Season 1 Episode 5 – Paul Beijer – Edited Transcript
Conversations on Climate – Season 1 Episode 5: Paul Beijer – Edited transcript
Paul Beijer Edited Transcript accompanies season 1 episode 5 of the Conversations on Climate Podcast series
Section one: what is government relations?
Chris: Thank you so much for joining us and spending the time today, Paul. It’s great for you to invite us to your wonderful hometown of The Hague – in a lot of ways the heart of Europe, and the brain of European politics.
Now, your background and your current job – current expertise – is in public relations, government relations. Would you care to explain what that means, for the likes of us who might not be quite so familiar with it as you are?
Paul: Government relations is just one of the functions in large corporates, or any corporate for that matter, to support the business; just like you have finance, HR, IT support. Usually, at least in larger energy companies where my history and my thinking was formed, you have the group of corporate or commercial diplomats that support the leadership of the business, just like those functions do. But it’s a much, much smaller group of people.
What they really do is two things. They put their eyes on the ground and listen to what the political climate is telling them, about potential changes in the regulatory environment that is relevant for the business they support, and bring that information in. And what most people see more of, or comment more about, is the role that government relations staff play in influencing government on the back of the desires and strategies of business.
I would say that where they really add value is precisely on that intersection. So that business is in a position of knowing well what the political climate looks like – what is and isn’t possible to pursue from a business angle.
Section two: keeping climate a priority
Chris: Okay. We’re living in a world where governments are – talking from a European and US perspective – very much driven by news cycles, and have very short attention spans. How do you see the role of government relations in keeping climate change on the agendas of governments, both here and in other parts of the world?
Paul: Well, there are a few structures that help governments, wherever they are, keep that objective of dealing with climate change in an effective way at the front of mind. And I’m thinking, of course, of the COP 26 meeting that just happened in Glasgow, and has been happening for many years. It’s one of those conventions where, as a government leader, you are confronted with actions and policy changes that other government leaders are proposing and pursuing.
So that’s one mechanism in this very complicated set of agendas, which are very local. In the end the problem is global, but the rule making capability and power is a very, very local affair. Frankly, I see it as a process that’s been going on for a while, and has been quite experimental in many ways.
Of course, we are now facing a pretty existential crisis, but also a pretty unique opportunity. I’m sure we’re going to talk more about what that looks like. But that’s the backdrop – that politicians also need to convince their populations that change is needed, because it’s going to be painful and costly.
Chris: But geopolitical events happen and can knock agendas off track. At the moment Ukraine is a very clear and present game-changer for climate. How do you see recent events impacting on government policies?
Paul: I’ll go first back to the principal that politicians will promote new policies when it’s in their interest. That’s how politics works. I think there is a bit of a unique moment in time now where, for the first time, politicians realize they need business to be able to achieve their policy objectives. For the first time, there’s an overwhelming majority of voters, in those places where you are allowed to vote, that have indicated that they find this a very important topic because it’s the future of the planet.
I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect storm. But a lot of things are coming together, that give politicians confidence that this is a shift in their position they can make – in favor of putting pretty challenging policies in place.
One of the things that will help them, I’m convinced, is that they have had two years of experience in dealing with the COVID crisis. None of that was a plain-sailing set of interventions by government anywhere in the world. They were finding it out as they went along, changed policy from one month to the next, had a lockdown and didn’t have a lockdown, etc. But I think there is a degree of confidence that governments have gathered through that process, that makes them realize that this crisis is also something that they just have to manage through an experiment from time to time, but also take head on.
And there’s a unique moment in time, while governments themselves have created the financial conditions to allow them to get money into the energy system and support the energy transition. Because of the money they’ve been printing, and the interest rates that were so low for quite a while. I think people realize in all layers of society, and also in government, that this is the only opportunity we have to make some significant change.
Chris: So why haven’t they been doing it?
Paul: Because they were not motivated enough. When you think about the carbon price, for example, I remember when I was with Shell – because they had a certain interest and promoted gas over coal – they promoted a carbon price of $50 per tonne. The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme is a matter of cap-and-trade: the allowances were so high that the price was stuck around $10 per tonne at that time.
