Career profile: Adam Black

Published on: 28 May 2019


Head of ESG and sustainability, Coller Capital

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional? 

Interest in the natural world from a young age.  

What was your first job in this field? 

Halliburton (environmental, health and safety role).  

How did you get your first role? 

Advertised in New Scientist Magazine.

What does your current role involve? 

The belief that: the environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges we face cannot be resolved without private finance; the private equity model lends itself to building more sustainable and resilient businesses; ‘active’ owners can ask more questions and make change happen more quickly and broadly. 

I no longer visit so many company locations, but the private equity firms we invest in do, and our in-house ESG capabilities mean we are better placed to influence them. We can ask more and better questions, challenge the response, then engage post-investment. ESG is part of our investment management process but the role touches on everything we do.  

I also work on annual reporting, speak at conferences, contribute to research and support colleagues on everything from ESOS compliance, single-use plastics and sourcing our food responsibly.

How has your role changed/progressed over the past few years?  

I moved to a firm exposed to more than 200 underlying private equity firms with around 2,500 underlying portfolio companies in their funds, so am now less portfolio company facing.

What’s the best part of your work? 

Changing culture and seeing the results.

What’s the hardest part of your job? 

The best part.

What was the last development event you attended? 

I have less time than I would like to attend, so I admit I have not yet been to one in person.  

What did you bring back to your job? 

Two things define a successful ESG programme – adopting the right culture and getting the right outcomes. The ‘sustainability change maker’ worksheets are helpful in that context.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your job? 

Acting with integrity; being able to draw upon practical examples to support what I say at investment committee; patience; staying calm in a crisis.

Where do you see the profession going? 

I see it being a part of everyone’s role, wherever you work. Then the formal function itself can lead, support, coach and advise.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time? 

Working on ESG in our next and future funds.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession? 

Great ESG is getting people who can share what they love with authenticity and enthusiasm – so use practical examples and case studies wherever possible. Take the time to become an expert, because being able to back up what you say in any meeting is powerful and brings the subject to life for people. Be patient but persistent, and pragmatic without avoiding the difficult issues. Share and collaborate – you don’t have to share commercially sensitive materials, but you can be transparent about a lot of your work.

How do you use the IEMA Skills Map?  

The IEMA Skills Map is a great tool to help benchmark the qualities required in an ESG leadership role.

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be? 

Ask my wife.

What motivates you? 

Looking back on certain investments, the change that we made happen is heartwarming. That motivates me – as does having a two-year-old and four-year-old.

What would be your personal motto? 

I don’t like to be put into a box, so would not want a motto. 

Greatest risk you have ever taken?

Choosing to be a lifelong fan of Ipswich Town after beating Arsenal in the 1978 FA Cup Final (didn’t pay off long term).

If you could go back in history, who would you like to meet? 

Sir Bobby Robson (former Ipswich manager, former England manager and a great Geordie, like my mum).