Degrees Episode 11: Adam Heltzer

ESG: Using finance to drive real change

Adam Heltzer is a self-described “do-gooder” who has always been driven to make a difference. After working at a series of more “typical” purpose-driven jobs, Adam had an epiphany: the private sector–and in particular the world of finance– was THE best place to create lasting change.

As the Head of ESG at Ares Management Corporation, Adam is now riding the crest of the ESG wave, which he says has transformed from being a “nice to have” act of brand-burnishing to a core pillar of any business.

Not only that: Adam says that ESG is just getting started… and if a company wants to thrive, it has to pay attention to these issues.

Adam speaks eloquently not just of the private equity world, but of how to navigate the unforeseen twists and turns of any career. His advice is both practical an inspiring!

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Show Notes

02:35 – What has changed to put private equity at the forefront of sustainability impact?

03:44 – ESG specialist as an “invisible conductor” who is orchestrating a consistent message.

-4:26 – The origins of ESG: from “value” investing to responsible business practices writ large.

06:04 –  Larry Fink’s (Blackstone) statements: “if you want to be a good investor, you HAVE to do this”.

08:05 – The importance of communicating about ESG across different business cultures.

09:04 – ESG as a “gathering snowball”: now a clear business imperative… core to the way business now operates.

10:57 – The wave of ESG: careers go in seasons, and right now is a great season for this line of work.

11:42 – Adam on the “meandering path” to get to where he is… the difficult but rewarding task of mobilizing others

14:52 – Adam’s origins as a “do-gooder” in international development… one doesn’t need a destination, but rather a hypothesis of what your north start could be.

15:47 – From “do-gooder” to the dark side: Adam’s journey from the WEF to making a bigger impact in PE.

16:40 – Planting the seed at Davos: business has a role in solving complex issues… through global collaboration.

17:32 – Stumbling across a job opening… and the first time he learned about ESG

18:03 – A community of “do-gooders” is great to be around, but it’s not necessarily changing minds, changing a system.

19:26- No degree necessary! ESG can be learned on the job… but you need the ability to transfer knowledge across “worlds”.

20:52 – On dual degrees: viewing the world through different lenses, and how to figure out your next step.

22:11 – The vital necessity of developing your personal “brand”.  What do you want your references to say about you?

22:55 – Reputational risk: the impact on investing when companies don’t do the “right” thing.

25:40 – Examples of investing in companies who do the right thing: tailwinds and extra points across all aspects of the company. Those who understand how manage and measure big issues tend to manage everything well.

27:50- What qualities do ESG job candidates have?  Spoiler alert: general business knowledge, some practical experience and a spark of passion!

29:35 – Data and standards: the coming trends for ESG.

31:35 – Accelerating the transition: reliable data and pro-active ways of shaping companies.

34:37 – Adam’s thoughts on the Biden-Harris administration: ESG is theoretically front and center. Will the plans be put into action?

37:00 – Adam’s personal board of directors: archetypes who burn with passion and understand the world of influence.

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