8 ESG Leaders to Watch, According to Recruiters

  • Recruiters identified outside ESG professionals to watch, from fund managers to execs.
  • Banks and asset managers are building out teams and creating dedicated roles to ESG.
  • A veteran sustainability headhunter said this moment is the “Great Expansion” for ESG roles.

Virtually every big bank and asset manager is hiring in droves — in roles ranging from top leaders to distribution specialists — to address ambitious sustainable-investing and environmental, social, and governance goals this year.

Firms are expanding these teams at a key moment for the sustainable-investing universe. In the US, regulators are targeting so-called greenwashing, or the marketing of products as sustainable or “green” without justification, as well as pushing for greater transparency from companies in how they make climate-related disclosures.

According to Morningstar, in 2021, for the sixth straight year, US-listed sustainable funds set an annual record for net flows. These funds drew some $70 billion in net flows for the year, up 35% from 2020. Global sustainable funds held $2.74 trillion in assets in December.

The job market remains highly competitive across financial services. Demand for those with ESG specializations is no exception. Pay packages and incentives are soaring as a result. And even as financial firms get creative in hiring people for ESG roles, such as seeking out people with backgrounds in areas like climate science, some say challenges remain.

Insider surveyed recruiters on the highly sought-after talent worth watching across the industry, from fund managers for ESG strategies to chief sustainability officers overseeing firmwide priorities. Some recruiters requested anonymity to discuss specific people and firms.

Many of the ESG leaders the recruiters pinpointed have held a variety of roles in recent years or have taken on newly created positions, underscoring the scramble for their expertise and the expansions that firms are plotting.

Nidhi Chadda, the founder and CEO of the sustainability consulting firm Enzo Advisors, said the biggest challenge for asset-management firms in hiring talent is a general lack of experience in investing with an eye toward ESG.

“Few individuals come from a long-standing financial background and have had the experience of integrating ESG principles into prior funds, especially given how quickly the industry has grown in the last several years,” Chadda told Insider. “Not finding the candidates that have the background with the intersection of ESG and investing could only further contribute to greenwashing if that individual is less experienced and has to lead ESG integration efforts with limited external support from experienced advisors.”

To Ellen Weinreb, a veteran sustainability headhunter who in 2011 founded the California-based executive-search firm Weinreb Group, elements like budget increases for ESG teams amounted to the “Great Expansion,” playing off the term “Great Resignation” that has come to define the many people leaving their jobs for new opportunities.

She wrote in a report in April that “the Great Expansion is reflective of a mounting climate crisis that requires bold action,” adding that “CEOs are more engaged, more companies are expanding their sustainability and the size of their teams, and more commitments are being made” to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

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