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RI Careers Interview: “The best thing about ESG/Sustainability is the people”

Meryam Omi, Head of Sustainability and Responsible Investment Management, Legal & General Investment Management talks to Responsible Investor about how she got into ESG and her career to date.

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Tell us a bit about your current role and the company you work at?

My work is principally to embed sustainability into the way we manage money. The biggest part of it is to devise and implement engagement projects on ESG issues like "Climate Impact Pledge", but also spans from ESG integration to developing sustainable funds like Future World funds. Above all, I have to ensure that our clients and prospects understand the value of ESG and help create new demands for sustainable options.

What does a typical working week look like for you? What do you do on a daily basis?

I get in early, but my to-do list usually gets tossed out by 9 am, when emails and meetings throw in urgent must-dos, so it is important that I work with my team to be on top projects and priorities.

The battle for the diary space is fought between internal meetings, client meetings, external speaking engagements and preparation for all of them. The strategic work has to be done outside of 9-5 when meetings are not taking place and I have time to consolidate ideas and concepts. I love brainstorming, but many people don’t appreciate me doing that in meetings as that's a typical extrovert thing to do.

Have you always worked in RI/ESG? Tell us about your career path.

I fell into Finance/Asset Management because I needed a visa to stay in the UK. I started a master's degree in environmental solutions by correspondence while managing an RFP team. RFP is brutal work, but I preach to anyone that it is the best intro to understanding how money moves. After I finished my masters, LGIM offered me a job in the Corporate Governance team where I could essentially devise my dream job – combining money with sustainability.

What I found initially was how ESG was undersold and underplayed. So I spent the first year mainly on the marketing and client education side. It helped to come from sales/marketing, as I knew if it didn't resonate with clients, it wasn't worth the effort. At the same time, I went to every company ESG meeting and I reached out to many established ESG players in the market to understand what's being done and get a sense of what else we could be doing, especially given the size of LGIM.

The best thing about ESG/Sustainability is the people. The passion that gets ignited when you are doing something that is close to your values. Yes, it is financial material and yes it is demand creation, but I love to meet people who care and they want to make a difference. You need a lot of energy to fight for sustainability and positive disruption. Good people give you energy and you have to surround yourself with them.

What differences do you see, if any, between Sustainable finance/investments and conventional?

The will to look into the unknown future. Sustainability finance cannot be falsely-satisfied with back-tested data. The unwillingness to be wrong in the conventional thinking is the riskiest thing we have, so sustainability finance, done right, should challenge that. It has to create new ways of assessing, valuing and investing for the future. 

What is your understanding of a sustainable workplace? 

I don't know what that is, but for me, it is a place that allows me to be 'me'. I will do everything to make the company successful, but I will also challenge things that don't seem right. I need to be able to voice it to anyone, especially the senior management because having a healthy debate and challenge is continuously needed to make the workplace as enjoyable and productive as possible.

If you knew what you know now what would you have done differently when you started your career. What advice do you wish you’d been given when you started out?

I'm not sure I am that much wiser, some things I put my heart and soul into didn't work. At least not in the way I wished, but I wouldn't want me to not have done them.

Oh, maybe less on the stress eating….seriously hard to shift weight when older.

What advice would you give to someone starting out today?

Be the best at what you do. Don't ever tell me you will give your 100% when you get your ideal job. People are watching you every step of the way and it counts.

Showing initiatives in a competitive world of CV sifting is key. Something you did on the side, something you started, something that says you didn't just wait until an opportunity came to you and for goodness sake, write a decent cover letter. Please! They are so rare even amongst 100 applicants.

Looking ahead, where do you see the opportunities or growth areas for career paths in RI/ESG?

Quant based solutions are the key for ESG, as it is the age of data and analytics.

Focus on key asset classes that need a lot more growth – credit, private equity, infra, etc. So much more talent needed there that breaks the barriers and limitations.

CV at a glance:

  • Legal & General Investment Management: 2008 – present
    • Head of Sustainability and Responsible Investment strategy: 2016  – present
    • Head of Sustainability: 2013 – 2016
    • ESG Manager: 2010 – 2013
    • RFP Manager/Project Manager: 2008 – 2010
  • BlueBay Asset Management, RFP writer to manager: 2005 – 2008
  • Focus Investment, Associate: 2004 – 2005
  • BT, Business Planning Analyst: 1999 – 2000 

To access other interviews and Sustainable Finance Careers Report follow the link: esg-data.com/careers