Sofa Chat: Interview with Marisa Drew - post image background.

Sofa Chat: Interview with Marisa Drew

In the 15th of the series of Sofa Chats, Global Sustainability Leader Marisa Drew in conversation with Anke Summerhill about what she do, how she started her career, her experience as an entrepreneur and her hobbies.

Marisa Drew is the Chief Sustainability Officer for Credit Suisse and the Global Head of the Sustainability Strategy, Advisory & Finance Group.

She is responsible for setting the sustainable strategy and ambition for the bank and for creating and facilitating sustainable investments on behalf of Credit Suisse’s wealth management, institutional and corporate clients.

Ms Drew co-chairs the Sustainability Leaders Committee and serves on the ESG Steering Committee, the Climate Risk Strategy Steering Committee and the UK Reputational Risk Committee of the bank.

Hit the play button below to watch the full conversation, or read the full transcript below:

Anke Summerhill: Hi, I’m Anke Summerhill from Minotti London and today, for our sofa chat, which in fact is not on a sofa, but on the beautiful Fin chairs, I have what I can only describe as the goddess of the financial and banking world, Marisa Drew.

And Marisa is the Sustainability Officer for Credit Suisse. Marisa welcome and thank you for joining us.

Marisa Drew: Thank you. My pleasure.

Anke: Would you like to introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about yourself, what exactly your role entails and how you got there?

Marisa: I’m the Chief Sustainability Officer for Credit Suisse, and I also head up a group we call, Sustainability Strategy, Advisory and Finance. I’d say, at its heart, what I say is, I get up every day and help save the world.

Because its core, my job is as really to mobilise capital, to help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, whether they be environmental or social. Both of those are pretty big issues for our times and so it’s a very gratifying role. I do feel like it’s a role with purpose. But it’s also a role that’s come to me after 35 years of traditional Investment Banking.

I grew up in a world, a very dominated world, male dominated world, of finance. In a very traditional sense, I’ve spent much of my career raising capital for early stage high-growth companies. Now what I get to do with all that experience, is to translate that into a very purposeful direction of capital.

Anke: That is a pretty amazing story.

Marisa: Privileged.

Anke: Did you ever think you’d end up in a role like this? When you were younger, as a student, were you very driven and ambitious and you had a plan, you thought, “I’m going to make something of myself, I’m going to leave my mark in this world?”

Marisa: It’s such a great question. Actually, I say, I was a kid with a lot of energy and no direction. That was entirely me. So, one of these kids-

Anke: That’s a lot of kids.

Marisa: … that literally would dip in and out of everything. I come from a family of public service, my father was a top gun pilot in the air force. And so I initially thought that I wanted to serve my country, somehow, and originally, I thought that was going to be in the form of politics.

I had an internship with a politician and when I did that, I realised very quickly that, you don’t get things done very fast and you have to-

Anke: As a politician?

Marisa: As a politician, and you’re always appealing to your constituency, not necessarily always what you feel needs to be done. And I found that very frustrating, so that was not the career for me. Then I thought, “Well, maybe I can serve my country in the diplomatic core, in the state department,” and I had an internship there.

Then I realised that the wheels of change moved very slowly, not fast enough. And then I said, “How about the corporate world because maybe that’s a place?” And my internship in the corporate world was a very nine to five type of job and I found myself intellectually quite bored.

So at 4:59, I kept staring at my watch with my trainers on, ready to go. And I think it’s because I wasn’t intellectually challenged.
And then I stumbled onto the world of finance and that was it for me. It was just a moment, for me, when I realised, because all of that energy that I have, I need to be doing things that capture my attention, that are fast-paced, and that’s what the markets is all about.

The moment I found finance, really, I never looked back. After 35 years, I always wish I could clone myself five times over and have 24 more hours in the day. And I think that’s a mark of finding your passion, is that you’re never bored-

Anke: Absolutely.

Marisa: … always hoping that there’s more time to get more done.

