April 6, 2022

Ep82: Claire Skinner "The Search for Climate Talent"

Claire Skinner is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles' London office and leader of the Europe region. She is a member of the firm’s CEO & Board, Industrial, and Private Equity practices.

Claire has more than 20 years of experience building executive and non-executive teams for a wide range of clients involved in energy, utilities, clean technology, and sustainability. Additionally, she has substantial expertise within energy and environmental investment, building teams on behalf of leading venture and private equity companies, infrastructure and asset managers, global financial institutions, and professional services groups.

Claire has significant experience in senior sustainability and climate change appointments within major corporations, government, philanthropy, and non-profit organizations. Prior to joining Heidrick & Struggles, Claire led the EMEA alternative energy & clean technology practice at a global executive search firm. Previously, she was the founding managing director of a boutique executive search firm dedicated to the power and sustainability markets.

Claire serves on the Business Advisory Group of the UK Government Climate Change Committee. She holds a BSc in Agricultural Environmental Science from Newcastle University and MSc in Pollution and Environmental Control from the University of Manchester.


Michael Liebreich: Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up. It really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Claire Skinner. She is regional managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles for Europe and Africa. And she's a pioneer and leader in the area of executive search for energy, climate, and ESG. Please welcome Claire Skinner to Cleaning Up. So, Claire, welcome to Cleaning Up.


Claire Skinner: Wonderful to see Michael, thank you for inviting me on.


ML: It's great. In preparation for this conversation I was trying to figure out when we first met, and I came up with the year 2005, I think


CS: About right. We were both young and gorgeous then probably.


ML: Don't look at me. You're doing fine. I'm you know, I've changed a bit. But there you go. But that would have been it when you were with something called Ruston WHEB, would it not?


CS: It was, yes.


ML: Now, Ruston WHEB was a sister company of something called WHEB Ventures, founded, I believe by Ben Goldsmith or co-founded and you were finding executives for their clean energy, clean, sustainable portfolio companies. Isn't that where it all started?


CS: Well, there's a little bit more history actually Ruston WHEB predates WHEB Ventures. It was when Webb, before they raised their funds, and so I joined Rob Wiley and Kim Hayworth who were advising early-stage clean tech companies on raising money, routes to market and the other thing that they thought was important was leadership of these companies. And so, I worked with them for a couple of years. And then they went on to raise funds with Ben and friends and raised a series of funds. So, I was part of that journey, which was a fantastic eight-year period of my career.


ML: Right. And those were, I mean, in some ways, those were the those were also the glory days, because they were the opposite of glory. Those are the days when certainly my case people were asking why I had thrown my career away working on this thing called which they wanted to call alternative energy.


CS: Yes, yes, it was the early days of... But you know, biofuels and all that first wave of the AIPOs. I think we were doing a lot of work on some of the carbon work as well. So there was a lot going on. And it was interesting, just I was just reflecting in preparation for this interview, the first WHEB fund, I think, was £20 million, or £25 million. And that was, I think, quite a big fund at that stage in clean tech. So the world has certainly changed since then, in terms of the amount of capital.


ML: Indeed, and one of our last, one of our most recent guests on Cleaning Up was Tom Steyer, who's raising his Galvanize Climate Solutions fund. And he was very coy because of regulatory reasons. He couldn't say how much he's raising or exactly what he's going to do with it. But it's, you know, more than a $1 billion, the goal and for very similar business models, to be honest.


CS: It's fantastic to see how the market has evolved and how much capital or much needed capital is flowing into the sector, which is amazing. But it was a wonderful eight years with Ruston WHEB.


ML: That time, you must have spent a lot of your time and energy as a recruiter as a search consultant and so on persuading executives to join these companies in the sectors, you know that we knew were going to be huge, but the market at that point had not really sort of… that consensus was not there. So were you spending a lot of your time persuading people that this was not a tragic career mistake to join these companies?


CS: But it was quite interesting because I think people probably self-selected pretty early in terms of whether it was something they were passionate about or not, but a lot of the work at that stage, there was some fund where there was some government work, but a lot of it was quite technical solutions orientated, early stage technology. So you were persuading people why one biofuel technology company was better than another. And I think some of those won and some of them were losers. So, I think it was interesting. You had to get people to be passionate about the space but they also needed to understand you know, there was a lot of work in fuel cells and battery technologies then and there was some things that worked and some things that didn't in hindsight.


