In Conversation with…
PSMG managing partner Gail Jaffa sits down with Pamela Cone, the chair of this year’s PSMG summit and Amity Advisory founder and CEO, to discuss all things environmental, social and governance…and more.
In Conversation with…
Belinda Moore’s career path has been anything but predictable. She’s sold vodka to the Russians (literally), helmed the marketing and communications for Britain’s largest energy provider, and worked across healthcare, travel and personal care products. Her colleague Jake Foxford talks to her about now finding herself steering the BD – and sitting on the board of – a top 100 UK law firm.
GJ: Thank you for taking to the time to speak to Centrum? Let’s launch straight in with the loaded question. Where, in your vast experience of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues in business, are we at?
PC: We’re just at the beginning of an all-encompassing new approach to business. While historically, ESG has been considered a side-item, or a “nice-to-have” component of business, it is now moving front and center – strategic and core to the business (at least for those companies and firms who get it.)
GJ: The whole ESG debate is, of course, one of huge importance. There can be a tendency though to see it occasionally as a box-ticking exercise. Is that fair?
PC: Unfortunately, that is fair. Too many businesses think they can just put a few policies in place and tick the boxes, without changing behaviour, or traditions. They will have a rude awakening, however, when their stakeholders (clients, talent, communities, etc.) start to call them out. And professional services firms are not immune from this scrutiny.
GJ: ESG is both an opportunity and an obligation for professional services firms (as it is indeed for many businesses) but surely this goes beyond the “nice to do” things such as pro-bono work, supporting charities, and volunteering. Aren’t we going to be most impactful through what we do best – the work with our clients?
PC: You are exactly right Gail. For too long, businesses have come to think of CSR/ESG as their charitable giving, their volunteering, and pro-bono work. While extremely important – those things are immaterial when it comes to firms’ greatest impact on society – which is through their client work. Does the work they do for clients help to address society’s most pressing challenges or prolong them? That is what we should be talking about when assessing a firm’s societal impact.
GJ: I’m sure this can be seen as an uphill struggle for firms, especially when resources might be stretched, or the goal posts are seen as constantly moving. Two questions: What do firms most commonly get wrong? And is there one thing they can – or should – be doing that they may overlook?
PC: As stated above, too many law firms think ESG has to do with their “side-programs” – rather than part of their actual strategic business. ESG perspective must be part of all legal advice given to clients – and must be part of strategic business decision-making at the firm. If ESG is not a standing agenda item of your board, then you are not yet doing it right. One thing to get started is to do an inventory and a materiality assessment – so you can learn (or affirm) what is most material, relevant and important to your stakeholder groups.
“Too many businesses think they can just put a few (ESG) policies in place and tick the boxes, without changing behaviour or traditions. They will have a rude awakening, however, when their stakeholders start to call them out. And professional services firms are not immune from this scrutiny.”
GJ: You’ve spent almost 20 years at Milliman, firstly in marketing and then as its global social impact and sustainability officer. Was this an organic progression or did you actively seek out the opportunity to apply your skills to what is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time?
PC: It was a bit of both. As chief marketing officer, I was seeing increasingly specific questions around the firm’s ESG practices, policies, and programmes. Milliman is a very de-centralised firm – with 70 offices around the world. While there were great things happening throughout our firm, no one was tracking it, measuring it, guiding or leading. Just a lot of “random acts of kindness.”
Since we weren’t tracking or measuring – it was difficult to respond to the tender/RFP questions holistically. Eventually, we had one firm client dismiss us as their provider because our answers to the ESG portion of the questionnaire were “insufficient to meet our expectations.” They moved on.
At that point, the board realised we needed to formally address our social impact and sustainability practices. They sent me back to graduate school – and I moved into a brand-new role – social impact and sustainability officer. I am still with Milliman part-time – but now also have a consulting practice, Amity Advisory, to help other professional services firms prepare for growing client and other stakeholder expectations.
GJ: Has a global pandemic focused us? Or is there a danger that with everything else with which we’ve had (and have) to contend ESG issues may get left behind?
PC: Yes, the global pandemic has laid bare much of what was always wrong with society – but was perhaps more hidden. It has raised awareness exponentially – and it seems to me that businesses will never be able to go back to what we used to consider “normal” – as perhaps it never really should have been. Stakeholders will not allow us to slip back (I hope.)