Anke: That also answers one of my other questions, which was, have you ever considered a career change? But clearly not, you tried out. So, would you suggest this is a good idea for many people who’re unsure what their direction is, because I find a lot of young people struggle.

They go off to university, they don’t really know what they want to study. What did you actually study, did you know what you wanted to study?

Marisa: So, no, I didn’t. And, to your point, exactly, is that I think people put a lot of pressure on themselves, especially young people, that you have to find “The career” in your first trial.

The research shows, in each generation actually, the number of businesses gets longer, meaning that in our parent’s generation, you worked for the same company for life.

Anke: Forever.

Marisa: Our generation, it’s something on the average of three to five companies, typically. Two generations from now, they say the average will be seven to 10 different companies.

And I have a little saying, I say, “Life is as much about finding out what you don’t want to do, as it is what you do want to do.” And how do you know, unless you go through a process of trial and error?

So for me, it was all of this quest. And I kept with every, I think, experience trying to be quite deliberate in saying, the one thing I can say without a plan was to say, “Out of these experiences, what about that role or that job or that internship did I really like, that spoke to me, that gave me energy? And what are the things that really bothered me?”

And then with each successive thing, I tried to do more of the thing that appealed to me and maybe self-actualized and less of the other, and then, eventually, you find that thing. But I gave you a few of my experiences, but not only, I had a stint in private equity, I was an entrepreneur, I founded a company, and each one of those things I thought I was going to be the thing.

Anke: Tell me. I need to know what you just started.

Marisa: Well, this is going to show my age. So I hands up admit that.

Anke: Age is good.

Marisa: Age, experience and wisdom. So this was back in the day when we did not have PCs in homes and schools.

Anke: I remember those days.

Marisa: Those good old days, and the machine was extremely expensive and people were really afraid to touch them because they thought they would break this important machine. But everybody at that time felt that the way to get ahead was to have computer literacy.

So I ended up running learning centres for computer education, and we literally taught everyone from two year olds who were naturally faster. They would immediately go to the mouse and start playing around, to the adults who are, I can’t touch the machine.

And it was fascinating about that experience because I always thought that I would be an entrepreneur when I was in my fifties or whatever later in life.

But an opportunity came where somebody was willing to back me with capital. If I would run this business, so I said if I don’t do it, I will always ask why not?

So I jumped in with both feet and the business was actually very successful, but after I got it up and running, I was intellectually bored because I opened one centre, and then what else was I going to do open another and another but it was-

Anke: The challenge had passed.

Marisa: … it was plateaued. And the other thing that I really learned about being an entrepreneur and this is very personal to me, but I get energy from people, and I realised I had always had this notion that I wanted to work for a small business because I thought small was good and non-hierarchical, and non-political and all this stuff.

But when I had my first taste of working for a large company, I really loved the sparring partners of my peers and getting around the table, and figuring things out.

Whereas when you’re an entrepreneur, it’s actually really lonely when you’re starting up a business.

Anke: It’s very lonely.

Marisa: … And I missed the energy of people. And I also, it was an enormous amount of pressure. Do you know that responsibility and the weight on my shoulders of every decision I was making meant whether the company lives or dies or whether I’m going to make payroll in all of this.

And I tell you, in investment banking, we often work three all nighters in a row, on an M&A deal, I’ll take that stress all day long.

The entrepreneurial stress really weighed on me, and that was very unique to me, but it was a moment where I realised that being an entrepreneur was not what I wanted to do with my life, so thankfully I had somebody come and offered to buy my company, so it bailed me out that I could go back to a big company.

Anke: Do you feel that experience has helped you though?

Marisa: 100%.

Anke: … in your life because you actually can put yourself in the shoes of the entrepreneur?

Marisa: 100%.

Anke: … because it is… I think very often people don’t realise that is they see someone with their own business and say, “Oh, you’re so lucky, you have your own business,” but they don’t see the sleepless nights, your stress, the responsibility of having employees and in times, such as COVID, which for many small businesses and young businesses has been very challenging.

