Fireside with HighGround CIO Helge Rokenes

August 4, 2021 - In June, HighGround announced the hiring of our new CIO, Helge Rokenes. You can read the full press release here. We recently sat down, fireside, with Helge to get to know him better.

Welcome to HighGround! Ok, first thing’s first. What is the correct way to pronounce your name?

HEHL’ guh   ROH’ keh nuhs

But people say my name so many different ways that I’m not particularly stringent. It is pronounced a little differently in Norway, but I don’t expect everyone to know Norwegian. This pronunciation gives people a fair chance of saying it right.

What brought you to Texas from Norway?

I came to Texas right after I served in the Royal Norwegian Navy. I wanted to go somewhere warm to learn a new language and experience a new culture. Texas Lutheran University had an exchange program with my high school and I was able to enroll at the university as a sophomore on scholarship, which made this a great way achieve my goals. After graduating from Texas Lutheran, I went on to get my MBA at Baylor University. I met and married a Texan, and I’ve been here ever since.

Did anything surprise you about Texas when you first arrived?

I was surprised how friendly Texans were! I was also astonished to see that people wrote checks. This was in the late 90s and I couldn’t remember having seen one before, much less written one out! Checks were phased out in Norway by the time I grew up, so they were foreign to me. Little did I know I would still have to order new checks some 20 years later!

Do you make it back to Norway often? What do you miss most about Norway?

We usually visit in the summer to see family. The kids love it. My hometown has rain 260 days of the year, but the summers are beautiful with temperatures in the 70s. I do miss the nature, the mild summers, and the great seafood!

Tell us about your time in the Royal Norwegian Navy.

Norway had a mandatory conscription, so I joined the navy right out of high school. After I enrolled, I tried out for the Naval Officer Candidate School. After a rigorous basic training and selection period, I entered the officer training program, which included classes in management to prepare you to be part of the leadership team of a platoon as a drill sergeant. At an early age, I got to stand in front of a group of 50 new soldiers and teach them all I had learned just six months prior. Some of these new recruits were almost twice my age and would come with their stories and problems, and I had to learn on the fly as an eighteen-year-old how to deal with it all. It was fun to be with the guys. We didn’t go to armed conflict, but I did join in on a few NATO winter training operations. My experience provided some good opportunities to learn how to educate and train others, about leadership psychology and the importance of integrity. I served in the navy for 2 years.

You have almost twenty years of investment management experience, both for institutions and for high-net worth individuals. How has your work experience shaped you for this CIO role?

I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. You need to have solid foundation and a clear sense of how you invest. Maintaining a long-term focus and constant discipline allows you to remain steadfast during periods of turbulence and to have the courage to invest when the outlook is uncertain. I share HighGround’s investment values. HighGround has a solid reputation of keeping that long-term perspective and staying disciplined during periods of volatility.

Is that something that drew you to HighGround?

That, along with HighGround’s deep-rooted history and strong purpose of serving nonprofits that are transforming lives.

Which of HighGround’s core values most resonate with you?

It’s difficult to pick just one. To me, Client First, Servant Hearted, and Integrity all go hand in hand. Innovation, Visionary, and Professional Excellence are good guideposts to have. You shouldn’t run an organization without thinking of those things. When considering Innovation, “constant learning” might be helpful words in the context of investing. Change for the sake of change doesn’t lead you anywhere. But you do need to be able to learn and adapt as markets constantly evolve.

How would you assure a client who may have concerns regarding a change in senior leadership within the investments team?

HighGround has established a great investment track record and has a reputation of operational excellence. I think HighGround has been thoughtful in managing the CIO transition. HighGround is still backed by the same strong board and investment committee, and clients can rest assured that the investment team will continue to focus on the core mission to protect, strengthen, and grow client capital. I’m excited to be part of HighGround’s next chapter.

How do you like to spend your time? What are your hobbies or passions?

I have broad interests. My wife and I have a 12-year-old girl, a 9-year-old boy, and a 6-year-old girl. I grew up outdoors in Norway and love the outdoors. We take our kids camping every fall and spring. Skiing in Colorado and camping in Yosemite have been some of my favorites, but we go to a lot of state parks too. I also like to go skiing, fishing, and road biking. I played soccer growing up and while I no longer play, I do try to watch a Premier League game during the weekend!

Do you have a favorite quote or Bible verse?

Romans 8:31 – “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It helps to keep worries at bay if you know that God is with you. You can remain steadfast, with confidence, even in periods of doubt. Just keep your eyes on the big picture.