What motivates someone to try and make a difference? Tom McKenna explains what inspired him to instigate an environmental focus within the workplace, and how sharing a common cause can bind and bring together our colleagues, regardless of where we are in the world.

By Tom McKenna

‘Do more. Achieve More.’ is more than just a strapline for ZEDRA. It’s a guiding principle that helps us to face challenges and take opportunities to ensure we deliver the best possible outcomes for those around us.

Almost four years ago, Associate Director Tom McKenna spearheaded an environmental committee from our Jersey office, which soon expanded to form ZEDRA’s Global Green Team. Now spanning all of ZEDRA’s global jurisdictions, the successful initiatives of the ESG taskforce and Global Green Team give ZEDRA far more influence to truly make a difference, not just for the benefit of our colleagues and clients, but also for our planet.

Read on to discover more about Tom’s story, the path that brought him to the role of Associate Director at ZEDRA, and why he feels we all have the power to shape ZEDRA and grow together.

Tell us about your early career. What did you learn about yourself through that process?

I would say I haven’t had a conventional path into finance, and I certainly never expected to be in the position I’m in today. I’m very happy in my role and enjoy it and, particularly over the last few years, I’ve been able to apply my passion for the environment within my job, and that’s given me a real sense of pride in what we’ve achieved.

When I was younger, I was interested in lots of different things; I was a keen football player, I played in a band and studied art at university. Through it all, I always had a passion for environmental matters and really wanted to make a difference, but I could never really see a career path in that area. After my degree, I did a Masters in Sociology, and then came back to Jersey, where I was born. After weighing up a few career paths, I went into finance, got my head down and did my exams, and then the deeper I became involved, the more interesting it became.

I appreciate that my career path has been different to other people who perhaps knew from day one that they wanted to go into finance and studied economics or business. What my Sociology Masters gave me was a deep understanding of the different theories on how society works, relationships between people and business and an awareness of different trains of thought, which has been invaluable to me, as I now have clients from all around the world.

Was there a moment when you realised that you could bring your passion for the environment into a working context?

I remember, my colleague and I were in the breakout area at the office, where there were a lot of plastic water bottles in the bin. I began to take them out and put them in the recycling bin and when my colleague saw me doing that, she realised that we shared a similar mindset, and we started talking about what we could do. I think that’s often the case, people may be on the same page as you when it comes to the environment, but they don’t speak about it, unless they see other people taking action, volunteering for an event or attending a seminar.

I’ve never wanted to preach about it, just simply to improve awareness and help people make informed decisions more easily. So, ZEDRA already had a very active CSR committee, but we felt we had an opportunity to do more on the environmental front. We created a Jersey environment committee at the end of 2018, which went very well and enabled us to launch a lot of great initiatives. Then a year later, we expanded it into a Global Green Team so we could tie in all ZEDRA’s other jurisdictions, and it has grown from there. The idea was also that it would be an important tool to help bind and bring together the different jurisdictions, in a way that would help us get to know our different colleagues better.

Now, four years on, we’re really far ahead, which has put us in a very proactive position. In the past, people may have thought that in a finance role, you wouldn’t be able to touch too much on the environment, because you’re focused elsewhere. But that’s really changing now; the quicker the more agile organisations adapt, the better place we’ll be in with the environment, and the benefits to the businesses will be huge too. Our clients are also aware of our initiatives, and that’s also important because they begin to see the type of work we are doing, and the way our business is positioning itself.

What character qualities or values do you feel you’ve developed through your experience?

I’ve always found myself to be extremely competitive and determined. I would say I’m probably quite persistent; if I put my mind to something, it’s hard for me to switch off. I don’t give up easily, I like to see things through.

Is there a time that you did something that someone might consider ‘heroic’? And if so, how do you view yourself, your life or your career as a result?

I don’t think I’ve done anything in particular that I’d say was heroic, but I remember the early meetings when I was making presentations about the environmental committee to our managing directors and client directors. I was very nervous, and it took a lot of courage to push those initiatives and ideas, especially when some of the benefits are so long term.

It’s easy to just sit back and let things carry on as they are. It takes courage to push through and create change, especially when you need people at all levels to realise that we all need to work in a different way. Now after four years, the vast majority buy into what we’re trying to do, and it’s really rewarding to see the momentum we’ve gained.