ML: Oh, yes, for sure. But it's just interesting that, you know, if I look back at the sorts of people that I was able to recruit for New Energy Finance around that time, because I started researching deeply in 2003, created the business 2004 and then around 2005, 2006, a lot of them, I would say, how can I put it, a lot of them had been destabilised in their careers by the whole dotcom, boom bust. And so I had a lot of dotcom refugees that that, you know, I mean, how can I put this, they joined New Energy Finance because they didn't have a lot to lose. And that changed, obviously, quite quickly by about, I would say, 2008, 2009, there were people, I wouldn't say queuing up. But this was a career change that was being actively chosen.


CS: I think you're absolutely right. We've got a lot of people in transition. And I think a number of people fell into this sector rather than were deliberately seeking it out. So, I think your observations are absolutely right. And there were some dotcom refugees. I like that phrase. But I think also I remember having conversations about, you know, people didn't think solar power would work in Europe, or, you know, the next biggest thing would be wave power, rather than tidal power, it was very much conversations about which of the solutions were going to beat each other. Whereas now it's about you know, yes, offshore wind is going to work. So, it’s interesting how, how the market has evolved.


ML: Well, it is interesting, because, you know, when you were saying there were these discussions about what would work I mean, I do have the odd conversation with some of the wave power pioneers in 20 years later, or 15 years later, still have the faith but it has moved on. I still have those same sorts of conversations with people who are absolutely convinced that heat pumps can't work because the UK is too cold, despite the fact of course that 60% of homes in Norway have heat pumps. And we have conversations about hydrogen endlessly about what will and won't work and as you say, floating offshore and some of those, so there always seems to be a sort of bleeding edge of stuff that you know works but you know, but society hasn't yet caught up long distance trucking or heavy, heavy freight trucking with electric trucks. Seems obvious to me, but apparently it's not.


CS: But I just I just don't think we thought at that stage, I remember sitting in some of your conferences you did in the early days. And, you know, we talked about what percentage of renewables could be part of the energy mix. And I know, we still got a long way to go. But I don't think the scale of what we've achieved, what leaders have achieved, I think, is really extraordinary.


ML: There's no question there because I explicitly thought that renewables by the end of my career, so let's say when I was 70, or whenever, I'm hoping to actually be my mum is still running a business at 90. But, you know, I thought it would get to 15%. From what was at the time, probably 1%. And it's quite clear, we were essentially there in electricity this is we're already at, you know, 13%, 14% today, so it's gone much further. And of course, we're now talking about net zero. I mean, we never would I never had a conversation about net zero. Until maybe we could have had that conversation in 2015, 2016. It wouldn't have been hilariously silly to think about it.


CS: No, it was much more about abatement rather than that. So yeah, it's wonderful.


ML: You then, you moved on to Heidrick and Struggles who actually was a partner of New Energy Finance by 2008. But you were not yet there.


CS: Before my time.


ML: Before your time, that's right. But so what we did was a sort of mapping, we asked all these companies and investors, what were the recruitment challenges, and we did this in 2008. And that was a fascinating piece of work. Because essentially what it said was, it's very difficult to find CTOs, CEOs and senior project managers for clean energy companies. So that was that was 2008 when you were a few years before joining Heidrick and Struggles but it was your now your company's sort of intellectual contribution, identifying these gaps. Are those still gaps today?


CS: One of the joys about <inaudible>, I had a wonderful time at Ruston WHEB, where but I think one of the things that could being a global platform is that these companies now at such scale, we still have the innovation companies which I'll come on to in a moment. If you look at renewable energy infrastructure companies or you look at oil and gas companies, or you look at hydrogen, CCS, whatever flavor you're looking at the leadership challenges are so significant. And so, the scale of the leaders you need, I think that's the big difference. There still a shortage of, you know, really experienced CEOs who have a proven track record in driving renewable energy infrastructure growth, people who understand merchant recs, or who understand offshore wind farms, or hydrogen or CCS, or the whole across the energy supply chain, but also water and diversity and biodiversity and meat free foods and, you know, the whole gamit. So, there is that, although there is a shift, there is competition, no question competition for proven talent, the scale of these businesses now means that you're having to attract people from all kinds of other industries as well. And that… there are so many more people want proactively putting their hands up wanting to be part of that future than perhaps we had in our early days where we were trying to persuade them that renewables was something that wasn't a passing fad.


