Kate Murtagh ’89 Shares Career Path at Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series

At Harvard Management Company, which manages a $50.7 billion endowment, Kate Murtagh ’89 developed Harvard University’s sustainable investing policy, making it the first endowment in American higher education to sign the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment. Following her lead, the endowment considers material environmental, governmental, and social factors in all of its investments, and in accordance with the goals of the Paris Agreement, HMC is currently working to make its portfolio net zero for greenhouse gases by 2050.

“Since her time in the halls of Myron Taylor, Kate has led a distinguished career,” said Dean Ohlin, introducing Murtagh at the Landis Auditorium on October 19. “Definitions of success are fluid. We all have different goals and take different paths in the challenging and competitive professional landscape. Kate will answer the question: How do we achieve success while maintaining our own personal ethics and humanity?”

“I can’t lay out the perfect path for you to find your own personal success, but I can tell you it won’t look like mine and it won’t look like those of the other people in this room,” said Murtagh, chief compliance officer and managing director of sustainable investing at HMC. “What I can do is share with you a few lessons that I learned along the way and a few tips to consider while you’re here and while you start your own careers.” 

First, “Stay humble,” she said, sharing the story of her immigrant grandfather’s arrival in Troy, New York, and the importance of never forgetting where you’re from, no matter how great or small. Second, “Be grateful,” she said, because your success is dependent on the people supporting you behind the scenes, and never forget the most important yardstick of success is how you treat other people. 

“Make sure you’re chasing your own brass ring,” she said, and don’t be afraid to change when you find yourself heading in the wrong direction. “Seize the opportunity to open doors for others,” she said, encouraging students to create internships at their future firms, talk at high school career days, and teach at the local community college. “Expand your networks to engage with people who challenge your worldview” and seek diversity in the world around you. “To finish with one more life lesson from my Irish grandfather, always count your blessings.” 

Questions followed: What was it like to make partner at thirty-two years old? What was it like to leave Big Law? What did you think about when you decided to go in-house? What do you regret? What led you to attend Cornell? 

“What I really loved about Cornell is the rural location and the small class size,” said Murtagh. “Because I was really interested to see the faculty that was here, was here to be faculty. To have faculty who were so dedicated to this work was incredible, and that meant a lot to me.”