If you don’t incentivize people to change the way they use and produce energy, they’re not going to do it. You and I need to feel it in our wallets, and companies do too. Now the price is over $100 per tonne, coal is being phased out quite quickly throughout Europe and we’re only talking five years on. So the urgency wasn’t there, is my conviction – and now it is.
Section three: how to make friends and influence governments
Chris: And if you were advising a multinational on how to influence governments, what are the top three things that you would be saying? If you are starting a team from scratch – for a company that is out trying to expand, trying to get into new markets – how would you be advising them to be setting up a team?
Paul: The first thing is you need to be very, very aware of how you can be an effective influencer – of a politician, of a government. For that, you need to know what makes those government leaders tick, and how they make their decisions. So if you ask me what kind of advice would you give a company who wants to set up a unit like this from scratch, it is to understand that that’s how politics works. You need to continue to invest in those relationships, even, or preferably when, you really don’t need them yet. It’s just like human beings – you can usually only ask a favor if you’ve put some credits in the bank with your friends.
The second thing I would say is that the industries I serve are usually large, asset heavy industries with physical assets on the ground. Lots of engineers work in those businesses – mining, chemicals, oil & gas, obviously energy. And the people who are in power in those companies, the CEOs, are usually 70-80% engineers who got an MBA and then rose up the ranks. They are confronted with politics a bit later in their career – not when they’re engineers, but when they have profit & loss accountability. A responsibility for the reputation of the company.
My recommendation to companies of that nature is to allow some of these rising stars, that might be your future leaders, a stint in this outfit – or have them help create it if it doesn’t exist. You learn how the real world works; which is not just your P&L, it’s the environment in which you operate.
The other thing I would add for people that then start to become those commercial diplomats…Whether you get them from the business or, which many companies do, hire them from governments because they know how the government works and have the connections…Most of the time, I recommend people in those roles to spend more time understanding how the business works, how the business makes decisions.
Return on investment is usually an area where government relations folks, diplomats, have less interest in. They like relationships, influence, the political climate – they are great communicators, they’re networkers. But when it comes to engineering, finance, definition – very important – it’s not usually an area they’re very good in. And so for those people I would recommend, spend some time with the economist who builds up the model that allows the board to make decisions.
A bit of a long answer, but it really depends on where that particular company is and what needs attention.
Chris: And what are the major differences between working in Europe, or the US, or South America or Africa? Where there are fundamentally different ways of governing.
Paul: First of all, the profession of the public affairs function originated in the United States. That concern about reputation was very closely associated with the brand value of the business. Of course, in Europe – in Brussels, but also in the capitals of Europe – there is also quite a well-developed public affairs or government relations function. But that’s not necessarily the case in Africa or in the Middle East, or maybe even in Asia. In Japan, for example, this whole notion that there is a separate specialism to deal with the outside world; it’s very counterintuitive to a society where collective decision making is the name of the game to begin with. It’s really in Western societies – in the Americas, in Anglo-Saxon economies – that this function is really grown up.
So it’s very different depending on where you are, and how Shell acts or BP acts in Latin America is also very much driven by what the rules are in the country where the company’s listed: Anti-bribery and corruption, antitrust, privacy laws, transparency. Reporting what money you spend on lobbying, for example, are concepts that are very well developed – except for transparency, frankly – in the United States and in Europe, but not so much in other places in the world.
Section four: can oil and gas change its spots?
Chris: Obviously those type of companies, like the oil majors, have had until relatively recent days, a very bad press in relation to how they’re dealing with governments. The types of pressures they’re putting on, the types of financial incentives that are being handed out, to try and influence things in their own ways. Things like financing climate change denial.
There’s been a more recent shift from the various oil majors towards embracing the green/climate change agenda. Do you see that as being sincere?
Paul: Is it sincere? As long as you believe that there is an irreversible trend towards renewables, and dealing head-on with climate change. Because companies want to survive. The question you should ask – to all these individual companies rather than to me, because it’s their sincerity we’re talking about – is whether they believe there is a future for them, if they change their model and manage through the energy transition.
Can they succeed in doing so? That’s the key question to ask them. I think many of those companies think they can. Are they investing enough? Is it going fast enough? Well, that depends on who you ask. And so many of these large oil majors have tried to reinvent themselves to the extent that has at least earned their place back at the table.