Now, the other thing you touched on, which is very true, and you do start your own business and you are in your own, you can only discuss it with yourself, which is also very stressful.

You said how you get energy and love collaborating and working with other people. Now, how do you feel like during Brexit, people at Brexit, COVID Brexit, too much going on, people working from home and I’m in a creative industry.

And personally, I found it didn’t inspire me, I missed being with other people and bouncing off ideas. What do you feel about the working from home, are you in favour? I think it’s good for work balance, I think it’s nice that people can have a little bit more time at home and not stressed with travel, but overall, what is your opinion on that?

Marisa: It’s going to be a nuanced answer because everything in life it’s not black or white. I can say that I’ve been on a plane for 30 years, mostly long haul, three days a week for all this time.

And to have it all come to a halt was a real shock to my system. When I actually was not permanently jet lagged, I said, “Wow, this is how the real world lives,” and I enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t racing to the airport or on a different time zone for a moment in time.

Then we moved to this zoom world and I learned something, because you thought you’d all this time back and what I think a lot of us, and I’m very guilty of not being able to say no. Is that in that normal time, when you would’ve had timed yourself on a plane or in transit, what did we do?

We said yes to another conference call. So I would find myself from six in the morning until eight at night, literally on a call, call after call, after call with no breaks. Run downstairs to grab a sandwich or something like this.

But I was ending up working way more hours in a funny way, having zero time for reflection and strategizing and all of this, because you felt a little bit guilty by saying, “I’m going to take some time,” and I think that’s where I got it wrong if I’m honest, but I do think that if we can set some boundaries and have a hybrid opportunity, that’s the best.

And I have to say the other thing that was really surprising to me after, 12 hour zoom days, I couldn’t understand why I was so tired at the end of the day, I kept saying, I’m not jet lagged, I’m not on a plane, why am I so tired?

But now they’re doing all these researches, neurological research that says, “When you’re on the screen, it zaps your energy because you don’t get the feedback, and so you’re constantly, your brain and everything else is wired to try to receive that feedback that you really don’t get on screen.

So I think from a health point of view, it’s actually not great, but I have to balance that, with the freedom of not having to commute, and I’m very sensitive, particularly my teams with young families, who do spend a lot of their lives commuting in and out.

And to get that time back with your family and your kids, I think is something that’s pretty precious, so I am definitely a big advocate of being flexible and having some balance.

But the one thing I will tell you, when we started travelling again, back in September when I had my first in person meetings or conferences, it was like a jolt of energy, I got that adrenaline rush, I thought, this is what I’m missing. I’m missing human connection.

Anke: Human connects. Well, I think we’re heard animals, I don’t think we’re meant to be sitting in isolation and speaking to people on screen. I did not find it. I used it because it was incredibly-

Marisa: Was it useful?

Anke: … and we had to, but yes, me too, I was incredibly happy when I could meet up with people face to face again, like we are doing.

Marisa: Like we are doing now.

Anke: … today. So you already touched soon as you reach on the work, private life balance. Have you managed to maintain that well throughout your career? Or have you… When you look back, can you see you’ve spent crazy hours?

Marisa: It’s a great question. I get asked this all the time, particularly-

Anke: I’m sorry.

Marisa: … field. No because it’s a natural question. Particularly people think of investment banking, which is 24 by seven.

Anke: Absolutely.

Marisa: But when you’re in a client service business, your job is to meet the needs of your clients, whatever they may be when they are, and a lot of banking is about very defined timelines.

If you don’t meet a deadline to raise finance or meet an agreement on a contract, then the deal will fall away, and that’s where paid to do and we don’t manufacture anything. So the only thing we have in banking is human capital, and so therefore it is an all in kind of business.

Now my approach to this was not so much work life balance, because it’s a complete work life imbalance, but I reframe that narrative a little bit. What I mean by that is my clients give me energy, and because I love people, I view that as enriching my life. And so therefore it was never this black and white distinction between work and private life.

