Todd Thomson ’83
Trustee Committee on Investment
By Cathryn Westra
As a Davidson student, alumnus, trustee and parent, environmental advocate and businessman Todd Thomson ’83 has seen Davidson evolve. He and his wife, Melissa Thomson ’83, have given back to the college in many ways, including the Todd and Melissa Thomson Professorship of Environmental Studies, a position held by Annie Ingram. Thomson and Ingram talked with the Davidson Journal about how Davidson can remain true to its core values while also tackling necessary innovations.
In what ways has Davidson changed since you were a student here, and in what ways has it remained the same?
TT: It’s remarkable how Davidson has retained its core values and culture. When I walk on campus, talk to students, and observe activities, I don’t feel it’s much different from when I was a student. Yet the school has also grown up. It’s now fully coeducational and has a larger national and international component. Davidson has grown from 1,400 to 1,900 students, and it’s been a positive growth, allowing for a more diverse student body and better ability to participate in activities like intercollegiate sports. I hope trustees, the administration, and the new president will continue this tradition of keeping core values while growing the school in how it operates.
Were you interested in business at a young age?
TT: As a kid I was fascinated that individuals could own small pieces of corporations through the stock market. In fourth grade I used my paper route money to buy shares of Disney and Pfizer. I grew older and realized running a business was more fun than owning shares. In college my brother and I started a deck-building business. Eventually, I became founder and CE O of the private investing firm Headwaters Capital. I am now chairman at Dynasty Financial Partners.
You have a vested interest in environmentalism, influencing your contributions to Davidson.
TT: Hiking and fishing as a young boy bred in me a treasure for the wilderness. I learned to interact with the environment, which begot an interest in sustainability. I had a seminal moment when, as a Davidson economics major, I took an environmental economics seminar. I saw issues where bad economic decisions were also bad environmental decisions. A desire to change this has been gnawing at me ever since. I became a member of the World Resources Institute, which provides science to prove that being environmentally sensible is good for business. This furthered my interest in environmentalism. I wanted to do for Davidson students what my senior seminar did for me, especially when I realized that Davidson didn’t have as extensive an environmental curriculum as some other schools. I contacted the school to see how I could help. This led to funding the environmental professorship and ultimately helped create an environmental studies major.
What does it mean to have a major in interdisciplinary studies and for the first one to be in environmental studies?
AI: The college has been working on this major for more than 17 years. Two main catalyzing events were the Thomson Professorship and the strong support for sustainability of former president Tom Ross. Faculty had the resources and the go-ahead to develop the strongest possible major we could envision. Environment a l studies includes required foundational courses in the sciences, social sciences and humanities, and a senior capstone project. If you look at programs elsewhere, not many have that firm a foundation. We had to be rigorous and thorough in creating this major, as we knew it would set the example for other interdisciplinary majors to follow.
TT: It took a while to develop an environmental major, but when we did, we did it right.
In what direction should the environmental studies major head?
TT: .We must avoid taking on a narrow perception of what environmentalism means. It is not limited to biology or ecology but is all-encompassing. A good way to understand the multiple outlets for environmentalism is through internships. AI: Because students learn so much from on-the-job training, it’s import ant to include internships.
Where do you believe future challenges lie for Davidson?
TT: Davidson is not always at the forefront of change, but we’ve managed to adapt to it well. One of my worries is if we don’t get out of our comfort zone enough to be innovative the rest of the world is going to pass us by. Davidson College is equipped to face innovations with strength. We need to keep focused on that.