Planting a Legacy
Robert Balentine has built his career from the ground up. He started Balentine & Company with his father in 1987 and grew it into the largest independently owned investment counseling firm in the Southeast before selling in 2002. He did it again in 2009 when he left his position as head of Wilmington Trust’s investment management business to start Balentine, LLC, which now manages more than $3 billion in assets. In 2018, the Atlanta Business Chronicle named Balentine one of Atlanta’s Most Admired CEOs.
As someone who has spent his entire career helping others create a long-lasting and meaningful legacy with their investments, the 25-year Vistage member knew he wanted to leave a legacy of his own. He was drawn back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, an area that he had relished as an Eagle Scout and that had inspired a belief that it was essential for people to slow down and enjoy the outdoors.
“When I grew up, my mom said, ‘Go outside and play,’ ” he says. “I did and still carry that fondness. Today people are overscheduled. They have soccer practice and piano lessons, and we thought it was important for others to understand the natural world.”
When he learned that developers wanted to build homes on a mountaintop along the Blue Ridge escarpment in Western North Carolina, Balentine bought the land and placed it under conservation easement to ensure the beauty and nature remained intact for future generations. In 2002, Balentine established the Southern Highlands Reserve along the Eastern Continental Divide and dedicated the 120-acre nonprofit to cultivating, displaying and advocating for the area’s native plant life.
The reserve is more than a sanctuary. It also serves as a research center for scientists to study the effects of climate change on ecosystems. “We have 16 years of data on climate change and weather observations,” he says. “The research we’re doing is important, particularly at a time when the climate is changing so substantially.”
For Balentine, his life has taken him full circle. “Our clients typically ask, ‘Once I’ve been successful in business, how do I give back?’” says Balentine. “It felt like a role reversal when I asked myself that same question.”