Lukas Walton, the billionaire grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is reinventing the family office — building a multi-billion-dollar funding machine that powers charities, tech start-ups, public companies and activists seeking global change. Walton, 36, last year launched Builders Vision, a one-stop-shop of impact investing based in Chicago with more than $4 billion in assets. It includes a venture capital firm, philanthropy and asset management, all managed by a team of 100 staffers. While most family offices separate philanthropy and investing, Walton has stitched them together into an impact-investing superstore – funding social and environmental causes through start-ups, public companies or charities. Or, as he likes to say, “from NGO to IPO.” “What we’re doing here is challenging,” Walton told CNBC, in his first TV interview. “We’re trying to tie together cultures from philanthropy, from impact investment, from venture capitalists, not to mention public markets and equity managers. That’s three different cultures right?” According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Walton has a net worth of $22 billion, largely through his 4% ownership of Wal-Mart, inherited from his father John Walton. Yet he is quickly forging his own path, focusing on three major global problems: sustainable food, ocean health and energy transition. His goals are personal. Growing up in San Diego, Lukas also spent time with his family camping, hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Colorado and the West. His father, the late John T. Walton, was a former Green Beret, venture capitalist, entrepreneur and adventurer who died in 2005 when his ultra-light aircraft crashed in Wyoming. Walton said his connection to nature drives much of his investing and philanthropy. “I have always appreciated the environment because of that exposure,” he said. As a toddler, Walton was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer. HIs mother, Christy Walton, shifted his diet to fruits and vegetables mainly grown in their garden — which he credits for helping his recovery. Builders Vision was an early investor in SweetGreen and Beyond Meat and is funding dozens of other food-related start-ups including Soli Organic, an indoor-agriculture company, to Imagindairy, which makes animal-free milk proteins. Like many wealth creators and inheritors of his generation, Walton aims to prove that “profits and purpose go together.” The Builders Vision venture capital fund, called S2G, is in the top quartile of venture capital funds by returns, according to Cambridge Associates benchmarks. Walton said screening all the investments — including stocks, bonds and other financial products — for ESG and impact-investing criteria has led to less volatility in the broader portfolio. Climate change, the food supply and ocean health are, after all, also investment risks, he said. “We’re evaluating how [investment managers] are looking at a whole series of different risks that may not be captured in a standard due diligence profile,” he said. “ESG is a tool. It’s about looking forward to some of these systemic risks that create volatility. And develop better metrics to quantify those risks. I don’t know an investor who wouldn’t want that.” Walton has long straddled the world of investing and social change. He majored in environmental science and economics at Colorado College, launched his own food start-up, worked for a sustainability investment firm in Chicago and chairs the Environmental Committee of the Walton Family Foundation. He’s more comfortable in jeans and sneakers, and prefers to meet prospects at their farms or ocean labs than in a boardroom. But he admits he’s just beginning his journey – and hopes other family offices will follow Builders Vision’s example. “Always be open to new perspectives and be patient with yourself,” he said. “Give yourself the grace of time. And talk to others. Talk to us.”
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