To be young, gifted and green

Kathleen Brooks
He’s just about to set up his fourth environmental fund and he’s not yet 30, but Ben Goldsmith has emerged as a leading force in environmental investing since he set up the UK’s first clean technology venture capital fund in 2004.

This is all through Wheb (soon to be Wheb Partners). There are now two venture capital funds that have £24m and £105m in assets under management respectively and both focus on industrial efficiency: “We don’t tend to invest in alternative energy outright because it takes vast amounts of cash to get these things off the ground,” says Goldsmith.

Wheb will soon have four business strands: two venture capital funds, an asset management business and an executive recruitment business, all focused on the environmental markets. It is also about to launch a new green infrastructure fund after “persuading” a team from Macquarie Bank to jump ship. The infrastructure fund is expected to close this winter and aims to attract €200m of investors’ funds.

Wheb is 50 per cent owned by Goldsmith and a silent partner and 50 per cent owned by four other partners, including Rob Wylie and Kim Heyworth, two former KPMG partners who created Wheb as a cleantech advisory business in 1995. It is their names that are the W and the H in Wheb. Goldsmith decided against using his initial. “I suppose I bring the sales ability to the team,” he says.

He talks intelligently and with ease about energy investment: “There is no global centre of gravity for green investing, it’s not like if you are in IT where you have to be based in Silicon Valley. Clean technology is not a sector, it’s more of a theme that cuts across all industrial sectors.”

It was his uncle, Teddy Goldsmith, who introduced him to green investing. However, it was his elder brother Zac, recently elected as a Conservative MP for Richmond Park, that fuelled his early passion for the environment: “We were always interested in wildlife, I would spend my childhood looking for birds’ nests.”

Having three young children is “exhausting”, but Goldsmith is passing on his love of nature: “I woke up this morning to three very unhappy children, a magpie had destroyed a bird’s nest in our garden and there were ripped pieces of dead young birds all over the grass.”

So does Goldsmith live in an eco-paradise? Yes, but within reason: “I don’t fly very much, but it’s due to fear rather than environmental concerns. But my house in London is heated using geo-thermal energy.”

His father, Sir James Goldsmith, was well known for spotting investment trends early, and his son will hope to have the same ability. He believes that in future everyone will have solar panels and produce electricity form their homes: “I think there is a general consensus that a green industrial revolution is going on right now.”

Goldsmith has miles of vision, but he says he has a few years yet before he calls himself an entrepreneur: “It has to work first before I can call myself that.”