Persuading without being pushy

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Canadian Jane Ambachtsheer has joined BNP Paribas Asset Management as its Global Head of Sustainability. “Without an eye for sustainability, long-term results will come under pressure.”

Boyfriends or curfews were not points of contention in the Ambachtsheer household. But when the discussion turned to pension funds, emotions tended to flare up in the family. Especially when father and daughter Ambachtsheer suspected that fund managers were in it for their own gain. They both have an aversion to greed.

Strategic view

Jane Ambachtsheer joined BNP Paribas Asset Management as Global Head of Sustainability at the end of August. Her father Keith, a Dutch-born pension specialist who emigrated to Canada at a young age, fuelled her interest in the financial world. She has been interested in the environment and the greenhouse effect since 2000.

Jane Ambachtsheer’s CV

1974    Born in Toronto, Canada

1996    First job at CEM, her father Keith’s consulting firm

1997    Founder of Dutch CEM branch in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2000    Mercer Investments, London, UK

2018    Global Head of Sustainability at BNP Paribas Asset Management, Paris, France

“I’ve known Keith and Jane for a long time”, says Rob Bauer, Professor of Institutional Investment at Maastricht University. “They’re very much alike, both of them being strategic thinkers.” He sees one major difference though: “Keith prefers to think big, while Jane also looks at things from a practical perspective. “She not only writes academic papers, but also carries out all kinds of projects.”

In 44-year-old Jane Ambachtsheer’s opinion, profitability and corporate social responsibility are not mutually exclusive. “On the contrary”, she says from Paris, where she lives and works. “Without an eye for sustainability, long-term results will come under pressure.”

Tofu

Sustainability matters to Jane Ambachtsheer, in her private life too. She often cooks with tofu and her two daughters, who are 10 and 8, sponsor a girl in Sudan. This is how she and her husband teach their children that prosperity and happiness are not a given.

Jane Ambachtsheer avoids using her car where she can. She prefers to bike to the office. “Getting there is no problem”, she says. “I just ride down the hill so that I don’t arrive at work all sweaty. The way home involves some climbing, but that’s good exercise.”

On Sundays, she and her family walk a lot. Sometimes they wander the streets of Paris, other times they visit a museum. Afterwards they have a family dinner at a restaurant. “That often leads to funny situations,” says Ambachtsheer.

Her husband was born in Québec and speaks French with a Québécois accent. Being from Toronto herself, she speaks French with the accent of a native English speaker. Her daughters go to school in Paris, so they speak French like the French. This often leaves waiters puzzled and wondering about the family’s background.

Broad orientation

Jane Ambachtsheer was born in Toronto in 1974. In high school, she enjoyed both science and social studies, as well as being pretty good at languages. Her broad orientation is reflected in her academic career: she has degrees in Social Science, English literature and Economics.

In 1996, at the age of 22, she joined CEM, the Toronto-based pension fund consulting firm founded by her father. It was Jane’s responsibility to check information about such aspects as invested assets, returns and risks that was provided by hundreds of pension funds and to process it in databases.

Suspicion

“Funds sometimes talked about millions when they meant billions. Or they wrote percentage rather than percentage point. My father offered me an excellent learning environment; by demanding accuracy, he kept me very much on my toes. I was expected to treat all data with suspicion and flag anything that didn’t make sense.”

When Keith Ambachtsheer decided to open a branch in the Netherlands, where pension funds play a major role, Jane was up for the challenge. Unlike her co-workers, she was young, single and adventurous. She moved to Amsterdam in 1997 to set up the branch. While in Amsterdam, she earned a Master’s degree in Social Science from the University of Amsterdam.

Sustainable capitalist

In 2000, Jane joined Mercer Investments in London. She specialised in sustainable investing, which was a new area of expertise at the time. As a pioneer in the field, she developed into a ‘green’ icon. This is how she became involved in advisory work for the United Nations and came to teach at the University of Toronto and the University of Oxford.

“There were no standard answers at the time,” says Ambachtsheer. “The correlation between sustainability and returns, or the effect of sustainability on risk; all of this still had to be invented. Those were great times.”

Jane Ambachtsheer describes herself as a sustainable capitalist. She understands that investors are looking for returns and that calculations are more effective than ideological treatises. If she can show exactly what the effect will be of a temperature rise by, say, two degrees Celsius, she leaves little room for resistance.

Making your own choices

Jane Ambachtsheer has recently implemented this strategy at BNP Paribas Asset Management, which manages assets totalling EUR 560 billion [1]. She heads up the sustainability programme and is responsible for monitoring whether the investments meet the sustainability criteria. Meanwhile, she forges coalitions designed for lobbying politicians and administrators.

“It’s all about persuasion”, says Ambachtsheer. There’s no use in being pushy. Not at Mercer, not at BNP Paribas Asset Management and not at home either. I personally don’t eat meat, but that doesn’t mean that my children should also become vegetarians. By allowing them to make their own choices, they will grow up to be independent and critical thinkers.”

(This is a translation of an article by Frits Conijn, originally posted in Het Financieele Dagblad, the Dutch financial newspaper, on 3 October 2018. Het Financieele Dagblad hold all publishing rights to this article).


[1] data as of 30 June 2018; source: BNP Paribas Asset Management

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