This International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month, we’re sharing profiles of some of the outstanding sustainability leaders around the world. Read the profile of Peju Adebajo, Non-executive director (NED) at Ibstock PLC here.
The individuals we’ve interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds and their areas of expertise and responsibility are equally diverse. We’ve learned a lot from them in these conversations and are excited to follow their progress.
Q: Hello! Tell us a little about what you do.
A: I have many titles, including Non-executive Director, Board Adviser and former CEO.
Currently I am a member of the Environmental Social and Governance (ESG), Remuneration, Nomination and Audit Committees at a UK FTSE 250 company, Ibstock PLC, where I am a Non-executive Director (NED). I’m also currently an Advisory Board Member at the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria and Lagos Business School. I have held many other Board positions.
My most recent CEO role was at Lumos Nigeria, but I served in the role of CEO in many industries including cement, food, bedding, agriculture, renewables. I’ve also worked in many sectors including private equity, family business, multinationals and even in the public sector. This breath of experience is a great background for working at a board level.
In my board roles, my goal is to ensure the growth of the company for the benefit of members. We lay an emphasis on all stakeholders, not just shareholders. I also work to achieve the right balance of strategy and execution.
I’ve worked extensively throughout Africa, but I’m currently in the UK.
Q: Why did you choose to work in this position and space?
A: My focus on ESG is related to growing up in Africa, where there is no social safety net. I was conscious of the need to reduce inequality. I believe that sustainable growth, in Africa and around the world, is more achievable if businesses focus on ESG.
For example, in the extractive industries, a company, for example, a cement company will exist in the community for a long time, maybe 50 to 100 years. There must be shared and inclusive prosperity, or community relations quickly become fraught and the company's license to operate can quickly be withdrawn. Therefore it makes sense to have inclusive employment policies, reduce dust and emissions, restore the landscape, focus on biodiversity and manage water resources among other activities. Cement plants are also hugely energy intensive and large emitters of CO2, so the move to decarbonize and reduce emissions is a great opportunity to innovate and lead the industry.
As a board member, you have the opportunity to balance short-term and long-term considerations and ensure the tone at the top prioritizes sustainable growth.
Q: What skills do you think are particularly vital for you in your role?
A: As one would expect, strategic, commercial, operational and financial skills are a good foundation for a board or c-suite level role. However, what really makes a difference are the soft skills such as listening, coaching and influencing.
One must also learn to trust that you will make good judgments, especially in today’s world, where there is so much uncertainty. You should see tough situations as tests of leadership skills.
Q: What are some opportunities and challenges you face in your role?
A: The pace of change is relentless, and it is hard to keep up.
Of all the critical global issues, climate change presents the greatest challenge and opportunity, because it will redefine the way we live, work and play.
I am concerned that many Africans will feel the brunt of climate change yet are unprepared for the effects. In addition to my NED roles, I seek to get more African organizations on board with ESG.
Q: Who are your role models?
A: I particularly admire women who broke biases and paved the way for us today. Some of these women include:
- Funmilayo Ransome Kuti in Nigeria advocated for women’s rights in the 1940s in a very patriarchal society.
- Sheryl Sandberg taught us, women, how to lean in.
- Indra Nooyi talks about family and work-life balance and I love that.
Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of women+ starting their careers in this space?
A: This is a present-day and future-focused area, where many commercial and philanthropic organizations are, and will be, investing. Fortunately, there are many online resources, some free, available that you can use to upskill yourself. Most of the accounting and consulting firms have free resources online, as do institutions like Imperial College and Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. There is also Chapter Zero that has great resources for board directors. As an aspiring sustainability professional, you should get out and see the impact that is possible — it’s more than a desk job.
If you’re driven by passion, purpose and impact, this space is a great choice!
Q: What are some trends you’re seeing in the sustainability space?
A: It’s a big area and environmental and social issues are on the front burner. In terms of environmental issues, topics that are of particular focus include climate change, pollution, natural resources, waste and plastics. Under the umbrella of social issues, inequality is a big topic with discussions centering on gender, race, fair pay, social mobility, working practices and health.
Q: What can organizations do to hire, retain, promote and empower more women+ in the sustainability space?
A: Sustainability professionals are in high demand, so competitive pay and benchmarking is important.
It is also important that sustainability is core to the organization, not a siloed department, so that there is a strong career path and mobility within the organization.
When an organization’s purpose and values are clear and aligned, this creates a good environment for important and fulfilling work to be done.