage of interests: hiker, investor, and father, he is, as David Ships (C’88) said: “[a] fantastic example of the art of the possible.”