For example, in the United States, you have a lobbying organization that represents oil and gas only and is very much focused on maintaining the status quo. Some of the oil companies that are interested in thriving through the energy transition, as many of them say, leave that association, because their interests are no longer represented by an industry association that just focuses on maintaining the carbon-driven economy.
So I think some of them are forced to make this shift – which is probably the best way to put it – and are doing so because they realize it’s a pretty existential crisis if they stick to their guns, to what they’ve been doing for many years.
Chris: Yes, there is the argument that’s the best reason for the oil and gas majors to be in the energy transition – and the advantage they have – is they’ve got the balance sheet and they’ve got a lot of expertise in building large infrastructure projects. But above and beyond that, what else do they really bring to the table?
Is it a bit like asking Philip Morris how to give up smoking?
Paul: Right. Because on the one hand, if you think about their objective of making a return for shareholders, there’s a lot of money still to be made from oil and gas. Oil and gas are going to be required for a very long time into the future. They have their assets, they made their investments – they make those investments not for two or three years, they make them for 30 years. So you’re right there. They are in a split to defend, as much as they can, the cash cow – that is oil and gas – and use those funds to finance that transition.
The benefit that oil and gas companies have is that it’s a systemic transition. It will take time. You know you can’t skip [forward], if you’re addicted, in many economies, to oil and gas. You can’t skip that era. So they have to use their balance sheet, their existing positions, and they also use their convening power. I think the fortune that large oil companies have now, is that the urgency to make quick changes is so significant, that their skill to do big projects is what governments now require.
It’s not enough to tinker around with a subsidy level being at 10% or 15%, to get people to buy electric cars or do one or two wind farms. It’s not enough. You need to move to hydrogen for industry. You need to change the way you divvy up the land. Which is not necessarily an energy topic, but farming is a big contributor and needs to a change. And the governments, I see them taking central control of those changes, and all of a sudden, those large companies that know how to do large projects are therefore at the table. Because they have the expertise.
Chris: But moving into the hydrogen economy, as you brought it up for example, is going to take an enormous amount of political will. At the moment for large industry I can absolutely 100% see it happening – but only if the powers that be create very significant support. Billions and billions. How do you see government relations assisting in that?
Paul: Good question. There’s a number of new players that they need to show up with, because other companies and industries – the steel industry, cement industry – suddenly need to build new value chains and supply chains, that allow [hydrogen] to happen throughout those industries. And those industries are different than energy industries – they’re consumers of energy.
So suddenly there’s a different set of people showing up. Government relations folk can identify the need, bring people together and try to create an agenda for those new coalitions to be effective vis -a vis government – because they know the priorities of government and how government works. I would also say that hydrogen is just another gas. It’s a different gas, but you can use some of the existing infrastructure that energy companies are actually operating at the moment to distribute hydrogen. There’s also that reason for energy companies to stay involved in this particular transition and be taken seriously.
I would also add that, if you’re on the receiving end, you are a commercial diplomat. You see all this happening around you. It’s a struggle because firstly, the political landscape is more fragmented than it used to be. There are more voices to listen to. Secondly, the speed at which regulation needs to change is significantly higher now than it was only two or three years ago. There’s not only more diverse opinion of government that comes across their desk, but it’s also louder; it’s more amplified through social media as well.
I see government relations people operating more on the back foot, in a reactive mode now than perhaps even three or four years ago, when they were in a position to be proactive and to drive the regulatory framework. It’s a new world for many government relations people in this business.
Section five: the power of transparency
Chris: So a big part of the role is smoothing out the background noise, trying to keep key people on message, trying to keep them focused on the big picture in the long term rather than just reacting to whatever is happening in the moment.
One of the topics that you mentioned earlier on was transparency, and you indicated that this is a failing of current governments in this part of the world. Would you care to expand on that?
Paul: The thing is, the regulations that affects businesses, energy companies included – like anti-bribery, corruption, anti-trust, privacy and transparency laws – are all required to ensure that all stakeholders are operating on a level playing field. So the pros and cons of making policy decisions are properly balanced.
