Marie-Josée Privyk

Chief ESG Innovation Officer at Novisto

Marie-Josée is responsible for ESG Innovation at Novisto Inc., a next generation sustainability management platform empowering companies to better manage and create value from their ESG data, reporting, and strategy. Marie-Josee draws on nearly 30 years of experience in capital markets, namely as Financial Analyst of small and mid-cap companies (Marleau, Lemire Inc., National Bank Financial Inc.), as Director of Investor Relations (Innergex Inc.), and as ESG Advisor to companies and investors (FinComm Services, Millani).

Marie-Josée is a member of CPA Canada’s Value Creation Working Group (Foresight Initiative) and its Sustainability and Performance Management Education Committee; member of the Enterprise Data Management Council’s ESG Working Group; and leader of the Quebec – SASB FSA Credential Group. She also participates in the CCLI’s Canadian Climate Governance Experts Initiative.

Marie-Josée holds a B.Com. in finance from McGill University and a certificate in Applied Communications from Université de Montréal. She is a CFA charterholder and holds the Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting (FSA) Credential of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), as well as the CFA Institute’s Certificate in ESG Investing, and the Responsible Investment Professional Certification (RIPC) designation from the Canadian Responsible Investment Association. She has also successfully completed the Advanced Responsible Investment Analysis course from the UN Principles for Responsible Investment’s PRI Academy.

Work and impact

MI’m Chief ESG Innovation Officer for Novisto which is a software platform that helps companies to collect ESG data, report on their sustainability practices, and ultimately to analyze this data to get better management insights. We are an enabler tool for companies to better measure and better manage their sustainability related issues.

Very few people will actually come directly from sustainability or sustainable finance which is okay because it is important to have people from all different professional backgrounds. My personal background is finance. I graduated with a Bcom in finance and international business from McGill. I did my CFA immediately after and I was a sell side analyst for a number of years. My background is financial analysis, capital markets, and research. I also worked as director of Investor Relations for a publicly listed company. That other side of the coin of providing information to the marketplace to optimize share value and for the market to be as efficient as possible requires companies to provide the best possible information. By best possible information, I don’t mean just the good things, I mean, accurate, reliable, and complete information. So that’s actually how I came to sustainability or sustainability reporting, is through the lens of responsible investment, and meeting investors information needs.

When I was a Director of Investor Relations, I was reading an article on sustainable development and that was an “ah ha” moment for me about how business should be conducted. From there I started reading everything I could about it and it quickly brought me to the sustainable finance, responsible investment paradigm shift. I call it a paradigm shift because it is more than a trend and certainly not just a fad. I began following and reading everything I could about it because these were concepts and practices. Still to this day they are evolving in the marketplace. There is very little accumulated knowledge or a curriculum to share and to rely on. There are certainly more  courses today, but that’s still early on. From there, in my capacity as Director of Investor Relations, I told my boss and the C suite that we need to do a sustainability report. We were also a renewable power company and so the transition to low carbon energy was intrinsic to our business model, even though we weren’t articulating it that way ourselves. I pushed to do the company’s first Sustainable Development Report and the rest is history. 

Not always. I don’t think there’s a person today over the age of 30, who could say that they grew up wanting to work in sustainability in the way that we understand it today. That’s changed completely and young people today absolutely want to work for companies that are embracing sustainable business practices or sustainable investment practices.

Referring to the corporate sustainability reporting landscape there’s so much happening, and it’s all happening at the same time at great speed. It takes quite a bit of stamina, to be able to keep up with all the new developments and to make the connections between all the things that are happening. The most exciting in the last 12 months has to be the announcement of the creation of the IFRS international sustainability standards board and the merger with a number of the different standards and framework bodies that already existed and the very, very rapid timeframe they’ve given themselves to put out a set of global baseline disclosure standards.

The biggest misconception is that it’s too complicated, and that there’s so many different standards and frameworks out there. There aren’t that many, and it’s really not that complicated. It just takes a bit of time to understand what it is exactly. The other misconception is that there is an easy solution. People are looking for an easy fix to this and it’s not easy. It’s a mindset shift. It’s a paradigm shift. It’s a culture shift. It has to start from the top and go all the way down through all the echelons of the company. It’s cross departmental, because you can’t put sustainability or sustainability reporting in one person’s hands or even one department’s hands. It’s cross cutting. It touches all the different departments and functions of the organization from the highest levels of the organizations, including the board of directors, to the risk management teams, the strategy teams, and the finance teams. It’s not easy, and there are no shortcuts. There are, however, tools, resources, and advisors that can help companies along. It’s important to understand that it’s a process. It’s a never ending continuous improvement process. This is not a one time thing, in that you can’t just put out a report and be done with it forever. 

