Ceres taps Manulife exec for PE expansion – exclusive

Rick Bodio’s hire is part of an effort to expand the historically farmland-focused firm’s small presence in agribusiness, aided by GSO Capital Partners co-founder Bennett Goodman.

Indiana-headquartered Ceres Partners has hired a long-time Manulife Investment Management executive to serve as managing director, as the historically farmland-focused firm moves to expand its agribusiness investments.

Rick Bodio will be based in the Boston area and report to chief investment officer Brandon Zick. He takes on a managing director position focused on expanding private equity investments currently supported by two Sustainable Food and Agriculture vehicles containing about $42 million of assets. Bodio joins Ceres after 12 years at Manulife that culminated in a deputy chief investment officer position where he focused on mid-market agribusiness investments, while helping agricultural investing strategy for the firm’s global farmland portfolio.

Ceres founder and chief executive officer Perry Vieth told Agri Investor that while the firm’s $1.4 billion open-end farmland fund has been active for more than 15 years, it is over the past five years that the firm has seen growth in the number of agribusiness deals it would like to pursue.

“We’ve decided that we want to have more of a presence,” said Vieth. “In doing that, we wanted a senior hire. Rick is that senior hire and we’re excited about his background and experience and the fact his vision aligns with ours.”

Bodio joined Manulife (then operating as Hancock Natural Resources) as a senior portfolio manager in 2011 after having served in analyst positions for forestry investor Forest Systems and GE Capital, according to his LinkedIn profile. It also shows that after assuming the deputy CIO role in 2018, Bodio’s responsibilities included development of investment strategy across Manulife’s global ag portfolio, mid-market agribusiness and governance roles for companies in Australia, Chile and the United States.

“The agricultural industry is at a point of evolution,” Bodio told Agri Investor. “That presents a lot of opportunities for companies to develop products and services to help that evolution happen. A lot of those companies will become growth companies in and around the food space and that’s where there is a really compelling opportunity.”

Ceres’ statement announcing Bodio’s hire included a statement by Bennett Goodman, a founder of Blackstone’s debt-focused affiliate GSO Capital Partners (now operating as Blackstone Credit), who was identified as a member of Ceres’ advisory committee. Vieth explained that Goodman has been a long-time investor in the firm’s flagship fund.

“A number of years ago, we were looking to add a strategic partner and Bennett was a logical person to reach out to, given his long-term personal investment in Ceres Farms,” Vieth explained. “Bennett has an equity position in the general partner but has also been very helpful as we launch these other private equity strategies.”

In April 2021, Ceres was among the investors in a $20 million Series A for strawberry harvesting robot producer Tortuga AgTech. Ceres’ other non-farmland investments have also included South Bend, Indiana-headquartered controlled-environment leafy greens producer Pure Green Farms and iUNU – a Seattle-headquartered company offering hardware and software supporting CEA production.

Vieth said CEA is a good example of the type of markets containing elements of both agribusiness and agtech that Ceres hopes to explore as it expands private equity investments.

“The distinction between agtech and agribusiness may just come down to the viewer,” said Bodio. “We certainly don’t want to be limited to just technology investments that happen to have a use in ag. We want to be investing in products and services that are driving that evolution in the agricultural and food industries.”