You want to get politicians the right information to make those decisions. I think in that context, it’s really important to recognize that some companies have the funds, and therefore the power, to have more influence. It is good for equilibrium if government has a responsibility to try and equalize the amount of influence that the various parties can have.
I think it’s very, very important that transparency laws are as precise and well-described as possible. What might have been okay in the past, where companies exert influence (and they will use a concept that I refer to as a plausible deniability) …I think governments and politicians will try to get the regulations to change, so that instead of plausible deniability, the burden of proof will be placed more on large companies to prove their innocence with regards to having a perverse effect, if I can call it that.
All these regulations play an important role in achieving that. I think it is extremely relevant and appropriate for other stakeholders, who look at that lobbying process, to be very skeptical and actually demand these regulations be beefed up.
Anti-bribery and corruption has been around for a while; anti-trust also. but the European regulations around privacy, where the Commission, when you violate those regulations, can fine you 4% of your global revenue – that’s a relatively recent change. And I expect that this particular set of rules around transparency is going to be more detailed in that direction. Which will be beneficial for those companies that have nothing to hide, and communicate based on facts and science as best as they can. It will be in their interest to see that regulation come through.
It will take time. I always say is that in that the way you conduct yourself, vis-a-vis government, you should expect to be judged by the standards of tomorrow and not by the laws of today. You should have an honest story that you can defend, even if laws are tightened over time and people start looking back.
Chris: The analysis must be slightly different though, when you’re dealing with a difference between an oil major – a BP, Shell – and a Saudi Aramco, or a company that is essentially a state. How does the analysis change with that?
Paul: It really depends what company, or what’s your home country. Of course, Saudi Aramco needs to comply with regulation when they operate in the U.S., which is designed by Congress and not by the Saudi state or the Kingdom. But what you see is that global companies – otherwise they can’t run their business in any sensible way – adopt the standards that they’re used to in their home country as the global standard, and apply that everywhere in as much as they can. And that equation, that that calculation is different for Saudi Aramco than it is for a BP, an Exxon, or a Shell for that matter.
Section six: paths into GR: Paul’s personal story
Chris: Would you care of tell us a little bit about your journey to those points; from a finance function in Shell strategy, up to advising multinational corporations on government policy?
Paul: I like that question because it’s what I personally went through. I think it was ten years ago that I moved out of finance into government relations. And what I did was the strategy, the planning assurance. The internal stuff – this was an organization at the time of 150 people or so around the globe – had a reverse pyramid with lots of seniority, gray hair and experience at the top, and minimal support at the bottom. Not too many junior roles. And I was asked to help them because of my finance background, to create a bit of structure, definition, measurement. Things that a finance guy likes to do in this world of language, influence, relationships. Which was a journey of six years almost. When I made a change, I said to many people: it’s felt, after 17 years or doing finance roles, like my wings were clipped. Now I could get involved in lots more than the finite role of a finance manager, with certain boundaries that you are not supposed to cross.
It was an amazing move, which taught me an enormous amount not just about myself, but also about how companies operate and what the real world looks like. And then at the end of that journey, I got an offer to go back into finance and be the Group Risk Manager. So that’s again at the back-end of the decision-making, when you do the analysis and the numbers rather than have influence over our strategy and the way we work. So, after some introspection as one does at that moment in life, I chose to start my own practice and help companies build their G.R. capability. That’s what I’m now doing.
Chris: Fantastic. A very, very difficult decision to make I’m sure, moving from an enormously secure environment…
Paul: I know. I’m not the born entrepreneur; I’m pretty risk-averse by nature. That’s why I chose a big company like that. But it was a big learning journey, I can promise you.
Chris: How do you go about learning how to do that – developing those new skills?
Paul: The key thing I did, as I was framing my value proposition, was to approach people in these fields – lobbyists, people that do public affairs in other large companies. I had defined what I thought the problem was that I was interested in helping people solve, and how I was going to go about it. The way I approached them was to ask them what they thought of the idea, rather than pitching or selling or asking support.
I just said: look, you know much more about these rules than I do. This is my idea, what do you think? And the network that I had in Shell helped me open doors and talk to people who could give me that advice, but also my other groups where I’m active in society opened doors for me. Everybody was very keen to help. With every conversation, my value proposition got a bit sharper and a bit clearer, until it was ready for my first job as a consultant.