ML: So what is the mix today, if you could kind of estimate it, between executives, for the sorts of searchers that you do coming in from outside, let's call it the sort of the net zero, or the you know, the clean energy, clean transport, clean water, etc, space, versus ones that are now cycling back, because you must also be finding some of the people that you placed 15 years ago, and now are coming back for their second and possibly even third bites of the career cherry within that sector? So, is it still sort of 50/50 people who are already in the sector versus newcomers? Or is it… Because you know, back in the day would have been almost everybody was new to the sector. That can't be true now.


CS: No, it's absolutely not true. So, I think there's so much breadth in terms of the work that we are seeing and doing so if we start with renewable energy infrastructure, I would say the vast, vast majority, I would think probably 90% of people bring deep renewable energy experience or energy transition is slightly different, because of the depending on the scope of the investments, or strategy that either the financial sponsor or you know, whether it is someone looking at decarbonizing fuel supply chains for a major transportation business, or someone who is looking at nature based solutions, some of those people will come in laterally, they will have touched on it relatively recently. But they bring experience of being an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur. And I remember that being something on the 2008 study, it was very much that intrapreneurship within a corporate. So, you may find people who've built and launched things, spun things out, but in renewables, the real people want to bring people who understand the industrialization of renewables very often, it's about how quickly can you get these projects done, how effective you are at coordinating supply chains, all of this, and mostly those people have renewables experience. And there's just a wealth of talent of fantastic people. And it was just interesting, as I was reflecting. On our early days, I seem to remember sitting in an offshore wind conference in Bristol, and I think it must have been very early doors, I think probably 2005, 2004, something like that. And literally you could have put people in there was probably about 50, 60 people, there all focused on round one projects in the UK. And now of course, you know, you go to an offshore wind conference, and it's rather more glamorous and takes up a little bit more space. So, it's a very interesting dynamic, and the caliber and the breadth of talent in the sector is just night and day different.


ML: So I think I was probably one of the people in that that first offshore wind conference. And that was the time when I would say even people who really believed wind solar could drive down the cost curve. I don't think any of us thought that wind could move quite as fast as it did. Offshore wind, offshore wind can move quite as fast and so you have to be kind of you have to be a bit of a believer to really put your career into that sector.


CS: Yes, I'm I remember I was on a panel with the Crown Estate and various people from government talking about the opportunity for the number of jobs in the sector if we got the supply chain right in the UK, and I remember people coming up to me afterwards saying, I think you're being a little bit overly optimistic there, I probably I sadly, don't have that presentation, it would be wonderful to have been able to dig it out. But yeah, it's just the world has gone offshore.


ML: Here's a fun fact, at the time, I didn't know anybody really, you know, I had vague contacts, but I didn't know anybody senior at Rolls Royce. But there was a period around the sort of 2007, 2008, you know, when there was that sort of first clean tech crash, I was convinced that Rolls Royce ought to buy one of the many wind turbine players that were in trouble at that time was sort of up for grabs. And, you know, because they obviously had their gas turbine business. And, and I thought they should round it out with wind and potentially offshore wind and got nowhere, sort of trying to syndicate that thought around. And, of course, you know, if you look at, because I guess where I'm going, it's a great shame that despite the UK being the world leader in installing and running and maintaining, and so on offshore wind, we don't have, you know, as much in the way of manufacturing, we have components, but we don't have a turbine manufacturer, you know, with all the jobs that would go along with that in the UK.


CS: I 100% agree with you. Yes, I remember on those conferences, you know, there've been very passionate speeches. And those were the days of the regional development authorities as well trying to capture manufacturing jobs in the UK. And I think although there's, as you say, a lot of wonderful jobs in the sector, perhaps I do think we missed out on having those big turbine jobs here in the UK.


ML: But it's interesting. I mean, we're catching up. And also, I think now there's so much more support and understanding, you know, at senior levels in government, I'm sort of biased here because I sit on the UK Board of Trade. And, and I can tell you, there's, you know, we've got Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who knows exactly because she was actually responsible for this stuff how important all of these sectors could be, you know, domestically, but also as export drivers. I think we're, I think we're getting that I'm quite, we wrote a big report on green trade. So, I'm hopeful that the days of sort of watching these industries just go elsewhere, hopefully behind us. But one question about where the talent comes from? Are you seeing lots of we talked about dotcom refugees, are you now getting oil and gas refugees in large numbers saying, look, it's pretty clear, you know, I've got another 10, 15 years of my career, and I want to be in this and not that?


