Features

Teresa Bernstein – ACON Investments

Long-term strategies pay off during turbulent times

In the world of investments, Teresa Bernstein says navigating high finance is a lot like swimming in open water: You must frequently look up for a landmark to guide you—or else it’s easy to veer off course or get swept away by the current.

Teresa Bernstein – ACON Investments

Teresa Bernstein | COO, GC and CCO | ACON Investments | Photo credit: Julie Kubal Photography

Bernstein would know. With three titles at the Washington, D.C.-based firm ACON Investments—general counsel, chief compliance officer and chief operating officer—she’s also a devoted swimmer and runner. In both pursuits she knows the difference between treading water or moving forward, she says.

To meet investment goals, manage portfolios and communicate with investors during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bernstein stressed the importance of shifting between short- and long-term thinking. Through her roles, she’s helping ACON do just that—remain ready to pivot, whenever necessary, for the benefit of clients.

“With interruptions and uncertainties, it’s important for companies to start investing again and make the best of the new normal—even in these still uncertain times,” she says.

Shifting gears

Founded in 1996, ACON Investments is an international private equity investment company managing long-term investment funds; acquiring diverse portfolio companies in a wide range of industries; and managing partnerships within the U.S., Latin America and southern Europe.

“Our investors trust us to invest their funds and make long-term investment decisions for them that make sense financially and, more recently, ideologically,” she explains. “They want us to use their funds to make profits of course, but also to make longer-lasting, resilient companies that can be good employers and promote sustainable business practices well into the future.”

Teresa Bernstein – ACON Investments

When COVID-19 hit, she says the first order of business was focusing on the immediate crisis moment—which included tending to employees and the existing businesses from a health and safety perspective. That also involved setting up employees to work remotely or implementing safety measures to allow essential workers to continue on with their work, ensuring portfolio companies had sufficient liquidity or credit available, and establishing internal task forces to address needs ranging from HR to operations, marketing and financing.

“Each entity needed to develop its own operational guide,” she says. “That required everybody to come out of normal job mode and coordinate amongst themselves on the best ways to alter operations and develop new plans.”

Regrouping

Once the initial shock subsided in late spring, she says ACON refocused and returned to a long-term investment mindset. That meant reevaluating assets and making sense of what types of businesses would remain viable in a COVID-19 world—in short, continuing to build a portfolio that would never be swept out by the tide.

Health care, packaging, industrials and staple goods or related products in the delivery and supply chain of groceries and everyday household items, are regarded as durable prospects, she says. The goal is to find companies with the right growth prospects and sufficient flexibility that can adapt to changes brought about in this unpredictable world.

Teresa Bernstein – ACON Investments

Bernstein in her home office | Photo credit: Julie Kubal Photography

“People will always need food items,” she says, as an example. “We look to find assets that make sense in a world given virtually all circumstances. You bank on those things that are not damaged by every shift in the economy, and you keep an eye out to avoid what looks like insurmountable challenges.”

She says diversity and innovation are essential, both to her employer and other firms. Some of ACON’s portfolio companies adapted quickly at the onset of the pandemic, retrofitting machinery to produce face shields, supplying products that could be used for DIY mask-making, repurposing a paint facility to produce hand sanitizer and other innovations.

Teresa Bernstein – ACON Investments

Bernstein at a Volunteer Day event with her company, in partnership with KaBoom! and United Communities Against Poverty, Inc.

“Getting through this crisis takes innovation, but there are a lot of smart people in our country with new ideas,” she says. “The world will change. We may not interact the same way as before, but opportunities will emerge.”

Joyful juggling

That evolution of opportunities is certainly reflective of Bernstein’s experience at ACON. Joining the firm in 2013, her role shifted over seven years. By 2019 she added the titles of chief operating officer and general counsel.

“The firm was smaller when I joined, with a more singular strategy,” she says. “As our investor base grew we started to branch out to expand the business—all while continuing to do what we do best.”

In a way, the pace of change reminds her of her childhood, during which she moved every two years due to her father’s work in the oil industry. Living everywhere from Singapore to Saudi Arabia, she landed at Cornell University for her studies, earned a degree in comparative literature in 1998 magna cum laude, all while working full-time as a server in a restaurant.

Teresa Bernstein – ACON Investments

Photo credit: Julie Kubal Photography

She followed that with a law degree, achieving the same honors at the American University Washington School of Law in 2003.

While she daydreams about days with only one thing to focus on, she says she’d never be happy with that. Her love of life revolves around fervent multitasking on projects, raising three children and a puppy with her husband, and of course, training for her next race.

“I’m just not as productive without multiple balls in the air,” she jokes. “The most important thing is that you can’t put life, investments nor businesses on hold.”

Published on: October 20, 2020

regions:

categories: , ,

Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!

Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing tag) where you want to display our review banner.

Testimonials

I was honored to be the subject of an article. I enjoy reading Vanguard articles and seeing how other attorneys got to their positions and see their jobs. It's also interesting to see how different law firms partner with the subjects of the articles.
– Henry Marquard, in-house counsel, Stanley Consultants Inc.
As promised in advance, my feature in Vanguard has increased my visibility within the profession and prompted more than a few people I have not communicated with recently to reconnect. One of the Italian law firms I have used in the past is now in the process of interviewing me for an article on their website and tweeting out the feature story. Activity and the number of people connecting with me on LinkedIn has soared, which is great. The Vanguard writers and editorial staff were great to work with—highly professional and made the effort to make the experience both fun and rewarding (they were also respectful of the time pressures and demands all lawyers face). I was very pleased with the experience and the final outcome. Needless to say, I have been very pleased. All in all working with Vanguard has been a very positive experience which generated good publicity for both Shawcor and myself. My sincere thanks.
– Tim Hutzul, General Counsel, ShawCor Ltd.
The piece highlighting my company, Bob Baker Enterprises, Inc., came out fabulous. Our company is in the new and used car sales and service industry. Everyone was great to work with and extremely professional. They produced a high-quality product and have provided expert assistance and guidance post-production of the article.
– Wade Poulson, General Counsel, Bob Baker Enterprises Inc.
It was a great honor to be featured in Vanguard Law. Working with every member of the team, from the initial interview with Erin Clark, through production with Victor Martins, writing the article with Taryn Plumb and creating the final content with Dave Gushee, was a true pleasure. Everyone was very professional, enthusiastic and supportive, and their creative approach and positive attitude clearly came through in the final product.
– Kevin C. Rakowski, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Compliance with Radian Group Inc.

LATEST EDITION

Fall II 2021

READ NOW

GET VANGUARD IN YOUR INBOX.

  • * We’ll never share your email or info with anyone.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.