An entrepreneurial kind of NGO (for a freewheeling kind of Board member)

We talk with PSI Board Member Martin Schneider, a Managing Partner at Fine Capital Partners, a hedge fund based in New York City. 

PSI: Tell me about your background, your areas of expertise, and your professional journey 

Martin Schneider: I was born in Long Island, so I’m not a true New Yorker. After business school, my first three jobs had an average tenure of about six weeks because I kept getting fired. They were corporate jobs and my dad pulled me aside and said, “If you want to keep knocking your head against the wall, have at it, but you seem to want to lead instead of follow – some might call it control issues – and you need to start your own thing.”  

And to my dad’s everlasting credit, he was 100% right.  

I am what used to be called a small businessman, now it’s called an entrepreneur. I started a health care delivery service company in the Northeast and things just felt better, they worked better, and I performed better. That led to the first part of my career, which was about 15 years of starting, growing and selling different healthcare services. Things like x-ray services, labs, home care companies, nursing, MRIs. It was anything and everything in the outpatient side of health.  

I ended up selling my internet company about health care services – Health Pages – in 2000, just before first internet bubble burst, so I got lucky with the timing. And at that point, I sort of stopped my for-profit concept for a bit and joined my first nonprofit Board in healthcare services in the New York City area hospitals. I learned about nonprofits boards and working with CEOs and senior teams and ended up loving it. A few years after that, I started a hedge fund with my wife; she was the brains – throwing the darts and picking the stocks – and I was the brawn, dealing with marketing and operations. And while we’ve done that for nearly 19 years at this point, I spend most of my time now on nonprofit boards where I lend assistance with operations, finance, money and endowment management, and audit committees.  

PSI: How did you come to PSI?  

MS: I got here… really, because of my wife. She had joined Save the Children USA’s board as Vice Chair and I felt inspired by that – as well as a bit competitive about it too, I’ll admit – so I looked around for a similar large NGO board to join and I learned about the freewheeling, non-bureaucratic PSI. I had gotten a masters from LSE in international development in 1984, so I was familiar with how aid can support countries to change and grow. And my wife Deborah was one of the ones who pointed me in PSI’s direction, as PSI really fit my style more so than other organizations in the space.  

I then started talking to Pam Scott, who was a PSI Maverick Collective member, and she told me all about PSI. Then I met Karl and Michael and I fell in love; PSI was the right sort of entrepreneurial get-things-done kind of place that you don’t traditionally find with large NGOs. That is what attracted me, along with the great people and the work. Clearly, I have an affinity and interest in healthcare, that is where I have spent a good amount of my time, and that’s PSI’s roots and mission.  

It is fascinating from a business standpoint to watch how change can happen, and in the health space, they can change through marketing and design tools. And PSI’s work is in essence that: bringing innovative and impactful tools into new markets alongside new and different approaches to introducing products and services. This creates change. That type of market dynamic approach fits well with my psyche and is clearly what PSI is all about, whether preventing malaria or supporting consumers to plan for the lives and families that they want. I’m not someone who is focused on one aspect of health, I’m focused on health as a delivery of an important good. Health and education are things that I have been involved in with my entire adult life and I derive a lot of value from doing that in the nonprofit space. 

PSI: What does consumer-powered healthcare mean to you and how do you see it making change for the people PSI serves?  

MS: About 10 years ago, before I came to PSI, I joined IDEO.org’s board (and have been Chairing it for about eight years). Structurally, I’m a big believer in capitalism and the power of markets, and while markets need to be regulated at times, in general I find that philosophy incredibly compelling. Many times, in the nonprofit space, markets aren’t at play because the nonprofits get money from governments or foundations and the donors decide what they want to do and, traditionally, have done it onto people or communities. The beauty of design thinking and specifically human-centered design thinking, which PSI has really taken on as its guiding philosophy, is that it makes the consumer as the focus, not the interests of the government or the foundation. This approach asks the question to communities of “What do you want us to be doing? What will be most impactful to you?” And once you have that approach, to me that means you’re on the right track, while many NGOs are not. That to me is one of the most compelling things about PSI.  

PSI: What are you looking forward to in the months ahead?  

 
MS: Sometimes you don’t know what you have until its gone. One of the things that I have fully enjoyed and engaged with during my PSI Board time was being with the people; meeting members from all over the world and seeing staff at the meetings. And quite frankly, it sucks that for two years we haven’t been in-person for meetings. You can always engage with the mission of an organization and how it operates but you have to get along with the people; the people are what will energize you. And that has energized me the most about PSI. I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to come together in person in 2022.  

PSI: Can you share a fun fact about yourself that we may not know? 

MS: I played tennis in school and continue to play all the time. I have been supporting and coaching professional tennis players over the years. In January, I’m planning to go to the Australian Open, which will complete my own personal “grand slam” of attending four major tournaments. I went during the pandemic in the players bubble to the French Open, to Wimbledon and then the U.S. Open. Karl had actually sent me a PSI mosquito hat for the U.S. Open, knowing that I’d be on TV given the player I am coaching. I was alternating between the hat and the New Balance sponsors’ gear, and good news is that the PSI hat made it onto TV when my player, Danielle Collins, played in the second largest stadium at the Open. She is the #20 player in the world.  

So I am looking forward to going to Australia in January and having the most fun in my life. The pandemic has allowed more flexibility with my time to travel and since the tennis seasons have been truncated, many players haven’t had traditional coaching relationships, so I have been able to step in. I don’t charge either, which also makes me attractive!  

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