My clients have become my friends and the experiences that I’ve had through my career in banking are some of the most incredible things. They’re almost hard to describe, building the O2 arena with my hard hat, and my Welles on was one of the seminal moments in London.

This iconic building that we converted into one of the world’s largest concert, most visited concert venues, that’s an experience through banking and the people who built that are some of my dearest friends, and yet was it work when I’m going to a concert of a venue that I built or was it pleasure?

These things are very intertwined, So I look at them very much as they’re mutually reinforcing, then it was never this one or the other. But the one thing I have been very careful to do is to have lots of outside interests because first of all, I think it makes you better in business, whether it’s banking or anything at else, because who wants to talk to a monochromatic person who can only talk about work.

So I have, as I said, a lot of energy to short attention span, so I need to feed my brain, and so I get involved in lots of things. I need to have lots of fingers and pots, I’m a fledgling golfer and I make wine and I read a lot and I am a venture capital investor in angel investor-

Anke: It’s like, you’re guessing my questions. I was going to say, “Are there any passions, secret passions-

Marisa: Many, many passions.

Anke: … Is there a creative person hiding in this amazing business woman?

Marisa: I know that.

Anke: So you mentioned golf, so that’s so good to get you out.

Marisa: Good to get me out, although I’m really a rubbish that-

Anke: And then you drink wine, which you can make yourself?

Marisa: … And I drink wine, and I make wine and I make olive oil. But I guess I always say I’m frustrated, creative in the sense that I feel like I don’t have a creative bone in my body, but I appreciate deeply people who have creative talent.

And so, one of the things that I’ve done also to feed my soul a little bit is to help support creatives, so whether it be fashion, shoes, jewellery, I do quite in my personal time, help along those who are in the creative field because a lot of them are what they do best, is apply their creative talents, but they may not know how to translate that into a business plan or to raise money or whatever the thing is themselves.

Anke: Absolutely. This is what I find that creativity and business don’t always go. The best artists and designers I know are not necessarily the best business people. So I think that is a lovely thing to do, to clearly have an interest in design.

So what makes a home for you, what does it take for you to walk through the door? And feel, “I’m home.”

Marisa: It’s a place where I can breathe. I like space and light, so that’s pretty important to me, but-

Anke: My favourite.

Marisa Drew: … the funny thing that we’re saying when we are in Grey Zone in London-

Anke: There is light here.

Marisa: … But I do think there’s still light here, or it’s a different kind of light. But I do when I get to Africa, with that just endless sunsets and that purity of light, I just relax.

Anke: And the colours.

Marisa: … the happy land and the colours are sharp and amazing. But what else makes home it is my personal things. Even if I were to have design influences from a designer, what I really need are my own things in the house.

Anke: Yes, of course.

Marisa: … I don’t need somebody to curate that for me, because then it’s not very personal, so that’s important. And back to our admiration creatives, my art and sculptures, my pieces really matter, I love turning over and looking at a piece of sculpture that I found that speaks to me in some way. That’s how I buy my art, so-

Anke: It gives you pleasure.

Marisa: Gives me pleasure, and then, of course, a good kitchen because, my other creative side is, I’m frustrated that.

Anke: Chef cook?

Marisa: I love to cook.

Anke: I don’t know, where you find time for these things.

Marisa: I don’t sleep very much. Because sleep’s not in the equation, that’s for later.

Anke: So you love to cook as well.

Marisa: Love to cook.

Anke: So you have good kitchens wherever?

Marisa: Got to have a good kitchen, got to have a good kitchen.

Anke: Amazing, amazing. So what would we never find in any of your homes?

Marisa: Never find? Wow.

Anke: Something you would never have something you’re really…

Marisa: That’s really interesting, no, one’s asked me that’s going to take me a minute to think about.

Anke: You can pond on it. You don’t have to answer that.

Marisa: You’d never find something that’s made to look like it’s design, but it has no purpose. So, shall I say fake books, when someone creates a fake book shelf-

Anke: Fake library.

Marisa: … fake library, you probably wouldn’t see that in my house.