What I also had to develop was the process and the technology and the way of identifying the problem, building the strategy to fix it, and then helping people implement that strategy so that the problems were actually fixed. I had to learn that by doing, and developed a couple of tools and methods to make that a good process.
Chris: In relation to client acquisition, I know a friend of mine who recently left Goldman Sachs who said: no-one had ever refused a call from me because I was calling from Goldman Sachs. My first day on the job, no-one ever refused a call from me. Now, doing this, I’m just calling as me – it’s a lot more difficult!
How did you go through the client acquisition process?
Paul: It is a lot more difficult, but it’s also a little more rewarding. Because you know when they want to speak to you, they want to speak to you. I was lucky enough to find my first consulting activity from a former colleague who knew how I worked, what I was able to bring. You need some good fortune, frankly, to succeed.
It’s always exciting; it still is. Whether or not the next job is going to appear, I can develop relationships that give me the ability to help people. Don’t forget, it’s not like I’m now advising on how to set up a financial system – you have many companies that can do that. When I’m helping companies with their capability improvement, it’s usually a very sensitive and confidential set of topics that they need to allow me to take a look at. Influencing government, as you said before…there is skepticism around big companies influence. It takes time.
There’s a number of strategies that I use. I speak and teach in Brussels every year, writing my articles, I’m approaching people on LinkedIn just to share information. It’s all very soft selling. It’s just building and expanding my network and trying to build my reputation.
Chris: And hard graft. If you were advising somebody who hears you speak and thinks: that sounds fantastic, what a great career, how interesting and varied that is…how would you advise, let’s say an LBS MBA student who’s listening to this. What would you say about how to get into it? How they should be trying to structure an interesting career in this field?
Paul: I need to distinguish what I do from what many consultants in this field do, because they’re the lobbyists. The firms that many companies hire when it comes to G.R. are the lobbyists. They have that Rolodex of contacts in government – in Washington or in London or in Brussels or other places in the world. And they are people that are being hired because they know the lay of the land in that capital, know the people operating in the capital, and they can be the voice of the company in advocating on behalf of the company.
In Washington. D.C. alone, there’s 11,500 registered lobbyists. And there are other people who are not registered as lobbyists formally, who also influence government. It’s a big town. It’s a big number. That’s not what I do. I don’t go and lobby the Dutch government on behalf of foreign companies.
There are other specialists in this field that go out, and rather than advocate and represent you, they’re more people that gather intelligence to give you the lay of the land in a particular nation or a capital – where you want to do an acquisition, perhaps, or you want to know how that works for new projects.
I also don’t do that. I don’t do the work to influence government, or tell you what governments think. What I do is help build that capability in the center. And so, for example, my current client asked me to help build the capability, the function in the first place. Part of the work involves identifying the lobbyists in Washington, for example, that have the wherewithal and the credibility and the knowledge and the reputation to actually assist them in their agenda in that country.
That’s a procurement process. Procurement people for big industry, they know how to buy valves and equipment and cranes and pipelines, and maybe some services like maintenance services or the services of the McKinsey’s of this world. And those strategy consultants, you know, that come back all the time through a revolving door – they don’t know how to buy lobbying support. So I can help them with that.
To go back to your question, there are not many people that do this. If people are interested in this field, you’re trying to basically optimize how companies operate and work with governments and improve the relationship, I can almost say they should call me and have a conversation. Yeah, McKinsey has an outfit that does what I do, and there are a few others out there, but it’s not a big group.
Section seven: what success looks like in a renewable future
Chris: But your role isn’t simply recruitment. When you said, ‘I find a lobbyists’… I’m sure that’s one string to your bow, but there are all the structures in the organization, and the processes all around it.
Paul: The protocols, the ways you need to track performance. That’s where my finance hat comes in. Government relations people…if there’s one topic they find really challenging to make decisions on, and constantly have discussions about, it’s the metrics of good government relations, of success in that particular field. It’s amazing. I get asked to talk about that quite regularly, and to write about it even.
Chris: You’re just about to be asked about it again! How on earth do you measure success in government relations? What are your KPIs?
