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Careers in Sustainable Investing: Q&A with Serge Younes

By Ellis Fergar

Private markets are ever evolving, so you need to constantly re-educate. The Oxford Private Markets Investment Programme was a fantastic opportunity to broaden my knowledge.

Serge Younes
Head of Sustainability, Investindustrial

Tell us about your career so far…

I studied engineering at university and had work experience in the building / real-estate sector. After I graduated, I decided to spend time in research and complete a Ph.D. in renewable energy (solar in particular). This led me to a job in consulting at WSP in their environment and sustainability team, where I worked on a mix of projects all over the world.

In 2010, I joined Accenture’s Strategy and Sustainability practice, where I got the opportunity to work with diverse and global corporate clients across various industries. These included extractives, utilities, consumer goods, infrastructure, financial services, and private equity to name a few. 

How did you get into private equity and sustainable investing?

In 2018, I joined Investindustrial, a mid-cap private equity firm which typically takes majority positions in mid-sized European companies. I joined them as Head of Sustainability, leading a team of highly experienced domain experts who focus on ESG, responsible investing, impact, and sustainable growth.

I was attracted to the industry and the role due to the breadth and opportunity for true impact. My role combines in-house sustainability and ESG due diligence streams, with direct work with investees to help them on their sustainability journey.

Why is learning about private markets important in your industry?

Private markets and private equity specifically are ever evolving, so you need to constantly re-educate and learn. Having worked with PE firms in the past, I believed I understood enough about private markets to hit the ground running. I quickly realized that my prior expertise, while very valuable in acquisition and portfolio, did not expand into other areas where ESG comes into play.

To understand more about the industry and fill the gaps in my knowledge, I have spent a lot of time researching online and reading academic books like Private Markets Laid Bare by Ludovic Phalippou.

How does your knowledge of alternative investments factor into your work?

One area I am working on with peers from other private equity firms is the development of ESG standards across the industry. For instance, our recent report explored the translation of carbon accounting from the GHG protocol and its application to private markets.

The report required advanced understanding of fund structuring, how the LP-GP relationship works, and the governance required to apportion portfolio carbon emissions to each stakeholder. This wouldn’t have been possible without a strong knowledge of alternatives.

If someone was to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them to kickstart their career?

ESG in private markets is developing at an incredibly fast pace. This makes it a really exciting field, but it’s impossible to be an expert in everything – from the environment, supply chains, human rights, climate, ethics, cyber security and much more.

For someone wanting to get into the space, I would advise them to build credible knowledge in one or two of these areas. Then you can get exposure to the rest either by working in-house or in a consultancy advising on transactions, or by working with external companies on these topics.

What does it take to be successful in your field?

ESG is still in its early stages, especially in private markets. While there has been a lot of progress in the past 5 years, there are still many professionals that don’t fully understand or appreciate it. The firms that will do well don’t consider ESG a necessary tick-box exercise, but rather acknowledge the opportunity for tangible value creation.

Successfully driving the ESG agenda in private markets requires a lot of change management with investment professionals, operating partners, and portfolio companies. ESG is a journey both for the ESG practitioner and for their colleagues.

What was your motivation for joining the Oxford Private Markets Investments Programme?

I was looking to broaden my knowledge of private markets so that I could get exposure to the many ways in which ESG can be effectively integrated. Having read Private Markets Laid Bare, it made sense to follow a course which is based on the book.

It also seemed like a great opportunity to receive insights on the PE sector and ESG from Preqin. This was key to develop my understanding and gain a more well-rounded perspective on the market.

What did you learn from the ESG segment of the program led by Preqin?

The course content provided by Preqin covered not only the fundamentals, but also the emerging practices. While risk analysis driven by ESG factors may have been used for decades by many investment managers and asset owners, these practices today are increasingly formalized – and Preqin are leading the way with their innovative estimation methodologies.

Preqin has partnered with the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford to become the main data provider for their new online program.

The Oxford Private Markets Investments Programme is an intensive six-week course designed to give financial operators, service providers, and commentators an introduction to one of the fastest-growing sectors of the financial landscape.