CS: Yes, I mean, there's a lot of people who want to want to be part of this solution. They are now wanting to align their career with their personal values even more, and are looking to move into the sector. But I don't think that necessarily means they have to leave oil and gas or some of the other energy intensive industries, because there are opportunities for those people to be part of those companies transition. But no question people, they're putting their hands up and really wanting to contribute. But it'll be interesting to see, of course, with the current crisis and the horror in Ukraine and Russia. What that means in terms of people making the transition into renewables, or whether there will be a surge of interesting roles within oil and gas too.


ML: Well, what I think is going to happen there is it's going to act to accelerate renewables and all of the ancillaries around you know, because you can't just do wind and solar, you've also got batteries and storage and interconnectors and, and digitalization, so that's going to fly now. But I think also indigenous oil and gas or secure oil and gas or oil and gas from countries that we can rely on, versus less investment in countries that are perhaps at the end of the supply chains and maybe less stable.


CS: So, I 100% agree with you. I mean, you and I are converts of this, and it is never going to be cheaper to resolve the climate crisis than it is now. So, I do not think… I think renewable energy as an indigenous energy source is going to be very much part of the future so I expect massive ramp up in investment as there will be in all forms of energy, of course, as there's, as there's a shift and the pivot, but I can't see anything derailing where we're going.


ML: Are you seeing any oil and gas or incumbent energy or coal I guess as well, those companies finding it hard to recruit because there's so much action on the kind of net zero and the transition or even, you know, companies that have got transportation businesses that are still very dependent on diesel, petrol. Is there a kind of talent crunch over there at all, because everybody wants to rescale and be in line with their values and so on?


CS: I think you do see a huge number of graduates and postgraduates who are looking to align around those companies who are committed to a net zero transition. And being part of an organization that is on that journey is very, very important. But I still think that some of the major energy users or energy intensive industries, a number of them have very well thought through professional graduate programmes. So, I still think those are highly sought over a sought after and competitive, I have not yet heard that they're unable to fill those vacancies with, with good people. But what we are seeing is just the just there is a wall of very talented people, whether they're straight out of university, or whether they are five years or 10 years into their career, perhaps going and doing a master's or further education and saying, you know, the next phase of my career, I want to be able to stand up and say, I made a difference, I made a contribution.


ML: I guess I worry in other areas about the speed of the transition, and the justice of the transition, you know, there's a lot of talk about the just transition. I want to talk about the just transition. And, you know, we interpret that as being about inclusion, diversity, incredibly important getting the consent of various communities, indigenous peoples if it involves their lands, those sorts of things. But I'm very concerned about another aspect of justice, which is a lot of what we're talking about risks pushing up energy prices, if all it is let's have a carbon price, let's shut down a pipeline, let's make it impossible to invest in oil and gas, then a natural corollary of that is going to be that the energy prices are going to go up. So, if your theory of change for the transition is stop people from doing the bad stuff, before we've got all the good stuff, I'm very worried that the cost of that will fall on poor and vulnerable people. We're seeing that today, right, the 1st April in the UK, the energy prices going up. And I worry about I guess my question to you would be, you know, is that happening at the executive level as well, where you know, that there aren't enough talented young engineers going into oil and gas to even just keep this stuff flowing for the time we will need it, which is going to be decades?


CS: I haven't heard that, Michael, I don't think we've seen that yet. We need we need companies to invest in this transition. And it's very, very important that they have the skills and the capability to help make that happen. I don't think although a number of people, and it's interesting when we're doing Chief Sustainability Officers for companies, some of these companies and some of these policy and climate roles to help these companies make the transition is which is actually the opportunity for decarbonization, and helping the incumbents make that transition is perhaps as big, if not bigger than working in a specifically green or renewable energy or a green company that we need both we absolutely. And I think people most people get that.


ML: And are you seeing the sort of levels of knowledge about this stuff? And when I say this stuff, I mean, you know, energy efficiency, clean energy, sustainability more broadly. Are you seeing that knowledge now really spreading through the executives, not just the people working on it, but the marketing department and the factory managers you know, whoever else? The director, the COOs, et cetera, et cetera, you know, is there now a level of education that you feel is kind of getting there? Or is there still just woeful gaps?


