From Academia to Finance: Atle's David Seekell on making a difference in sustainable investing

Key takeaways

Not every day do you get to sit next to a colleague that, secretly, happens to have written dozens of renowned academic publications and received numerous awards. But this is certainly the case for the team working at the Swedish investment management firm Atle. A few weeks ago a new colleague, David Seekell, joined them as Head of Sustainable Investing and ESG after 17 years dedicated to academic research.

“I am pleasantly surprised. I am meeting a lot of smart and ambitious people that are genuinely interested in sustainability”, says David as he shared his first impressions of the industry.

But what made him trade his Academic life for the Financial Industry? We are all trying to find a way to help with challenges such as climate change, the biodiversity crisis, and sustainable development. Making a bold career change was David’s way. “The issues underlying these topics are understood enough to take immediate and meaningful action. What will writing one more report accomplish?”, explains.

“Finance has always been a leverage point for societal transformation. When I noticed the growing popularity of ESG integration, I knew this would be an impactful way to apply my perspective and expertise”

David and the team at Atle contribute frequently to transforming Datia's platform into the go-to solution for integrating sustainability into the investment process. It was during some of these many interactions that Datia’s team learned about David’s career. With his permission, we are sharing his story with more sustainability enthusiasts out there.

Here’s the full interview with David Seekell

Tell us a bit about your background.

I was born in the Northeastern United States and spent most of my childhood in that region. I got my first job doing research at the University of Vermont when I was 18, and I eventually transitioned my focus to environmental research. I was drawn by the systems perspective and the potential to do ecosystem-scale experiments. These are studies where you experimentally manipulate an entire ecosystem to understand responses and interactions at the scales most relevant to public policy. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. My dissertation research developed quantitative methods that give early warning of previously unpredictable environmental tipping points.

And why Sweden?

I came to Sweden after receiving a large research grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. I thought living outside the U.S. for a few years would be fun. I never imagined staying so long, but then came the children… and now I am planted here.

What made you trade the academia career for the Financial Services industry?

I was the real deal as a university researcher - I published dozens of scientific articles, received millions of dollars of grants, and won awards - but I started growing away from the work and lifestyle after having children. Specifically, I began to see my research as very interesting but not very important. The key issues underlying climate change, the biodiversity crisis, and sustainable development are understood enough to take immediate and meaningful action. What will writing one more report accomplish?

What are your biggest challenges as a “Head of Sustainable Investing and ESG”?

There are simply not enough hours in the day for everything I want to do! The work is energizing, but I am still figuring out the most effective and sustainable way to establish myself in the industry. I think it is natural for this to take some time after such a big career change.

And what are the greatest accomplishments so far?

I have only been with Atle for a few weeks, so my greatest accomplishment is just being here! It is extremely unusual to jump from the environmental sciences to investment management and I had no clear path to follow when making this transition. I was fortunate to connect with the senior leadership at Atle who had a clear vision for how I could integrate into the industry.

As Datia’s first client, Atle has been very involved in the development of our sustainability investment platform. Tell us a bit about the partnership.  

A major priority for us is ensuring compliance with the EU's Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation. Datia's platform is built around this goal and it is becoming integral as we develop our SFDR-compliant investment process. Beyond the platform itself, what stands out about Datia is its team's responsiveness. SFDR is new and our needs are changing as we learn more about it. What we have found in Datia is a partner willing to navigate these changes with us, developing practical solutions so that we can truly integrate sustainability into our investment process.

About Atle

Atle was established in 2018 and is an active owner and long-term partner to leading fund managers. Today the group consists of six managers: Alcur, Fondita, HealthInvest, Humle, TIN, and Gro.

For more information, visit Atle's website.