GJ: You set-up Amity Advisory in 2018. “Holistic” seems to key to your approach and I imagine that’s the only way forward? Tell us a little about its work?
PC: I focus on “holistic” because, historically, firms function in very siloed ways. There are separate and distinct practices groups and departments serving clients. There is a separate department or team working on pro-bono. There might be a few operations people focused on sustainability – and perhaps even a separate committee of employee volunteers working on day of service type events or on philanthropy. This is what I call “transactional” ESG. To truly get to “transformational” ESG – all these efforts and work must be aligned. This allows for the greatest impact on society – and the greatest, holistic story to tell about the outcomes and impact.
GJ: Without wanting to set-up barriers, are there generational differences and challenges when it comes to social impact and sustainability and how it’s tackled in business?
PC: Yes. In firms – it’ s often the more senior partners in decision-making positions. Unfortunately, they are often those who do not see the urgency of ESG – for their own firm or for their clients’ long-term viability. The younger generation gets it – and understands ESG considerations must drive business decisions – rather than be a side-activity. Every firm governing body should have a position for someone younger than 30!
GJ: We have a leading businesswoman in the UK called Mary Portas and her big thing is “the kindness economy”. She says businesses are now being judged to much higher standards by customers, clients, partners, and perspective employees – and we ignore that at our peril. Have you a view?
PC: I completely agree. We’ve learned that shareholder primacy at all costs is not sustainable or viable long-term. All stakeholders must be taken into consideration for every decision being made. Businesses cannot survive in societies that fail. The pandemic has shown us that.
“In firms – it’ s often the more senior partners in decision-making positions. Unfortunately, they are often those who do not see the urgency of ESG – for their own firm or for their clients’ long-term viability. The younger generation gets it – and understands ESG considerations must drive business decisions – rather than be a side-activity.”
GJ: Going back to an earlier question, how do we as individuals make our own impact. Buying local, supporting new enterprises or checking out a company’s credentials can sometimes feel “small fry” against such a mammoth hill to climb?
PC: A perfect example of the “Tragedy of the Commons” economic theory. While I am a strong proponent of doing things at the individual level to minimise impact – the real change will happen when global businesses change, as their impact is exponential compared to individuals’ impact. We must ALL move to a more viable, sustainable business model and personal lifestyle model.
GJ: Finally, we’ve taken ESG as the theme for this year’s PSMG annual summit. What advice have you for fellow marketing and BD professionals who, for example, may see partners wanting them to place more emphasis on a firm’s social impact and sustainability work whilst having to juggle everything else?
PC: Just as diversity and inclusion is not something a marketing or business development professional can just add to his or her already full plate, neither is ESG something that can be absorbed by already busy professionals. (Nor would they necessarily have the knowledge or expertise.) What they can and must do, however, is to ensure their firm leaders are aware of the growing client and talent expectations around all things ESG. They must help their firm align and position the relevant legal services to help and advise clients around ESG. And marketing and BD folks MUST understand the questions and audits and assessments coming from clients and potential clients.
Founder & CEO Amity Advisory 2018
VP, Global Social Responsibility Milliman 2003 – 2017
Chief Marketing Officer Milliman
1992 – 2003 Director of Client Services Davis Wright Tremaine
1990 – 1992
Marketing Director Hughes Thorsness Gantz Powell & Brundin
1987 – 1990 Marketing Director Jennings Strouse & Salmon
Getting to Know You
Best bit of advice you’ve been given?
My mother was a great one for giving advice. Two of her favorites still resonate with me today: “If you don’t want to be questioned, don’t do questionable things!” and “You cannot talk yourself out of a problem you have behaved yourself into!” Best bit of advice you’d give someone at the start of their career?
Be brave. Seize the day! Do what you love.
What led you to this career?
This goes way back – in the mid-80s, when the US Supreme Court allowed professionals to advertise for the first time (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.) I started with an accounting firm right out of college in their brand-new marketing department. Then moved to law, and ultimately to actuarial consulting. And now, working with professional service firms around ESG. My whole career has been spent in the professional services industries. Best holiday destination?
I am in Paris as we speak. My favorite place to be in November and December for the Holidays. Favourite pastime?
Traveling and spending time with family and friends.