Stories in Washington

Kristen Bauer

By Anya Blaney

A headshot of Kristen Bauer.
Kristen Bauer Kristen's work both in and out of the office proves that protecting the planet and financial success can coexist. © Courtesy of Kristen Bauer

The term “wealth manager” conjures images of people in polished suits, studying market graphs behind corner-office desks. Kristen Bauer, CEO of Laird Norton Wealth Management and a trustee for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Washington, defies the stereotype. When she’s not advising ultra-high-net worth clients (individuals with assets of $30 million and up) on responsibly managing their wealth, Kristen is most at home hiking and scanning the skies for the graceful flight of a red-tailed hawk.  

Casual headshot of Kristen Bauer.
Kristen Bauer Kristen’s fierce love of the outdoors is embedded in her unique approach to wealth management. © Kristen Bauer

Her fierce love of the outdoors was planted in childhood, when she participated in Indigenous-led nature classes that taught her the art of spotting hawks and owls, honing her skills of observation and how to thrive in the wilderness.

“I used to be oblivious,” Kristen recalls, “but I learned how to scatter my vision and look for animals in the wild. It became a little bit of an obsession.” This early connection to nature and Indigenous wisdom laid the foundation for Kristen’s unique approach as a wealth manager, which embraces sustainable practices and recognizes the value of the natural world beyond monetary worth.

Kristen grew up surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals in Bend, Oregon, and was deeply influenced by her brother, who introduced her to the art of animal tracking. He also put The Nature Conservancy on her radar, and she became a donor in her early 20s. Through the tracking community, Kristen came to work at Camp Palawopec near Nashville, Indiana, which offers a rigorous outdoor living program for youth. She returned as a counselor there for several summers to share the joy of navigating nature with kids.

“The camp was all about being a kid and being your authentic, true self,” she said, recalling how she enjoyed “appreciating nature, but also living a sustainable life and thinking about your footprint.”

Despite a passion for nature, Kristen chose a career in finance. She explains that she always had a proficiency and fascination with numbers and math and believed she needed to follow a “traditional” career path to sustain herself. At the time she went to university—in the late ’80s and early ’90s—sustainability majors didn’t exist and careers in environmental science were not prevalent. She decided to follow in her father’s footsteps, who was a CEO at engineering firm W&H Pacific. While her career path wasn’t directly nature-based, she sought to foster a “sense of connection and belonging with people and have a service mentality that helps make people’s lives better.”

Three women stand in front of a mountain range at sunset.
Trustee Kristen Bauer A fierce love of the outdoors was planted in childhood. © Kristen Bauer

After graduating from the University of Washington in 1992, Kristen became a certified public accountant (CPA) and an assurance manager at Arthur Andersen, LLP. Years into a business-focused world that encouraged long hours, Kristen found herself searching for more meaning in her work. She took a sabbatical and journeyed deep into the forest, completely alone, to meditate and fast for four days.

“When I found a place, I drew a 10-foot-diameter circle around myself,” Kristen described. “And I sat in that circle for four days with just four gallons of water and a sleeping bag.” She only left the circle once a day to leave a rock on a log as a signal to her brother that she was alive.

“It was about finding myself, finding what drives me, my purpose, my sense of belonging,” Kristen said. “I began to assimilate my interest in the world and nature with the reality of being a corporate citizen. It doesn’t have to be either-or.”

Soon after leaving the accounting world, Kristen met her mentor, the late philanthropist and pension fund pioneer George Russell, who was the former chairman of the Frank Russell Company and owner of the Russell 2000 index. For more than two decades, she worked for his firm the Threshold Group, first joining as the chief financial officer and earning her way to president in 2017.

“George inspired me to think that you could use wealth as a force for good in the world,” Kristen said. He taught her three key lessons that she uses in her work today, where a third of her clients are impact investors:

  1. There is “no gray in integrity.” Russell taught her to “do everything as though your actions will end up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.”
  2. Utilize a “service mentality.” Even ultra-high-net-worth individuals serve someone; for example, on the board of a nonprofit organizations. Kristen says that “if you come from a service mentality, no matter your wealth, everyone is better served.”
  3. Infuse joy into life and work.

Kristen’s interest in the nonprofit world and early introduction to The Nature Conservancy led her to meet Mike Stevens, state director of TNC in Washington, and she became a trustee in 2016. She stepped up to the role of chair from 2020 to 2022 before “passing the torch” to Maud Daudon. During her tenure, Kristen guided the board through the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping the board engaged through years of virtual-only meetings. She helped develop TNC in Washington’s equity statement that centers social justice in conservation efforts.

Three women stand in front of snow-blanketed mountains and valley.
Helping People and the Planet Kristen’s corporate and nonprofit experience gave her an eagle-eye view of how wealth affects the health of the planet. © Kristen Bauer

“The statement is what I’m most proud of,” Kristen said of her time as chair of TNC in Washington. “It’s tempting for many nonprofits to solely rely on large donors’ support. However, it’s important to foster community because it takes all of us to address climate change. The Nature Conservancy in Washington takes this approach to raising funds, engaging the community and challenging the organization to think outside the box.”

Kristen’s corporate and nonprofit experience gave her an eagle-eye view of how wealth affects the health of the planet. She became the CEO of Laird Norton Wealth Management (LNWM) in 2020 and successfully ushered LNWM through multiple mergers. She pushes for real change by managing $15 billion on behalf of ultra-high-net-worth families who want to use their wealth to positively impact the world.

“We’re not in the business of just making wealthy people wealthier,” Kristen said of her work. “I believe that you can do good and do well at the same time. I help my clients express their values through their investments, their charitable work, their legacy planning or their philanthropy.”

One of her clients’ most multifaceted concerns is the health and abundance of water. “My clients are concerned about fresh water and the oceans,” Kristen said. “They are also paying attention to wildfires because of their prominence in the Pacific Northwest, and now also the East Coast and Canada.”

Driven by her understanding of how important it is to acclimate children to nature, Kristen also assumes the role as president of the Board of Directors of the Wilderness Awareness School, nestled amidst the Cascade Mountains. Its curriculum is designed for adventurers of all ages to delve into educational and practical classes where people can get their hands dirty.

Kristen Bauer headshot.
Kristen Bauer Kristen's work both in and out of the office proves that protecting the planet and financial success can coexist. © Courtesy of Kristen Bauer

Kristen's work both in and out of the office proves that protecting the planet and financial success can coexist. With a heartfelt commitment to her clients and building a corporate culture of purpose and belonging, she helps them express their values and utilize their wealth for the betterment of the world. But she asserts that you don’t need a million dollars to make an impact.

“When it comes to making a positive impact on the environment, the size of our bank account becomes irrelevant," Kristen shared. "We all have the capacity to contribute; it depends on whether we come from a mindset of scarcity or abundance. It is the passion within us that seeks fulfillment through purposeful engagement, be it through a charitable donation, investing our time or dedicating our skills to a meaningful cause."