For Jessica Alsford, one of the unexpected joys of serving as Morgan Stanley’s Chief Sustainability Officer and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Investing has been discovering how enthusiastically her children support the cause to which she devotes her work. “My eight-year-old son is a real eco-warrior,” she says, adding, “He wants to be a conservationist and he turns off lights in empty classrooms at school.” When Morgan Stanley recently gave employees aluminum water bottles and stickers promoting an app that tracks how their use of a refillable option over single-use plastic cups helps prevent pollution, “He took a bunch of the stickers into school so his classmates could put them on their water bottles,” Alsford says.
In fact, it was while on maternity leave that Alsford, who is based in London and was at that time the co-head of the European Business Services Equity Research team, pivoted toward sustainability research, which focuses on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and their impact on investments. It’s an area that Alsford was eager to turn her talents toward. In her role as CSO, she continues to offer leading insights. In this article, for example, she discusses how climate change disproportionately affects those living in poverty and how to address that inequity.
“These topics, they can’t be ignored—they have to be addressed,” she says, adding, “We think about sustainable investing in the broadest sense. It’s about investing in companies that are going to be able to generate sustainable growth, but also sustainable returns. We really believe that these factors can have an impact, both on the way a business operates and on the returns they will be generating for shareholders in years to come.”
Alsford and her team have regularly ranked among the Top 3, for both individual sell-side Analyst and team ESG Research, in the Institutional Investor survey.
You were previously Morgan Stanley's Global Head of Sustainability Research. What did you do in that capacity?
I evaluated all the sectors covered by our Equity Research teams to assess how different ESG factors might impact company valuations, either positively or negatively. Under this ESG perspective, we consider topics such as climate change, resource efficiency, human capital, supply-chain management, health and wellness, and management incentivization. We believe that this approach can provide investors with an additional layer of analysis to ultimately enhance investment decisions.
Institutional investors are increasingly adopting sustainable investing practices, whether through specific thematic funds or ESG integration across all assets under management. Our analysis helps these investors to execute on their desired approach to sustainable investing.
How does Morgan Stanley identify emerging trends within ESG?
All of our reports are written in collaboration with the Equity Research analysts. There is a lot of reading and thinking about future trends, and I have to stay on top of the news across all sectors to understand what drives a business, and then think about the risks that may affect its value. We need to know something about a lot of different topics to be able to analyze how trends may develop. I also spend a lot of time meeting with industry experts, speaking to our clients and engaging different parts of the firm that are also focused on sustainability issues.
How does Morgan Stanley promote an entrepreneurial spirit within a large firm?
There is certainly no predictable path of progression here, but opportunities arise consistently. You are encouraged to take these new opportunities and make the most of them, with the full support of the firm and your colleagues.
I joined Morgan Stanley as an associate on the Transport team in Equity Research in London. My responsibilities quickly increased to include stock coverage and then just a year after that, I was asked to help create a new research team focused on the Business Services sector. I took advantage of that opportunity to develop and run that team for the next five years.
I heard about my current position while I was on maternity leave. When I returned to work, I took on the challenge to build a completely new business within the firm.
How has Morgan Stanley supported your career goals?
In my 17 years at the firm, I’ve had a varied, challenging career that has allowed me to accomplish many things, with new goals consistently placed in front of me. I always took great comfort in knowing that, whatever my project, if I did my part, the organization would support me in making it happen.
What impresses you the most about the firm’s culture?
We help each other achieve here. People concentrate on more than just their own roles, and in that way, we help each other, and we learn from one another. I’ve been impressed by the attention to training and career development as well. The firm has helped prepare me for each step along the way and made sure that I had what I needed to succeed in each new role.
Have you found mentors here at the firm? How have they shaped your experience here?
The firm’s outstanding support extends to the mentoring relationships, too. To get the most out of it, both the mentor and mentee have a responsibility, so being clear about what you each want to achieve helps tremendously. The relationships have worked for me and helped me build incredibly useful networks at the firm.
How is the work/life balance at Morgan Stanley?
As a working mother, I have had an amazingly positive experience at Morgan Stanley. It is always a juggling act, but this is a company that sees the value in ensuring that women with children are able to carry on with not just a job, but a rewarding and challenging career.