CS: There are gaps. I mean, if you think about where we came from, were in the early 90s, when well, mid 90s, I would say when I finished my master's degree, recruitment in this space was very much around health and safety managers who've been given an E in the front of it. And it was then more about pollution monitoring, environmental management, all the different ISO standards, and then we added social impact onto that. But now it is much more and so they were kind of they were about monitoring, reporting compliance. And if you think about the 5000 companies that have signed up in the run up to COP to a net zero transition, that's not going to be delivered by the environmental manager, or the head of corporate social responsibility, or the chief sustainability officer is going to be delivered by the CEO, the CFO, the engineering director, the innovation, head of innovation, HR supply chain, the whole piece, and although there was awareness, I think we had a number of companies and industries that were very progressive, particularly I would think some of the consumer good companies, and some of the oil and gas companies had an awareness of it, but perhaps it was more, that's their department. That thinking is, is very much now enterprise-wide around a material risk and opportunity. And so, I do think the level of competence is growing. Is it enough? I don't think we're there yet. I really don't think we they, and that is why climate and sustainability is now being included in the job descriptions that we're working on whatever the function and awareness of the transition and the pace of what needs to be done is material to each role in the C-suite.


ML: So I'm glad that you said that we don't we're not there yet. Because that definitely mirrors my, you know, my perspective, there's, you know, obviously, I tend to be working with companies, organizations that are, you know, really pushing and thrusting, but I'm also aware that there's a whole world of other organizations out there where the level of knowledge across the C-suite is relatively low. So there's still a lot of a lot of work to be done there.


CS: I think you're absolutely, it's patchy. And I think the big question, I think the big shift in my mind is, we've gone from the why, why is climate important for me, in terms of the organization, I think the majority of companies now recognize that actually, the science is there, and it is happening, and it does now there's been a kind of what is the material risk to our business, has also I think, penetrated the C-suite, whether it's penetrated the rest of the organization? And that, I think that is a big question. But also, we've got the why, and the what, the big thing for me now, and I think the huge challenge over the next five to 10 years is the how.


ML: And on that. How are companies trying to fill that knowledge gap? Because, you know, at the end of the day, it's the how were all of it the what is climate change? Why is it important to us? What is the risk? But what should we do about it? There's an enormous amount of learning to be done, and, and it generally has to come from outside a lot of these organizations. So, are they are they sending their executives off to sort of climate training camp? And if so, where? Because I'm not really aware of… obviously, the executive programmes around the world are probably doing what they can, but I'm not aware of much innovation in that space.


CS: Well, I think it's an industry in itself and it's critically important. So, you know, I would start from stakeholder engagement in the back in the day when we started doing corporate social responsibility. And that was the big piece about stakeholder engagement. I think companies are much better equipped on that, engaging with NGOs, engaging with academics, engaging with government. So, I think there is much more learning that happens just through that through that outward looking external engagement. We also see in executive so there's also the specialist courses, you know, the Cambridge programme, etc. Where you see, interestingly, a lot of C suite leaders or next generation leaders going and attending those programmes or the sort of bite size courses on whatever part of the sustainability diaspora. But I think increasingly what we're seeing is business schools are having climate, climate policy, climate finance and sustainability as core elements of the MBA programme and finance programme. And then of course, you have, you know, world class institutions, which I'm one of which I know you're linked with, Imperial, etc, who have… I remember, you know, their environmental technology course back in the day when I was studying my master's was, you know, the course globally. I know it has continued to have real center of excellence around that. But I think this can't be, for me limited to expertise, single expert courses, because we won't drive the change quickly enough, that has to be part of every part of executive education.


ML: It's really fascinating. The Imperial College course that you mentioned, environmental technologies, I recruited so many people during the New Energy Finance years of that course. And I'm now an advisor on the climate finance area, I'm trying to remember the exact name of it. It was a single Master's course in climate, finance and  management, but it's now a whole sort of climate and finance initiative. But as you say, it won't get the more seasoned executives. So there, you know, it will, it will create a new generation of leaders, but it's the seasoned executives are having to sort of do in some cases, a handbrake turn. I mean, if you're in the travel industry… just a few years ago, if you looked for an architect, and you said you wanted a passive building, or net zero building, there would be some tiny little boutiques that you could talk to. And now of course, it's all you know, Lord Foster and Lord Rogers, and they're all climate absolutely. But all of their teams are having to do these tremendous handbrake career turns, aren't they?


