193. Robert Eccles – Sustainability Author and Activist – Managing the Barbell – in Business and in Life

Robert Eccles describes himself – in a nutshell – as a dedicated weightlifter, capital markets activist and professional committed to improving corporate reporting and enhancing ESG integration by companies and investors. He is the Founding Chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, one of the founding members of the International Integrated Reporting Council and a Visiting Professor of Management Practice at the SAID Business School of Oxford University.

Our conversation is wide-ranging, so our attention to Robert’s background is brief.  We touch on his storied long-term tenure as a professor at Harvard, where he spent 37 years, and describe how he came to the cause of sustainability and his own roots in sociology. This background in sociology is relevant as so much of the journey of “ESG” as well as sustainability investing has been about human behaviour, biases, and fears of complexity and large, lofty goals, all of which relate to essentially human conditions.

We begin by unpacking ESG, whether it is currently “fit for purpose” and discuss the polarization that has occurred on both sides as the concept has become politicized.  Robert advocates for a more commercially driven middle ground and an abolition of the term.  We move then to a discussion of standards, and how they have evolved and improved over the past few years. We learn that, like accounting standards, sustainability standards are a construct that will always be debated, rather than set in stone.

Looking to the future, and the evolution of the ESG debate, we look at the relevance of corporate law, and how that will be a new frontier for debate and change.

We finish with some of Robert’s reflections – including the need to be passionate in one’s career, to persist and to never forget the importance of networking and moving forward. We touch then on his passion for weightlifting and how Covid contributed to his sustained commitment to a deadlift goal (300 lbs, but then moved to 400 lbs) and how breaking the goal up into small increments was the mental and physical strategy that he needed to achieve this goal.  This is not unlike an ideal approach to the enormous goals that sustainability initiatives present. An analogy for the ages indeed.

Series 3 of the 2023 Fiftyfaces Podcast is supported by Eagle Point Credit Management. Eagle Point Credit Management is a specialist investment manager principally focused on income-oriented credit investments in niche and inefficient markets. Founded by Thomas Majewski in partnership with Stone Point Capital in 2012, Eagle Point currently manages over $7.8 billion in AUM. Investment strategies pursued by the firm include collateralized loan obligations (“CLOs”), portfolio debt securities, and other opportunities across the credit universe.  Currently, we believe that Eagle Point is the largest investor in CLO equity in the world and one of the largest non-bank lenders focused on providing financing solutions to credit funds. Learn more about Eagle Point at http://eaglepointcredit.com/