Paul: It’s a great question, and there are so many myths around it. In many fields, people make it way too complicated, and the answer to something that’s very complicated is to simplify it, frankly. Be really clear. The way we did that, and the way I now advise companies how to deal with that challenge, is quite simple. It’s to sit down with the business, and ask them: Okay, what’s your objective this year? The year after, and the year thereafter. What is it you want to achieve, and which bits depend on government, on regulation, on influence with government, on support, on changes in the Constitution even?
You have a really robust conversation about the support and the resistance you can expect from government, given the particular business agenda. Yoi work through that, and you can usually identify three to five key things where, as an organization, you’d like to help that business through your relationships with government. Then you have your government relations objectives defined.
I say to people that once you’ve done that, you’ve already done 90% of the job because it’s about aligning with the business. You’re not there for fun; you are there to support the business, achieve results. If you can give that a dollar number – what’s that worth? That constitution changing in Mexico, so that international oil companies can actually come in and participate and compete with PEMEX, for example – that’s a pretty big change, right? If you can’t put a number on it, put one of five buckets there. Is it $5 million? More than that? Up to $25m, more than $25m to $100m. More than $100m. But don’t be too precise. If you can’t, for whatever reason, find another measure for that particular objective. Is it the number of clauses in the Constitution? There were four in Mexico – can you change three? That’s 75% of your objective achieved. Is it the number of times you’re in a position to put the CEO of a company – your company – in front of the president of the country, because it’s a relationship that’s really important to support your business? If you think you need two [times], and you only achieve one, that’s not so good. If you achieve three it’s much better. You can add that up if you want.
Then you track that per quarter. Sometimes just six-monthly, biannually is enough to do this. But it’s not so much about the metric itself, it’s much more about this conversation that you constantly need to have with the business. Whether or not you are pushing for something, influencing an agenda with government, that the company and the business still appreciate.
Chris: The renewable energy industry is really – and certainly compared to the oil majors and the large multinationals – in its infancy. Do you see there being a large, significant opportunity for people like yourself to be advising the renewable energy industry at large?
Paul: I don’t compete with the lobbyists. So it becomes interesting for me – I can add some value – when there is some scale. You can have conversations. For example, we talked about government relations people being on the defensive, in reactive mode and information overload. Well, there is technology out there that helps you identify a number of themes, and you get fed with what’s happening in the political climate on the themes that you’ve chosen. So rather than you having to sift through all the papers, and all that sort of stuff that gets presented to you, there’s software out there.
Let’s say you’re the country chair for a big corporation. You come into a new country where you’re the representative on behalf of the corporation, and you want to identify the movers and shakers in business and in politics in this country. There are people that can map that out for you very efficiently and effectively, using social media and all kinds of feeds, rather than you taking the manual business card approach and meeting people at conferences. When it becomes a bit more systemic, and you talk about these things or about the need for training, or the need for a mechanism or a method to do the tracking of results as we discussed earlier – that is interesting for me, simply because that’s my background and my comfort zone.
Paul: When you then think about renewables businesses, I would ask myself: where would the scale come from that allows them to think systemically about government relations? It can come from acquisitions and consolidation in the industry, which I expect. Some of that is facilitated by the oil majors, because they buy renewable businesses to have a more complete offering, so to speak.
The renewables industry themselves could have a bigger voice, to create that scale and create that influence by getting together in associations. But I think it’s a very fragmented industry and there’s a reason for it – because technology is still developing quite a lot. For one problem, there are ten different technological responses. So the answer is: it really depends.
Chris: Personally, I see the renewables industry transforming our energy systems. The world is moving towards developing enormous infrastructure projects in all parts of the globe. I would be very curious about how you think that somebody like ourselves in United Renewables might be thinking about how we can get into other parts of the world: Southern America, or Africa… there’s enormous need for renewable energy infrastructure, for stable infrastructure where you can have reliable electricity that isn’t necessary dependent upon grids.
Paul: The first thing is that in the renewables industry, but also in many others, if you’re not present yet in a particular country then government relations and business developments are two sides of the same coin. Very often, regulatory frameworks need adjustments and tweaks for you to actually enter. It becomes part and parcel of your business development agenda.