CS: Yes. But the question is, how much dedicated courses? I mean, yes, everything is relevant to each industry. So, what is going to be relevant to a pharmaceutical company is not going to be as relevant to a bank or to an engineering company or to an architecture firm. So, I think it's around executives and also boards, which I know is a big question all of us, but it's around understanding what material and material risk to you, and also what the opportunity is, because we've got to shift where the money… we are shifting where the money's going. And I think that's the big shift is that companies are finding it less easy to raise money for high carbon intensity enterprises. And you know, the world is pivoting question whether it's fast enough, but it is pivoting.


ML: Right. And I wanted to come on to the question of boards because we've talked, we've talked about the early days, we've talked about the seasoned executives and a little bit about the earlier career execs and education. But boards now, in the great spirit of Heidrick & Struggles doing research in this area, you've done a survey, I think at the end of last year you published it, where as I understand it, there was two conclusions. One is that the board is talking about it. But that is not necessarily connected to the operations of the business. That's what that I think was the first I'm paraphrasing here. And the second one was that it is absolutely a board level issue. Now, is that a correct representation of the of the study that you did?


CS: Yes, yes, we worked very closely with INSEAD. And I think one of the I mean to two key things, good news is that it you know, 75% of boards, climate is very firmly on the agenda. And if you think three years back, and I remember we did some work, we hold regular, you know, chairman events as we would do. And I remember there was one comment that has always resonated with me is that the board's eyes no longer glaze over when the subject of ESG is raised. And ESG is that has met with real there's real fear in their eyes and a thirst for learning. And so I think boards are recognizing that climate is a strict fundamental issue of strategy, finance and risk and not… so hurrah for that. But I now think it's around. So many of the boards, as you know, encourage people to look at the report. But so many of the boards are don't necessarily believe they have the climate competence or sustainability competence to assure that the executive are delivering on their commitments. And I think that's particularly true and really important, particularly for those companies who have made these bold statements in the run up to Glasgow. They've got a lot to do. So, the question for us is now how do you get that competence into the boardroom? And there's mixed views and I think really the governance model, it depends on what your business is what your material risks are. But we've haven't seen in the UK, we've seen a little bit more in the Netherlands, but we've seen less than 10% of new board directors being appointed have an ESG or sustainability background last year. So in the run up to COP, potentially, that could have been more. In the Netherlands, it's nearly up to 25% of new appointments have sustainability or ESG capability. But most boards are looking to get that competence across the board. And so, they're either and so there's very significant education programmes. And if you talk to the chief sustainability officers of those companies, rather than having to fight their way into the boardroom, which they may have had to do three or four years ago, they're now like, come, you know, come in. And so a lot of their time is spent with the board, educating the board, informing the board, and supporting the board on their building their understanding of what needs to be done. And there's lots of external work and of course, lots of consultants working on that effort as well.


ML: I'm delighted that we're, you know, what you describe that process of the board now kind of understands that climate is real, and ESG is real. Just quite recently, I've talked to a lot of boards. And even a few years ago, I would be very aware that most likely amongst any group of five, six eight, ten very senior people, there'd be at least one or two who simply thought that climate change was not happening, was not caused by humans, was not a problem. And possibly, even if they did believe it, that there was nothing we could do about it. And you'd have to kind of quite quickly identify the, from the body language, those people because otherwise you could go off and describe great change programmes and drivers and sustainable finance and ESG and whatever. And you'd have somebody sitting there, and you just knew they were thinking this is all a load of… And that, you know, I'm not sure. And I suspect that there's still more of those people on boards than we think it's just become so socially unacceptable for them to say it, you know, a few years ago, they would just come out and say, I just don't think we should be doing any of this stuff. And then they were sort of opressed but you can see from the body language now they're almost like, still there. But I suspect they're no more persuaded in some cases.


CS: Yes, but I think that is… I mean, thank goodness for board succession. So, you know, people will serve their nine-year terms, and then they will move on. But I know, I mean, the executive search community in the UK, have aligned with Chapter Zero. And all of us are embedding climate competence into our board evaluation for any non-exec, Are they familiar with the issues, and I just think it's something that I'm passionate about that you shouldn't be serving on the board of a company, if you are not appreciative of all the risks that our company is facing. And for me, an absolutely central one, in addition to all other the complexities that boards have to navigate climate and sustainability is fundamental to a company's long term strategy.


