Fireside with Joe Wright

January 13, 2022 - After more than 20 years of service to HighGround, former CIO Joe Wright retired at the end of last year. We sat down, fireside, with Joe to reflect on his career and to celebrate his significant contributions to HighGround and the important work of our client partners.

What was your work experience prior to joining HighGround?
I have worked in investment-related fields my entire career. I started as a Certified Financial Planner working with high-net worth clients. I then moved on to a career in real estate capital markets and finance, first with a major developer and then with the JC Penney Company, where I had the opportunity to manage the company’s $7 billion pension and 401(k) savings plans.

What brought you to HighGround?
Back then, HighGround was called the Baptist Foundation of Texas (BFT). While I was at JC Penney, I got to know Ron Dugan, BFT’s chief investment officer at the time, who asked if I would be interested in joining the BFT Board of Directors. Ron and I had discussed our Baptist faith on many occasions, and I guess my investment management and real estate background made me a good candidate for the board. After learning more, I loved the Foundation’s mission of service to others and jumped at the prospect of joining the board. I was elected in late 2000.

Very shortly after joining the board, I learned that Ron was leaving for a new opportunity. When I asked Lynn Craft, the Foundation’s president, what the plans were for replacing the position, he responded by asking if I had interest, and as they say, “the rest is history.”  

What part have you played in advancing HighGround’s mission through the years? 
I think HighGround’s investment program has expanded over the last 20 years. We’ve more broadly diversified our endowment and planned giving strategies. We’ve added new investment funds and asset classes to our platform, and our investment and risk management processes have vastly improved. We’ve also faced a bunch of challenges in the last couple of decades: the bust in the early 2000s, the 2008-2009 financial crisis and then this global pandemic. But despite the setbacks, investment performance has been good, we rank highly among our peers, and our investment funds have met the financial goals our clients have come to expect. So, I think the team and I have certainly played a part in advancing HighGround’s mission over these years to protect, strengthen, and grow the assets that fund our clients’ important work.

What about your work at HighGround have you most enjoyed?
There’s a lot about HighGround that I have enjoyed. I have certainly enjoyed my investment management role, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue my chosen profession all these years. But what I’ve enjoyed the most is the people. Everyone at HighGround has been great to work with. I’ve obviously spent most of my time with the investment team, and over the years I think we have become a close-knit group that works really well together, and we’ve had a lot of fun along the way. It’s been my privilege to have led the team for the last 20 years, and I’m proud of what we accomplished together. I’ve also spent a lot of time and enjoyed working with my senior leadership colleagues in managing HighGround’s affairs and shaping its strategic future. And I can’t leave out the many people on the client side that I consider friends. I’ve heard it’s not the work but the people you miss the most, and I think that will be true for me.   

Tell us about a favorite memory or story from your time at HighGround.
Well, after all these years I have more than a couple that come to mind. On the Foundation’s 75th anniversary, we threw a huge black-tie gala and invited all our client partners and friends and family of the Foundation. I’m not sure, but I think several hundred showed up to celebrate, and it was quite the event. My wife, Coleen, and I host a Christmas dinner party for the team each year and that has also made for a lot of good memories.

What is one of your most rewarding achievements or moments while at HighGround?
I think we’ve achieved a great deal over the last 20 years. Being involved in the transition and rebranding of Baptist Foundation of Texas to HighGround Advisors has been rewarding, and I’m proud of what has been accomplished so far. I think introducing new asset classes to HighGround’s endowment and planned giving strategies has improved our competitive profile and will continue to bear fruit long into the future. And I’m particularly happy with how well our cash reserve fund’s yield enhancement strategy has done since we put it in place back in 2005. 

Which of the HGA core values resonates most deeply with you and why?
I’m not sure I can pick just one. I’ve always had a “client first” mentality, so I guess if I have only one to choose that would be it. But as stewards of our clients’ resources, I think acting with integrity is super important, and of course as an investment manager, leading with professional excellence is also very high on my list.   

How do you like to spend your time? What are your hobbies or passions?
I don’t have any big hobbies, but I do enjoy playing golf - very poorly I might add - and snow skiing.  Coleen and I like to travel when we have the time, and there is a never-ending list of chores and projects around the house that keep me busy.  

What are your plans for retirement? What are you looking forward to most?
Well, I have two grandchildren and one on the way, so I plan to spend a whole lot more time with them, and my family and friends. I’m also looking forward to having more free time to play golf and travel. My golf game needs a lot of improvement, and Coleen and I have quite a few destinations to check off our bucket list. I will continue serving on Circle Ten Boy Scout Foundation’s trustee board and investment committee and hope to find new opportunities for charitable and volunteer work. I may also look at doing some part-time work if something of interest comes up. 

Any parting thoughts for the HighGround team and/or our client partners?
I guess I just want to say how grateful I am to have worked at HighGround for almost 21 years. I’ve been blessed throughout my career, and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to finish it at HighGround.  Our clients are making a positive difference in people’s lives, and it has always made me feel good that my work, in a small way, was contributing to their Kingdom work. I’m thankful God led me here and grateful for the many friends and relationships I’ve made along the way. I’m certain HighGround’s best days are still ahead and pray God’s blessings on everyone.