Oliver Light (EMBA 2023) – picking brains and tackling sustainability challenges

Currently Principal Director of Real Estate at Accenture, Oliver shares his thoughts at the recent Bayes Alumni Forum ahead of participating in a breakout session on the theme of “Climate Change, seeing through the hype and the importance of the transition to Net Zero.” He shares his views on the ways sustainability should be approached by industry and society at large, the key takeaways from his Bayes Executive MBA and alumni- and industry-oriented events such as the forum.


What is the theme of your breakout session?

My breakout session will be around climate change. The way that we’ve tried to angle it is to really invite the audience to question whether current approaches are remotely feasible or possible and, above all, if we can hit our 2050 net-zero goals.

We’ll be adopting the term “hype”, and whether we can see through the hype of solutions and technologies that have been exaggerated and aren’t necessarily having the impact that we would expect them to, versus those that are actually driving the change. We also want to think about transition but not just from a purely climate perspective. For example, how do we make sure we bring people along on that journey as part of a ‘just-transition’ and think about it as an enabler of green jobs that will provide disadvantaged communities with an opportunity to upskill and benefit, rather than seeing net-zero as a burden and a cost?


What other areas are you going to bring into the debate?

We’re looking to integrate other areas like nature, because all too often we think climate as an issue in silo and we can’t keep reducing carbon if we are simultaneously cutting down trees, losing peatland, and other carbon sinks at the rate we are, it’s an impossible ask. Hopefully the panel will provide a really valuable lens into seeing if we can build a bit of confidence that we are going in the right direction.

Interestingly, the reason why I was keen to angle it in that direction was thanks to one of Bayes very own lecturer’s Bobby, who I did a course with over in Amsterdam. He has been involved in sustainability academia since the 1980s. He really questions whether we should be as focused as we are on climate change mitigation, the actions designed to stop climate change, or if we should focussing more on climate change adaptation. The harsh reality is that we’re doing so badly against our targets, that we should be repositioning and reconsidering how our cities look and where people live.

What are your hopes and expectations for the event?

There might be a few pointed questions, but in everybody’s interest. There’s been a huge amount of backlash around the term ESG. We’ve seen BlackRock move away from the term ESG to actually how they do transition investing. I think there’s a really important duty of anyone who’s involved with sustainability to make sure that it’s being framed in a way that’s pragmatic and sensible, rather than verging on the preaching. That’s where we’re keen to get to via the breakout session.


How has your Executive MBA at Bayes helped you in your career so far?

I finished my Executive MBA in September of last year and it’s proven invaluable. It was a conscious decision with a very precise objective. I wanted to understand what I didn’t know. I’d been quite focused career-wise around sustainability. You have that humble moment where you realise that there’s a lot more going on and it’s important to understand the perspectives of the different people that you’ll work with, such as in marketing, private equity, mergers & acquisitions, or business operations.

The timing for the EMBA couldn’t have been better because our company was acquired by Accenture. I learned a lot going into one of the largest global management consultancy firms through that process. I learned a whole array of different skills, including soft skills via presentation training. You could be the smartest person in the room, but if you can’t land your point and can’t engage upwards, there is going to be a ceiling for your career.


What other insights has the Executive MBA given you?

The course gave us plenty of opportunities to think critically around notions on sustainability and how it could be viewed. We went to Palestine and Israel about five months before the terrible events kicked off. It was an incredible experience because, when we visited the West Bank, they saw climate change mitigation as a way for energy security and independence. They saw renewable energy as vital to them, but in a very different way than elsewhere. We were absolutely taken aback by the level of entrepreneurship, both on the West Bank and in Israel.

There was also the work that I did as part of a study trip to Holland and Belgium, which I was able to repackage and use as part of a report on whole life carbon for The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change.  I also did a really interesting paper around technology and again looked at which technologies are being overhyped. I’m looking to turn that into a book, which would be really exciting.


What benefits do you hope to derive from the Bayes Alumni Forum?

What I really like about Bayes is the access it offers to leading academics and professionals. It’s fascinating to see all these people from different companies that we may work with or know really well and get their perspective.

Bayes is excellent at staying at that sharp end of the market. For example, today there are sessions on AI and real estate, which is close to my heart. The workplace culture I think is really topical, given we’ve just emerged from COVID and we have more evidence now regarding what the “new new” actually looks like when it comes to working.

Last but not least, Bayes is always a great place to come and network and reconnect with old friends and meet new. The fact that today’s event is multidisciplinary is a real bonus too. That meeting of the academic and the business world is always fascinating to see, but I also think it’s what a business school has to do. Bayes does that especially well, so all the better for everybody attending.

View Oliver’s Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/oliverlight/