Life and aspirations

A typical workday for me right now is not something I would advocate or recommend because it is not sustainable. A typical workday for me will start very early in the morning, because as soon as I get up and I have my cup of coffee, I review the news, as well as my email feeds of information, newsletters, and alerts for any new developments in the industry. I also use my LinkedIn feed as a source of what’s going on in the space, new papers being published, announcements being made, decisions being made in the corporate sustainability reporting, and sustainable finance space. That typically takes a little bit of time and then my meetings usually start around 8:30am and will last until 5 or 6pm. I am in a lot of virtual meetings, too much for a human being to handle on a long term basis, and that means that the actual work that I have to do is typically done either really early in the morning or after 6pm on a seven day basis.

I would say that my work life balance isn’t the best but that is due to a combination of the fact that the space is intense, and the type of people who work in this space are people who tend to be very passionate. They understand the importance of their work and so they don’t want to let opportunities to help pass. This means they tend to take on a lot and burnout becomes very common, unfortunately, and we have to be mindful of that because that doesn’t serve anybody.

The most challenging from a time perspective is having enough time to be able to work properly and to produce work that is of the quality that I would like it to be. I love what I’m doing and all the projects are interesting to me and so the problem is not that the things that I’m doing are not interesting or worthwhile, it’s that they’re so interesting and worthwhile that I would love to be able to invest the amount of time they deserve to do something really really great.

Novisto is a startup that’s growing very quickly and trying to be part of the solution to the problems and challenges that companies are facing today. I’d like to find success in providing that solution and helping as many companies as possible. The whole point of working for a software company is to develop a scalable solution to be able to help 1000s of companies rather than dozens as an advisor. In the next few years, I would like to see that come to fruition, and to be able to keep pace with the changes in the market to continue meeting the needs of companies as those needs evolve. I think there’s a lot of information and educational awareness to be developed in all spheres of the marketplace and I enjoy doing that as well. I’ll continue to do that as well for as long as I feel that I have something relevant to say.

Advice for the next generations

The three skills would be the ability to think critically, well developed management capabilities (of both people and projects), and the ability to interpret information and generate actionable insights from that information for companies and individuals. Critical thinking is extremely important because we are bombarded with information and so the ability to distinguish between good, reliable, and true information, and what is just noise is important. From there, to be able to distill that information into something that is useful for people and help them build their knowledge and general understanding so that they can make better decisions is critical.

I don’t think there’s any one degree that is mandatory, because I don’t think any one degree gives you both the breadth and depth of knowledge or experience that you need. I think a diverse background is most relevant because if you’re studying just finance, you’re missing out on the sustainability piece and if you’re studying a sustainability degree, you’re missing out on the business aspect and the finance aspect of it. Part of the reason progress has taken so long in business as it relates to sustainability is because the people in these different functions have been talking different languages. In fact, they haven’t been talking to one another at all. So going back to the notion of it being a paradigm shift, the idea of integrating these concepts of sustainability into every single other discipline is the best way to go. Sustainability is not a stand alone expertise because sustainability is an agglomeration of multiple different issues that are each very different. Somebody that’s an expert in Human Resource Management will not be an expert in water consumption or environmental spills of toxic chemicals, or anti-corruption and bribery policies. So it’s very hard to have one particular sustainability expert for all of those issues. Sustainability is a great silo destroyer because you need to rely on multiple different expertise to address the issues holistically.

When looking at personal characteristics that are demonstrated by somebody I’m interviewing or working with, I look for honesty, integrity, and human values like kindness, generosity, and collaboration.

I wouldn’t change anything because I think that careers are long and winding journeys, and everything that you do, and every experience you have is relevant and brings you something. You may not know what it is right away but you will one day when you have to do something similar and you can pull from your previous experiences. I also don’t think there’s any bad experience or that there’s anything that’s essential. There’s nothing you must have in order to succeed in this space outside of having a good head on your shoulders. Of course you need things like having analytical skills and communication skills because you need to convey a lot of information to others. It’s not something that stays in your brain or your computer. It takes quite a bit of maturity also in terms of understanding our role as human beings and the relationship we have with nature. You need to understand how fragile we and our lives are on this planet. In addition, maturity is needed to take responsibility for these things. It also takes a positive attitude and a sense of hope because there’s no alternative and the only option not on the table is doing nothing because that will just make things worse. It’s important to realize that we can’t do it alone. It’s everybody or nobody. It’s everybody all together, doing the same thing, or nobody will benefit. We need to look beyond our own horizon because we’re doing things for other generations, not just for ours.

As for career advice, having a strong work ethic, a good head on your shoulders, and the ability to keep a learner’s mindset are very important. As an employer, what is most useful is a person who can figure it out and be able to make connections when you show them things. When people are looking to hire people out of university, they have no expectations of experience, per se. The expectation they have is that if they train you, that you will be able to do it, and then take it further by internalizing what you’re learning and start making the connections needed to then be able to make suggestions that bring a new dimension and add value to the company. That is a skill that doesn’t depend on a certain degree in school. The more you demonstrate that skill, the more responsibilities and autonomy you will get which will allow you to contribute more. That is invaluable. In addition, you need to be humble enough to do the best job you can do on a task, regardless of what it is and if you feel it is important. How you do things matters and it enables you to learn more along the way.