Katherine Collins has been elected Chair and has appointed Ian McKinnon as Vice-Chair of the Santa Fe Institute’s Board of Trustees. Their three-year appointments began May 3, 2021, following the board’s bi-annual meeting.
Katherine Collins is the first Head of Sustainable Investing at Putnam Investments and Founder of Honeybee Capital, the precursor to Honeybee Capital Foundation. She is also the first woman to chair SFI’s Board of Trustees since the institute’s founding in 1984.
Collins first came to SFI in the late 90s through SFI’s Applied Complexity Network. She was a new portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, a member of the Applied Complexity Network (then known as the “Business Network”) when she attended a meeting on the topic of collective decision-making by honeybees. She was fascinated by speaker Thomas Seeley’s account of how the honeybees dispatch their most senior members to gather information, then use that information to inform a collective, democratic decision.
This inspired an evolution in Collins’ life and her approach to investing. After rising to the rank of Head of Equity Research, Collins departed Fidelity. She went on to enroll at Harvard’s divinity school, starting her own investment research firm, Honeybee Capital, while earning her degree. Honeybee also joined the Applied Complexity Network, and in 2013, Collins was elected to SFI’s Board of Trustees.
She now uses biomimicry and systems-thinking to inform her work at Putnam, where she has been leading sustainable investment research and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) strategy since 2017.
“The deep understanding that's come through my affiliation with SFI is not only about individual systems, but the relationships between those systems,” Collins says. “Much of our professional work does the opposite — it pulls you to be more and more narrow over time. And so for me, in addition to the substance of the science at SFI, the SFI culture of exploration and connection has encouraged me to keep that broader interconnected view, no matter what the question or the context."
When Ian McKinnon was first introduced to the Santa Fe Institute in 2007 by legendary investor Bill Miller (Former Chairman of the Board and Life Trustee at SFI), he knew he “had to go visit the campus as soon as possible.”
Raised by a father who was both a Justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court and a professional jazz drummer, a mother who was a poet of significant acclaim, and a grandfather who helped to found a major medical center in Albuquerque, McKinnon naturally resonated with SFI’s trans-disciplinary mindset.
“I was immediately taken with the notion that attacking difficult problems through a trans-disciplinary prism is vastly superior to the narrow academic silos we typically employ,” he says. “And the fact that all of this cutting-edge, fundamental research was taking place in New Mexico, the state where both my wife, Sonnet, and I, were raised — it was incredibly meaningful.”
As a successful hedge fund manager, first for Ziff Brothers Investments where he retired after nearly 20 years as Managing Partner and now for Sandia Holdings, his family office, McKinnon maintains that investing is an inherently trans-disciplinary activity. He is firmly convinced that some of the fundamental tenets of complexity science, especially the emphasis on agent-based incentives and feedback loops, have significantly enhanced his investment approach and methodologies.
At the same time, he is also the first to say that (like any complex adaptive system), his investing strategies continue to evolve to this day!
The McKinnons are long-time supporters of SFI and have made multiple large gifts to the Institute’s education programs, and to expand fundamental research and core science activities like the workshops and working groups for which, McKinnon notes, “SFI is justifiably famous.”
SFI President David Krakauer, who is also the William H. Miller Professor of Complex Systems, says he is delighted to be working with Collins and McKinnon in their new leadership positions.
“SFI has been incredibly fortunate to have Katherine and Ian on the board,” Krakauer says. “At this point, they are both indispensable members of the SFI family and friends to whom I turn for advice and insight. The new roles that they are assuming give us all tremendous confidence in the viability and future of the institute. Both Katherine and Ian are science nerds like the rest of us at SFI and bring to their new roles a passion for ideas and a deep understanding for how insights from the various fields of complexity can inform both professional and intellectual life.”