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Q&A: Trottier Foundation explains why they’re hiring an in-house director of shareholder engagement to fight climate change

Eric St. Pierre, Executive Director of the Trottier Foundation. (Supplied photo.)

In a precedent-setting move, a Canadian foundation is adding an in-house climate shareholder engagement director to its team.

On April 23, the Trottier Family Foundation and its Family Office, Eclipx, posted a job opening for a Shareholder Engagement Director on LinkedIn.

The candidate will report to senior management and “play a key role in advancing climate investment objectives through targeted shareholder engagement strategies,” the ad said.

Trottier Family Foundation supports projects that “promote innovative scientific discoveries, mitigate climate change and protect the environment, enhance education, improve patient and health care, and assist selected community and international initiatives.”

We spoke with their CEO, Eric St. Pierre, about the new feature and why others should consider doing the same.

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.

Q: Why is the Trottier Foundation and Family Office hiring a director of shareholder engagement?

a: We are already members of Shareholder Engagement networks such as PART, Climate Engagement CanadaAnd Investors for Paris Compliance. These organizations help institutional investors manage their assets in ways that contribute to positive social and environmental outcomes, primarily through group action.

Hiring a Shareholder Engagement Director is the next step in our climate engagement space. The size of the Foundation has increased significantly. We have over $600 million in assets; if we add our family’s office resources, we can delve deeper into shareholder engagement.

I did it ad hoc. For example, in 2023 I started working with Scotiabank. We have asked the bank to report to shareholders on its plans to identify and evaluate its customers’ net zero plans in relation to the bank’s 2030 emissions reduction and net zero targets.

Developing this proposal for the General Assembly was time-consuming, so we decided it was time to have an internal resource that could spend the right amount of time on proper research and really spend time with companies.

Question: How will this new employee “strengthen” the action of your foundation?

A: It’s another tool in our toolbox. For example, we support that of Senator Rosa Galvez Climate-oriented financing law, launched in 2022, and other organizations working in the climate finance sector. A Shareholder Engagement Director will enable us to promote climate finance policy while wearing the hat of our banking client. They will sit down with senior bank executives to express their dissatisfaction with the bank’s position on financed issuance or other credit policies.

One action will reinforce the other, just like decarbonizing the steel sector. Suppose we are working on a campaign for the steel industry. We may have a specific company in mind that we would like to work with to help accelerate the campaign.

Q: Shareholder engagement is a delicate balancing act. You need to know when to cooperate, when to push, when to demand and when to push away. What kind of candidate are you looking for?

A: Obviously we need someone to be invited back to the table after the first meeting with CEOs. Someone who is diplomatic, but comes into the discussion with thorough instructions about what we are looking for. Like a lawyer who respectfully and professionally says, “This is what I’m trying to accomplish for my client.” Personality is key. We want good and productive relationships.

But we have strong links with environmental charities, academics and government. So we might say to a company, “We’re not happy with how engagement is going and we’re planning a communications campaign.” That’s what I mean by aligning our strategy: shareholder engagement can add weight to our campaigns and vice versa.

Question: Can we consider this new addition as a pilot project?

A: Well, I didn’t think about it that way. This is a full-time position. But yes, a pilot project could be one way to look at it. It will be interesting to share what we have learned in 12 to 24 months.

Question: What could go wrong?

a: We have to be careful not to step on toes when selecting the companies we work with. The banking sector, for example, is very saturated. We must be careful not to be just another voice on top of other voices.

Question: How are you going to prevent it?

a: In choosing the companies we partner with, we will ensure we reach agreement or avoid disagreement with the rest of the Canadian shareholder engagement ecosystem. We need to ensure that no one else spends the same amount of time and energy on these companies. This implies stronger coordination in the sector. Perhaps it could be an added value from our future Shareholder Engagement Director.

Question: Which companies will your campaign target?

a: Together with our new director we will develop our shareholder engagement strategy. However, the forty companies Climate Engagement Canada works with are large companies.

Many mid-sized companies aren’t necessarily on the radar. They could benefit from climate talks. I suspect they are willing to move on, but they don’t get as much attention. So our direct involvement could be useful.

Q: What kind of impact are you looking for?

a: We have a theory of change for our shareholder engagement. We are waiting for our new employee to co-create it. However, we are here to transform systems. Our involvement will therefore hopefully lead to practical, concrete change. For example, our discussions with Scotiabank led to their exit from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

And now we are in discussions with another bank that is considering its role in financing clients who finance lobbying against climate policy. We won’t get that bank to divest, but stopping its financing to lobby against climate policy is a big impact change.

Q: Is The Trottier Foundation turning into an activist organization?

a: We mobilize our resources for impact. For the time being, however, we are seen more as an institutional impact investor than as an activist. We’ll see in a year or two whether that perception has evolved.

Perhaps I could make an analogy with Engine No.1’s “Reenergize ExxonMobil” campaign. This alternative investment company uses its capital for electrification, deglobalization and technological innovation. Since December 2020 Engine #1 has worked with ExxonMobil to elect new independent directors with external energy sector experience, deploy long-term capital allocation discipline and implement a strategic plan for sustainable value creation in a low-carbon world.”

Well, they elected three independent directors, giving the board diversified energy experience. The company also invested in low-carbon solutions and announced carbon emissions targets.

Q: When will the name of your Shareholder Engagement Director be announced?

a: The application deadline is mid-June. Given the limited expertise required, we do not expect more than 10 to 12 candidates to apply. Once our choice has been made, the candidate will start working immediately.

  • Diane BerardDiane Berard

    Diane Bérard is the Future of Good editorial staff on social finance and impact investing for a just future.

    This independent journalism is supported by the Suncor Energy Foundation. Read our editorial ethics and standards here.

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