What have been some of the opportunities that you’ve noticed?

I’ve found that our initiatives have really been helpful for business development. We’ve now started to invite other firms that we work with to join us on some of our events through the year, which could be tree planting, key maintenance or beach cleans. They’ve become in effect B&D events, but instead of just going out for a few drinks and networking, you get to roll your sleeves up and together make a difference for a good cause. It’s great for conversation starting because you bond during that time and really get to know people. Afterwards of course you still have a few drinks, but it leaves you with a good feeling. We’ve all done something worthwhile with our time, and also ZEDRA can encourage other firms to be more ESG-minded and then hopefully they commit to doing similar events themselves in the future. Also, following the events, I have met up with the more environmentally-interested individuals at these firms to give them ideas and tips on how to do more at their organisations, further developing the relationships.

It’s helped us to align with our clients on a deeper level as well. For example, these days, ESG is not simply about the slant of your investment portfolio, it’s also about having a holistic view across all the assets of the trust and looking at everything you do in an organisation. I often use the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to open up discussions about ESG, because they are so wide ranging and a great starting point to see that it’s not only about the environment, but also about tackling social and gender inequalities, and doing what we can to make the world a better place. There’s been a lot of talk in our industry recently around if trustees aren’t considering ESG, then perhaps they are not fulfilling their duties by looking far enough ahead to think about the long-term beneficiaries of the trust. So, it’s good to see it all moving in the right direction.

If you had to name four qualities that you think a hero would display, what would they be?

Determination, courage, passion and being responsible.

If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would you say?

Just believe in yourself more. If you really set your mind on something, you can make great progress and really make a difference in what you want to do.

Don’t let people tell you that ‘you can’t do this’, ‘you can’t do that’, ‘that career’s not right for you’ or ‘that path is out of your reach’. Put your mind to it and be determined and you’ll be able to get to where you want to be.

What words of wisdom would you like to pass on to colleagues who are just starting out on their own journey with ZEDRA?

We all have the power to shape ZEDRA and help it grow. And if there’s something you believe could be improved, then speak out. Do something about it. People will listen.

What do you feel most proud of in your career at ZEDRA?

Definitely the progress we’ve made on the ESG front. We’ve made significant achievements in the Jersey office such as the Rewild Carbon partnership. We recently calculated that over the last few years, the Jersey staff have planted 468 trees, that’s more than four trees per member of staff, which is a great achievement. And of course, we haven’t just planted trees, we’ve done so many initiatives which gives me a lot of pride.

Back at the beginning, when at times it felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall, I remember a fellow director said to me, ‘Tom, you’re pushing this boulder up the mountain at the moment, and you’re almost at the top. Just that little extra push, and you’ll get that momentum and it’ll really start to snowball.’ That’s always stuck with me, because it was so true, and we have gained so much momentum since, which is brilliant.

Pick four words that describe what you feel you bring to ZEDRA life.

Energy, enthusiasm, integrity and persistence.

What would your Superhero skill be?

So, to be able to fly would be amazing, but a superhero power I’d love to have is one that’s a bit less glamorous. It would be the ability to make all the doubters understand the extent of the issues we face when it comes to the environment. I would love people to take the time to read more about it and realise that it’s not just something that’s happening in the Maldives or somewhere else in the world, it’s affecting all of us, and the longer we take to make the necessary changes, the harder it is going to become. I’d love to have that power, just to be able to flick the switch and make people understand.

What do you hope will grow from the initiatives or that you have helped to begin at ZEDRA?

I’m very proud of the environment and the green teams that we’ve created, and the work we’ve done so far in our international jurisdictions. To me, it’s the start of a long journey. There will always be challenges, and there is still a huge amount of work to be done, but we’ve come so far, and we now have a plan in place, which is great.

What do you hope people will gain from reading your story?

I think it’s back to that point that my route into finance has been quite interesting and different. I’ve always wanted to bring my character and values to my role. A job in finance isn’t always as vanilla as people may imagine; the finance industry has a huge impact on society and touches all parts, and in turn those in finance should have an appreciation, knowledge and the opportunity to get involved in everything it touches. We need to be aware of our impact but embrace it as a great opportunity.


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