Profile: Bettina Denis, Revaia
The Drawdown (TDD): You worked at Deloitte for sixteen years as a director before joining Revaia as CFO / COO, what prompted the change?
Bettina Denis (BD): I had been at Deloitte for a long time when I met the founders of Revaia. And at a time when ESG wasn’t in the mainstream yet, they offered me the opportunity to join an entrepreneurial project driven by their vision of sustainability.
As a consultant, I had counselled companies on various issues. But Revaia gave me the possibility to really partner with them, collaborate and support them on their trajectory.
So it was a very natural move for me, although it was a big change in terms of firm size.
TDD: You’ve served as Revaia’s CFO since 2019 and in that role built up the firm’s sustainability practice. What has now prompted the dedicated sustainability role?
BD: I have been defining and implementing Revaia’s ESG strategy over the last three years. It is something I have created, to that extent it is personal to me, and I wanted to keep creating value with it.
On a firm level, we’ve reached a couple of milestones this year and decided that a dedicated sustainability team is necessary to effectively support our portfolio companies. That’s why alongside myself as head of sustainability, we’ve also brought on board Anaïs Blarel as a sustainability manager.
TDD: How is ESG integrated into Revaia’s operations?
BD: It’s implemented on several stages and I’ll give you two examples. On the environmental side of the coin, we calculate our own carbon footprint as a firm. However, we also contextualise it in our ecosystem. Our portfolio companies have a big impact on our carbon footprint, so when investing in a company we assess the impact at portfolio and at GP level.
On the social side, we strive to be a diverse firm. Today we have a team consisting of 50% men and 50% women and we actively work on maintaining this ratio. We conduct training sessions on topics such as unconscious bias for example and our hiring process will include a representative from each gender throughout every step.
TDD: How would you assess the role of head of sustainability or comparable titles in the overall PE landscape?
BD: If we look at the landscape of both VC and growth capital, it’s quite unusual to have a dedicated, internal department. You will often find the position shared between individuals, as a part-time role, or even outsourced.
But I think the role will only become more important and more technical. On the one hand, from a regulatory viewpoint, as legislation develops. The European Union’s sustainable financial disclosure regulation is really just the beginning. I think the expectations will become stronger as time moves forward.
On the other hand, it becomes more technical from an operations point of view. For example, in previous conversations about climate impacts, no one had to do a carbon footprint. Now, everyone knows how to measure theirs. So the next question and step will be, how do we reduce the carbon footprint, offset it?
As we all become more competent on the subject matter, it becomes more evolved. Today, the focus is clearly on the environment - the next step will be biodiversity as it is important to mitigate negative impacts of climate change. Then there’s social regulation and the social transition, gender equality for example, and how we govern it.
TDD: How do you assemble the information you need to execute your role?
BD: It obviously starts with data collection. When I was CFO, I had to report a lot on a quarterly and annual basis. One thing frustrating me at the time was a lack of feedback on the information I would provide.
So we actively try to give feedback. We conduct an ESG campaign once a year. We gather data on each portfolio company, assess its strengths and weaknesses, and we communicate the status in one-on-one meetings. We also provide them with benchmarks, comparing them to peers and competitors.
Additionally, we share this data with our LPs and are very proactive about this. Some LPs send us Excel sheets to fill in but we also organise quarterly meetings, updating them on actions implemented on the portfolio level, current projects etc.
More and more LPs demand data regarding ESG and that we’re inquisitive about the data we send. Their questions revolve around governance, diversity, how many women sit on the relevant boards? How many independent experts? I had an LP ask why a particular portfolio company had not achieved the carbon footprint it should.
They really want to see that we’re actually analysing the data.
TDD: What will be your focus for the next twelve months?
BD: We’ve applied for a B Corporation certification and are currently being audited for it, which will definitely require a lot of my attention in the coming months. I would also like us to meet the highest standards in terms of ESG. This requires implementation of ESG criteria for the selection of portfolio companies and setting up an impact committee. We also implement an ESG business plan for each portfolio company, containing KPIs they need to reach over the next four to five years.
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Denis highlights the importance of a GP being a sparring partner for their portfolio companies, working with them to address issues. “We conduct at least two big meetings per year with each portfolio company, on different topics,” she says. “Most of them won’t have a dedicated chief impact officer, but they will have an ambassador who we have regular discussions with and who reports to us.” However, it’s important that this is done to support, rather than penalise: “We’ll regularly ask about any issues they need assistance with and leverage our network for them, make introductions where helpful.”