ML: When you say that I believe you, but then I've known you, as we've already established for, you know, something like 18 years or whatever, 17 years, I think. But you know, I do worry about sort of box ticking in professional service companies, because you'll get law firms as well, saying we wouldn't serve custom clients unless they were deeply committed to blah, blah, blah. And then you get PR companies or communications companies. And yeah, we know that they, you know, the communications companies are running sock puppet campaigns on behalf of people who are trying to slow down climate action. We know the law firms are still trying to figure out ways of justifying, you know, vast investments in the stuff that the coal industry or whatever, you know, the banks all have signed up to, you know, umpteen acronym soup initiatives from PRI to TCFD to GFANZ, so, and they're still financing coal, merrily, to the tune of trillions over every few years. And so, I do worry that there's a bit of box ticking going on, and not the sort of profound engagement that I do believe that you and I'm sure your team also display.


CS: But I think that's true. I think what big question is with Russia and Ukraine now and the spike in the energy prices, I think you will see who is staying the course on climate and who potentially, it is expedient to just quietly quiet down about it. So I think you'll be able to see who actually believes and who was who, and who, who thinks is important. But oh it's important. Let's look at it in five years. And so the question is whether people actually believe we're in a climate emergency or not. I think it will be quite clear to see in the next 12 to 24 months.


ML: That's a fascinating though a bit like the Thomas Aquinas quote, you know, Lord, make me virtuous, but not now. And say, well, Lord, make me net zero, but not using current technology.


CS: And I think the key thing for me, and I think the biggest challenge we have is around affordability. Because it's very easy for you and I and for others who are in the, you know, who may be operating in the C suite to sit here, and champion climate and sustainability. But it's very, very important that affordability of energy, access to water, all of those things need to come at the right cost. So, I think we've got a very important period of the next, you know, few months, 12 months, 18 months, where we've got to get some very difficult things right. And I’m worried about that, to be honest?


ML: Oh, I do. I've already, you know, absolutely said that. I think just transition can't be one that puts the cost of the transition on support vulnerable people. So, we absolutely have to be focusing on affordability. I just liked your sort of formulation of the question, you know, because Ukraine provides such a convenient fig leaf, if all you want to do is oil and gas and even coal, then it's fantastic. Because you can wrap yourself in sympathy for Ukraine and walk away from your climate commitments, you would say softly and quietly and very professionally people would do it. But will we see that I think is a really, really good question, one that we need to stay alert to.


CS: Yes, I think we should. And I think we should hold people to account. And I hope the investors hold people to account and they hold themselves to account and stand up for their commitment. So I, again, it'll be interesting to see what boards do.


ML: Now on boards, we talked about how the boards sort of need to upskill. And I want to there's two ways of doing that. One is having one expert, and then hoping that they represent sustainability, ESG climate and maybe hoping that they sort of infect them by process of osmosis, educate the others. And the other would be to say, No, we don't want experts, what we really want is somebody from financial services who understand sustainable finance, and we want somebody from operations who has within their own executive career, you know, shifted to low carbon transportation or, you know, and really to try to embed all of these issues right across the set of issues that a board, you know, HR person who really deeply understands the issues. Which is the better model, is it is it specialism? Is it reasonable to think we could try and go across all the functional areas?


CS: Oh, that's a tricky question. So I don't think there is a one size fits all. And I think it depends on the chair, who some of whom I have seen have been the biggest have gone through the biggest sort of conversion and come evangelists on climate, which I think is wonderful, because they want to be on the right side of history for it. But I think there are some you know, whether you have advisory boards, who are coming in and informing the board, on issues, you know, on a quarterly or six-monthly basis, whether you are having a separate ESG committee, or sustainability committee that then reports up to the board. But then people say, well, it should be in part of every committee, so we shouldn't carve it out and have it in that committee. So, I don't think one size fits all. And it depends on the competence and capability of the individual board members, and also where the company is in its journey.


ML: But I worry, you know, when you gave a statistic for only 10% of I wasn't sure if it was board appointments that are sort of people with ESG experience, how can I put this nicely, a lot of people with ESG experience and these are great friends of mine, many of them wonderful, you know, friends of mine, but they're not necessarily people you'd want running or even, you know, necessarily steering a business, they are quite academic, they're quite theoretical, they come at it, you know, they might put ESG you know, on such a pedestal that it drives up costs and so on. So, I do worry whether that's you know, whether the skills you know, I guess I'm putting my I'm laying out my stall for I much like I much prefer a world in which everybody has functional understanding rather than having a sort of get an ESG ghetto.


