Meet Habtamu Bekele
Until Feb. 1, 2023, we were Group Health Foundation. This post was written under our former identity. To learn more about our new name, read our announcement here.
Habtamu Bekele is a long-distance runner and has been for most of his life. He ran track and cross country in high school and at the University of Washington, and he still runs marathons today, qualifying for and completing the Boston Marathon in 2018 and 2019. “Running is my outlet for everything. It takes planning, practice, and patience. Without those things, your best won’t be on display.” For Habtamu, these principles apply to his life on and off the racecourse.
In middle school, Habtamu emigrated from rural Ethiopia where he lived with his grandparents to join his mother and siblings in Renton. He remembers being excited about the move but realizing soon afterward that life’s rhythms are similar no matter where you are: “There were more cars and airplanes, and it feels like you’ve come to this totally new world, but we’re still just human beings.” One other thing that struck Habtamu was a feeling that opportunities existed for him that hadn’t before, and he committed to seizing those opportunities. “When doors open, I’m going to walk through them.”
That mindset carried Habtamu from learning to speak English in middle school to being a newsworthy high-school athlete to being a business student at the University of Washington. “I thought, ‘OK, if I can do this in six short years, then that means I can do more,” reflects Habtamu. Though, for Habtamu, it wasn’t enough that he was able to walk through those doors; he wanted other young people in his community to come with him.
As a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle and the African Student Association at UW, Habtamu volunteered to mentor teens and adolescents to inspire them to pursue a four-year degree. His favorite event was the Ethiopian Community Center’s annual graduation ceremony for high school and college students. “We tried to invite as many kids from the community as possible, so that they could see that example and begin to imagine themselves on that stage—to have a vision like, ‘Hey, I can do that too!’”
In his professional life, Habtamu admits that investing was not where he thought he’d wind up. “I can’t lie,” he says, “This was me trying to figure out what I’m capable of. And, of course, I loved it. I loved being the middleman between investment decision makers and those on the back end. It’s why I did my MBA. It’s why I got certified as a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst.”
An accounting internship during college led Habtamu to a career at BlackRock Financial Management, where he advanced from a fund accounting analyst all the way to leading a trading operations team as a vice president of investment operations. After earning his MBA from the University of Illinois in 2021, Habtamu joined Carta Equity Management Solutions and gained “the missing piece in [his] investment operations background”—private equity. He will bring this knowledge as well as his experience in other traditional and alternative investment management to GHF as investment operations manager.
Habtamu is looking forward to playing this vital role. “My mission is to lay the foundation so GHF’s investments can survive for the long term. We’re entrusted with this money, and I want to make sure we’re doing our part to show that trust is in good hands, and we’re getting the job done. What I love is that we’re managing the money responsibly—both for growth as well as deploying a good portion of our capital to investment partners committed to various socially responsible goals.”
With COVID-19 travel restrictions easing up, Habtamu is looking forward to resuming travel with his wife and son. A first-time trip to Europe could be next, but the family’s favorite is Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “My family is my joy, and one thing we all love to do is travel.” When asked about his dream destination, Habtamu shares that the Maldives tops his list— “That’s the dream right there.” It’s one more door (or, in this case, boarding gate) he’s bound to walk through.