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Success Files: Nick Tiller, Founder and CEO, Sustainable America

Nick Tiller’s life story is studded with philanthropy. He serves on the board of trustees for The Nature Conservancy and works with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. But Tiller is most passionate about Sustainable America, the nonprofit he founded in 2012 and chairs. Promoting the separation of the link between food and fuel, the group advocates options for both that are viable and renewable. Before launching a career in the nonprofit sector, Tiller worked in energy but in the financial realm. He is a former energy portfolio manager—for 12 years with SAC Capital Advisors—and today Tiller focuses less on profiting from the energy and food sectors and more on how he can prevent these resources from running out.

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What do you believe has been instrumental to your own success?
I came from a modest background with no professional connections and no safety net, but I was ambitious. Excelling at education was the equalizer.

Philanthropy is at the core of much of your career. Do you feel it’s a calling?
I wouldn’t say it’s a calling, because that makes it sound like only a select few need to give to others. Everyone should be a philanthropist. It’s about being grateful for what one has and giving back to the community that helped make it possible. We’re all lucky in this country, and we should all give back, whether by giving money to great charities or by volunteering at local activities as varied as bake sales or coaching Little League.

What business advice do you give to young people starting their careers?
Work hard. Give back. Put in the time and effort necessary for a successful career rather than waste time watching television and surfing social media. Be grateful for opportunities, good work and the society that makes that possible, and help others enjoy those same opportunities.

What’s one misconception about you?
That I’ve become a tree hugger. Sustainable businesses and impact investing are multi-decade trends in their early innings. Donors who embrace that can have tremendous impact. Entrepreneurs and investors who act on that will earn tremendous profits. It’s OK to make a lot of money and help make the world a better place at the same time.

What has surprised you about your career?
How quickly I went from being the precocious kid in the room to the senior statesman. Success begets responsibility, which cannot be taken lightly.

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