CS: Well, I just think that we can't have a conversation about strategy around capital structure around any growth, innovation, and then have to suddenly look right, the sustainability person's point of view, it has to be embedded in the understanding of the board. But it depends, you know, is the catalyst for that change is the journey for that change, having a CSO or sustainability person, ideally, who's got broad business experience, so who aren't mute during the all the other discussions, and then then there's the sustainability topic, you know, hand goes up, and, you know, the person speaks up.


ML: Or the hand doesn't go up at all the eyes swivel to the sustainability person. For like five minutes. I'm smiling, because, you know, I was on the board of Transport for London, and I was put on in 2012, under Boris was the second period as, as Mayor of London, and, and I think I can safely say I was the only person with real understanding of the sustainability and climate issues, but I ended up spending much more of my time, I was also on the Finance Committee. And that was, you know, I got deeply involved in trying to understand TFL’s finances, which were very obscure, even back then, and also our safety. So within ESG, I actually did much more work on safety, where there was some real, actual problems. And we never really did anything very substantial on sustainability, which I, so it was kind of I got in on this under the, you know, the clean energy guy, but I then ended up working right across HR, finance, safety, you know, etc.


CS: But I think the way it may well be the people are now all most recent executive role is Chief Sustainability Officer. But it's likely given where people have come from, they will come through supply chain, they will come from marketing, they may have a strong HR or finance background or some supply chain. And so, and they also may have run divisions, and ideally, you want someone who's run, you know, has real executive experience and can contribute across the breadth of all the issues, but also brings a particular spike in expertise.


ML: And there's another issue which I can't leave, it'll be I think, the final thing that we have time to speak about, but there is a final issue. When I start throwing more requirements into the pot, I start really actually feeling sorry for you and your role as a recruiter, because you also want at the same time as bringing in climate ESG sustainability to the board, you've also got a real need for diverse recruitment. Because all it's much too homogeneous still today, aren't they?


CS: But also that is the wonderful opportunity. Because of the breadth and diversity in every in any of its form. You know, whether it's people from the global south or gender, or background, there is so much talent in this world that hasn't yet had the opportunity to make a contribution at the board. So actually, I think it's a huge opportunity to make a diverse appointment into this area. It is a huge opportunity.


ML: I think it is with one proviso, which is how do you then support diverse, possibly younger board members coming in with this brief, which some of the other board members don't understand or maybe don't respect, and that can be a very uncomfortable human experience. And I've seen and I've spoken to some people, and you know, some of them, obviously just, you know, take hold of the reins and go and drive everything as hard because that's the sort of person they are, but some have struggled. I don't know if you've seen that.


CS: Yes. And but we've seen as it's not just sustainability, we saw it before, when perhaps you had a cybersecurity nerd, or you know, the people nerd or the customer nerd, it is all about the chairs ability to onboard that person onto the board. And I think that that cannot be underestimated. But it is something that good chairs are very equipped to do.


ML: And of course, the other thing that solves that problem is time, which unfortunately we are out of time. But I think over the next hopefully we'll still be we'll have you back in 15 years to do another retrospective. It’d be nice if we could get you back before then. But hopefully we will reflect on further progress, further integration of these issues further progress towards net zero. And hopefully at that point, Ukraine will be far in the rearview mirror. But it's been absolutely marvelous talking to you.


CS: Oh, it's wonderful. I strongly believe that leaders change the world, Michael, and everything you've done from BNEF going forwards. It's been an absolute pleasure. So, I've really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you for having me on.


ML: You're very, very, very kind Claire and you've not done badly in the leadership stakes yourself both yourself as a person and also, so many of the leaders that you've placed with their new organizations, some of whom have really also changed the world. So I think we, I think we can, we can share the praise around.


CS: Thank you very much. Thank you.


ML: Thank you. Bye, bye. So that was Claire Skinner, regional managing partner at Heidrick and Struggles for Europe and Africa, and an expert on corporate search around energy, climate and ESG. Next week will be the final episode in Season Five of Cleaning Up and we've got a very special guest. He's probably the world's greatest expert on risk. It's Alex Honnold star of Free Solo, one of the greatest climbers who's ever lived. He's also the founder of the Honnold Foundation, which provides solar power to disadvantaged communities around the world. Make sure you don't miss next week's episode of Cleaning Up. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation.