For a firm whose assets under management have climbed more than thirteenfold since the end of 2008, the name Tortoise Capital Advisors LLC might not seem like the best description.
But there's a story behind the name and, more importantly, a pattern of practice encouraging creativity within the office and in the community.
Internal education is advanced through the Tortoise Lab and Corkboard, a pair of internal discussion forums. “This is an open culture,” said H. Kevin Birzer, senior managing director and one of five co-founders. “If someone has a good idea we let them run with it.”
One example is the website — www.uncoverenergy.com — created by a Tortoise employee that describes in charts, graphs, photos and prose the history, science and economics of fossil fuels.
The support of “good ideas” extends to the life outside the office. One employee is a board member of a non-profit organization that provides diapers to poor people. Mr. Birzer said many Tortoise employees have contributed, the company's foundation has donated money and the company has allowed employees to take days off to pack and store diapers.
For another non-profit organization that Mr. Birzer chairs, employees have contributed money and time to planting trees in urban neighborhoods as well as cleaning up lots.
Company executives host Tortoise Teach-Ins, in which high school and college students learn about the company and its specialty — energy investing — from primarily young Tortoise employees.
“It's fun to see staff in their 20s talking to the high school and college kids,” Mr. Birzer said.
The Tortoise Teach-In demonstrates a corporate attitude described by one employee in the Best Places to Work in Money Management survey, as “positive, energetic and fills one with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.”
The company “cares about each of its employees when it comes to career development, health and happiness, and family well-being,” said another employee.
And let's not forget Chip, the Aldabra tortoise that the firm adopted at the Kansas City Zoo — part of the zoo's effort to encourage donations for the care and feeding of its animals.
So, what about that name? Tortoise Capital was founded in early 2002, just after the dot-com bubble had burst. Concentrating on what was then a little-known field of energy infrastructure master limited partnerships, the firm's founders chose the name because — like the fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare” — their research showed that slow, steady MLP investments could outperform the Standard & Poor's 500 index over time.