Anke: I think that probably was a big thing during COVID, everybody suddenly had to have bookshelves behind them while they’re on their zoom meetings and look intelligent or something, I don’t know.

Marisa: Well, I have huge piles of design books because I do love to look at pictures, I am visual in some ways, and so gives me great pleasure to just flip through a great cookbook or a great art book or architecture book, so that you’ll find in my house. But I guess that you wouldn’t find things that don’t have either meaning or a purpose.

Anke: A purpose. Is that a favourite piece you have an all time for say, you’re in your house, it’s burning-

Marisa: What do you say?

Anke: … and you told you can just take one thing with you, is again horrible questions.

Marisa: It is because I’ve probably grabbed many things-

Anke: Grab your suitcase.

Marisa: Other than what I would say the very classic of your photographs that mean something to you are the obvious things. But I have some artwork that is really special.

I have a bust of an African woman in my home here in London that is made by a… He’s actually principally a painter called Lionel Smith, who is in his, I guess late thirties, probably who I found a decade ago.

I walked into a gallery and he had a painting of an African face, a woman, fairly the eyes were intense and just grabbed me and I wanted to buy a piece.

And then we became very friendly and commissioned him to do a piece for my house, and he’s also on one of my vintages of my wine, on a label.

Then as a tribute to his father who was a sculptor, he actually started doing some sculpture work and that very same African woman who’s on my painting and on my wine label, he did a sculpture of, and that is just one of those pieces that every time I look at it brings me pleasure. So I’d go grab that on the way up.

Anke: Definitely grab that.

Marisa: If I could carry it. That’d be hard.

Anke: Now there’s a horrible question again. What’s on your bedside table. If that’s not too personal.

Marisa: Not at all. So back to the point of not sleeping very well.

Anke: Sleeping house.

Marisa: I have all of those wonderful sleeping aids, lavender pillow sprays, and those oils that you put on to try to make you sleep and a little bottle of melatonin every time that doesn’t work.

Then you will find, I’m trying to wean myself off of it because I know it’s not great for sleep, but I have my iPad because I read on my iPad when I don’t sleep, I read I have a candle, but I keep diverting to the iPad and then I have an entire stack of books too, so you’ll find all of that on my bed and my table.

Anke: At least you’re awake in a pleasant fashion I guess. So Marisa one last question. If you could be prime minister for a day, what would you do and any law you’d like to impose?

Marisa: You’re really asking me some very tough questions for an early morning.

Anke: Am very sorry. You don’t have to answer.

Marisa: No, because probably this is my passion and my work is that I would create policy that would enable a faster mobilisation of capital to help mitigate climate change, and also some of our social inequities.

One of the things that COVID obviously brought us is the wealthy got wealthier and those who are less fortunate probably went the other way. And whether its affordable housing or access to quality goods and services, healthcare, etc, even though we have the wonderful NHS.

These things are, they’re not sustainable for a healthy, prosperous society In the long and intermediate term, and we’re seeing this play out, in politics and some of the issues that have surfaced during COVID, so that’s the one whole area.

The second area is the environment, deeply passionate about doing what we can, and I think we all too often say, “What can one person do?” But what one person does is an individual collection of actions-

Anke: Exactly.

Marisa Drew: … that add up to a lot. But, there’s a little bit of this feeling now in my field that it’s all up to the private sector because, governments don’t have enough money, but yet what government officials can do is through policy making, create those enabling conditions to support more capital flowing and that will help create a positive virtuous circle.

So if I were a prime minister for a day, I’d focus on those two topics, those are biggies, but that’s what I would do.

Anke: Or you’re going to need more than a day?

Marisa: We go back to saving the world.

Anke: Am loving your thinking. Marisa, it’s been an absolute pleasure-

Marisa: Pleasure is mine.

Anke: … and I thank you so much for coming. I could talk to you for hours, but some-

Marisa: Awesome, fun chats. So yes thank you for having me.

Anke: Thank you, pleasure.

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