The new head of Boston Consulting Group has said he wants to hire climate activists to work for the consultancy as it pushes to win fees by advising companies on their plans to reach net zero emissions.
Christoph Schweizer also said the consulting group had tightened its policies on working for companies in high-emitting industries, turning down hundreds of millions of dollars in potential fees last year.
Consultants are locked in a war for talent as they compete for lucrative work advising companies that have made commitments to reduce their impact on the climate, presenting a huge commercial opportunity for the sector.
The race to win work advising on digital and sustainability projects means consultancies are hiring more data scientists and experts in climate and sustainability as they shift away from their traditional base of recruits with a business background.
Advisers including BCG have increased pay to retain staff but “you can’t buy top talent just with money”, Schweizer told the Financial Times in his first interview since becoming chief executive in October. “You have to win their hearts and minds.”
He added that part of the BCG’s pitch to prospective employees was that they could have more “impact” on the battle to slow global warming by advising the world’s biggest companies.
“We are now at this point where I can credibly say we want climate activists to join BCG,” said Schweizer, who is based in Munich. “It’s a bit of a surprise. No consulting executive would have said that two or three years ago.”
BCG, which employs about 25,000 people in more than 50 countries, increased its revenues by more than 20 per cent in 2021 he said, pushing its sales above $10bn for the first time. The group earns close to 10 per cent of its revenue from climate consulting, and Schweizer said he expected this to account for between a quarter and a third of its sales within four or five years.
Advisers such as consultants and public relations companies face increasing scrutiny from campaigners and their own employees over whether their values are matched by their actions.
BCG continues to advise companies in high-emission industries such as oil and gas, steel, cement and air travel. Schweizer said the group already earns more advising on sustainability than it does in the oil and gas sector and only works for companies that “have committed to their own decarbonisation targets”. It refuses to work on certain projects such as the purchase or sale of pollutive assets by clients, he said. The list of clients that it refuses to work with was growing, he added.
Thermal coal was the only sector where it would not accept any appointments, unless a client wanted to decommission a mine, but other industries could be added to this blacklist over time he said.
BCG and rival McKinsey have drawn scrutiny for their work for governments with poor human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. McKinsey, Bain and KPMG have also all been criticised for their work in South Africa after becoming embroiled in a scandal over systemic corruption.
Schweizer declined to comment on specific clients but said his company would not do work where there was a risk of it being “embarrassed” if its role became public.
“We don’t have different values in one market compared to another,” he said. “We turn down work in every part of the planet.” The group has said it does not work on projects involving military or intelligence strategy.
He declined to comment when asked whether he or any senior partners at BCG had ever met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who approved a plan to capture or kill Khashoggi according to a US intelligence report published last year. Prince Mohammed has denied any role in the murder.
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