RI chief was scared of becoming redundant when she quit her credit analyst role and stepped into the then unknown world of ESG

Career Path: Is ESG only a phase? This was the question Anna Hyrske from Ilmarinen asked herself 15 years ago. Hyrske, who is now head of responsible investments at a pension fund, had never heard of anyone working full-time on ESG before and felt like she was stepping into the unknown, she tells AMWatch.
Photo: Ilmarinen/PR
Photo: Ilmarinen/PR

Which career path did you envision for yourself when you were younger?

"My first ever dream job as a child was quite specific as I wanted to become a police dog puppy. Later in life as a teenager, I had multiple other paths in mind, but I was completely certain that I would not follow in my parents’ footsteps and turn to a career in economics or business.

When the time came to go to university, I considered studying law but decided to do a degree in law and economics. I did my bachelor’s degree in the UK and ended up at Ilmarinen straight out of university!"

Which part of your education have you used the most in your career?

"I think that the non-formal educational part of living, studying and working abroad has helped me to understand and communicate better with people from all kinds of backgrounds. Having said that, I do think that my education has been the best investment in my life by far.

Through education you learn how significant it is to learn new things. You learn that a willingness to learn and curiosity is important, and I believe that curiosity is essential in the investment business.  Also, education teaches you to do research and to look at things from different perspectives."

Which part of your resumé represents the biggest change in your career?

"I was fortunate enough to work and live in Hong Kong for Ilmarinen for 3 and a half years, starting in 2015.  Moving to the other side of the planet was a big change, both professionally and to my private life.

Another big change was becoming a full time ESG specialist and giving up my rather safe career as a credit analyst. That change felt scary and exciting at the same time! When I started as an ESG specialist in around 2005, I didn’t know anyone with that title. It felt like stepping into the unknown and I was worried about whether this career shift would keep me employed or if ESG was just a phase or an investment trend that would go away when another trend popped up.

I was also afraid that I would become redundant if ESG was not just a phase, as I thought that the role of the ESG specialist was to make the portfolio managers really good at doing ESG analysis themselves. In some areas, this has actually been the case, as some of the analysis I did ten years ago is now a natural part of my portfolio manager colleagues’ investment processes.

But what I did not expect was the fact that ESG evolves quite quickly and when the portfolio managers are able to incorporate new themes into their investment process, I have moved on to look at something else that could hopefully become part of their investment process in time."  

Which leader in the business has inspired your career the most?

"My answer is not really within the business, but a person from politics and diplomacy who has inspired me. I have read Ms. Madeleine Albright’s biography, but I also had the privilege to actually meet and talk to her.

She is a very strong person with an interesting history and background. Before I met her, she delivered an amazing speech and had an enormous amount of energy while she was wearing very high heeled shoes for several hours.

Albright was in her 70s when I met her, and I spoke to her very young assistant who told me that she got exhausted trying to keep up with her pace. That has become a life goal of mine: to be able to continue working at an old age and be full of energy – whilst wearing high heeled shoes."

What occupies you the most right now?

"We have recently published our new climate principles with a carbon neutrality target by 2035 and we don’t want to do it by just excluding companies.

We consider it a very ambitious target as we don’t have all of the tools available and we don’t know the full extent of the challenge. It will require a lot of work, developing tools and coordination, collaboration between colleagues, data providers, asset managers and stakeholders."

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