There is opportunity for people who understand how governments work in those countries to assist you. For example, if you’re interested in Latin America and don’t know how to access that, there’s people that can help you with that. Do I have, in my network, people that I can recommend to you, very practically? Yes, I do, anywhere in the world, because I call my old friends and I explain the problem without mentioning who it is that’s looking for this. They’ll have an idea.
So it is very possible to identify people on the ground in any country around the globe who have the network and the knowledge to assist you. I would also say that before you do business with any of those people, you need to “triangulate” – do some of the normal due diligence around these people, to make sure that you’re operating and working with the right person. Individual facilitators exist, but you need to be a bit careful how you reward them. That’s very important, so that you do that in a very compliant manner.
This notion of supporting industry that still scaling up, to facilitate and help those organizations doing that G.R. bit systematically as they grow –then you help an industry that is worth helping get more effective relationships with government.
If you ask business leaders, often they believe their interests are aligned with the interests of governments. Then you do some statistics around that: only 7% of business leaders say they regularly feel they’re able to align with the interests of governments vis-a-vis their business. Only 7%. And if you then ask those same people to give you a score on how good the processes they have in place are, to engage with that stakeholder (you’ve got many other stakeholders, your customers and your employees and all that sort of stuff) …The one process that’s least robust of all is the process companies use to engage with the government, with that stakeholder.
CEOs have it, I think, in their top five concerns. They’ve mentioned, for a long time, geopolitical uncertainty and overregulation, which have a bearing on how you deal with government and how often you align. [GR] is very relevant if you’re worried about that, to have them in good shape. So I can imagine a thousand reasons why a company feels that there’s also opportunity to improve that.
Chris: Even in looking at what we at United Renewables are doing, we’re talking to governments about trying to put projects together. I do think that maybe there is a larger opportunity than you’re suggesting in the renewable space, because we really need to be talking to governments. We’re in a position where regulations do need to be written; planning laws need to be revised; grid infrastructure needs investment from governments. It’s not a business-as-usual situation that we’re in, and it’s something that does require an awful lot of political support. You do need the political support. And to do that, you need to be talking to the people.
Why is there not more of an opportunity? Why don’t you say: Yes! Renewables is the place we need to be?
Paul: Well, I’m saying that because it’s not my expertise to do the talking to the government.
Chris: But if we need to be putting systems in place, why aren’t you saying: Chris, you at United Renewables need to be putting together systems in place. I do this – I can help you.
Paul: Yes, fair enough. We had a really nice conversation about that last night, where you were putting a case in front of me. I asked you a couple of questions, around the strategy and the stakeholders and who influences who, and the order in which you need certain things to happen in the regulatory environment to make that business opportunity a reality.
So absolutely, if I didn’t offer it last night, I’ll offer it now: I would be very happy to do a brainstorm with you and your team if you’re interested, because it’s an outsider’s perspective. [Someone who] at least conceptually, knows a little bit about what you might want to think about. That kind of role is the role that many of these lobbyists actually assume before they – on your behalf – influence government, or gather multiple renewable companies, you know, to have a bigger voice…or do the analysis and give it back to you, for you to then start influencing or gathering people around.
There are people out there that can definitely help you with this in a more practical sense. , It’s interesting that you say it, because I’m now working for a client that has not had a government relations outfit to speak of at all. They employ 100,000 people. This role was always part and parcel of leadership with the business leader – they thought this was part of their role. There was not a tradition, like in the US or in Europe, to have that as a separate function. This company, they’re now setting it up.
That question – should I develop my competence and skills as a company, but also as a renewables industry – is a very relevant question to ask. If the answer is yes, and there’s an investment you can justify, which I think you probably can – by investing in this, you are ahead of some very large companies that still haven’t recognized the value of this particular function.
Chris: Paul, thank you. That was very insightful and really fascinating conversation, illuminating in a lot of areas I had very little idea about. I’ve learned an awful lot from it and I hope our listeners and viewers learn similarly. It’s very kind of you to say that you’re open to people reaching out to you, asking questions. Again, Paul, thank you so much for your time. It is massively appreciated. It’s been great.
Paul: My pleasure.
Paul Beijer Edited Transcript accompanies season 1 episode 5 of the Conversations on Climate Podcast series, below are links to the relevant articles, videos, and transcripts.
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