[INTERVIEW] 'ESG leadership is about walking the walk'
Nov 10, 2021
Posted : 2021-11-10 15:43
Updated : 2021-11-10 15:48
John Walker, third from left, the chairman of Eastpoint Partners, speaks during the 9th Asian Leadership Conference at the Grand Walkerhill Seoul hotel in May 2018. Courtesy of John Walker
Ex-Macquarie Korea chairman emphasizes practicing ESG values in everyday life
By Baek Byung-yeul
John Walker, the chairman of Eastpoint Partners / Courtesy of John Walker
For companies, pursuing environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) principles has emerged as a new market trend in their drive to make society greener and more equitable while achieving sustainable growth. Especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movement towards embracing ESG values has accelerated, as companies have increasingly realized that one of the key elements for survival is co-prosperity with society and the environment. John Walker, the former chairman of Macquarie Group Korea and now chairman of Eastpoint Partners, said that when pursuing ESG principles what is as important as investing in the environmental part is how much people in leadership positions practice ESG values in their lives. "I strongly believe that ESG leadership is about walking the walk," Walker said in an email interview with The Korea Times. "It is not enough just to be investing in environmental projects, etc., but it is about living what you preach." In this regard, the chairman said that he definitely lives it, pointing to the fact that his small property in Australia is totally "off-grid." "All the power for the house, irrigation and others comes from solar and all the water from the sky," he said, adding that he also works as the chair of the board for organizations that strive to provide more opportunities for women, as well as non-profit organizations that offer healing to people through music. "I sit on the chairs of a number of boards, including the U.K-based Private Infrastructure Development Group and Infraco Asia Development, which develop and finance infrastructure in very emerging markets across Asia and Africa and focus on increasing opportunities for women," he said. "I am the chairman of the non-profit organization, Camarata Music, in Korea as well. My family charity, The Small Steps Foundation, supports taekwondo in Australia as well as a center which helps isolated communities develop writing skills," he added. In line with his efforts, he has published a number of children's books, the sales of which support environmental charities. Lastly, Walker is a singer-songwriter, whose three music albums have supported a broad range of children's and other charities. Walker retired as the chairman of Asia for Macquarie Capital and chairman of Macquarie Group Korea in May 2020. Over his 22-year investment banking career, he said that he has many fond memories, especially over the last 10 years, when Macquarie aggressively pursued renewable energy investments. Prior to his banking career, Walker was a government official for 26 years and the head of a number of ministries. This part of his career also touched on ESG principles, as he was responsible for introducing energy efficiency labelling for electrical appliances in Australia in the 1980s. Being recognized for his efforts, Walker was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), which is equivalent to receiving a British knighthood. Following his retirement, Walker said that he was determined to work only for companies as a board member or an adviser if those companies make a positive difference to the communities they serve. "I am truly privileged to be in a position post-retirement to contribute more to society," he said. He also established Eastpoint Partners Limited after his retirement, which has offices in both Hong Kong and Seoul. Walker said that he has had a "spectacularly unsuccessful attempt at retirement," adding, "However, I am very satisfied with the success of Eastpoint Partners to date in achieving a balance between my passions for ESG and doing business." "Eastpoint operates under an affiliate structure and has affiliate partners in China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia. This very young company focuses, among other things, on advising governments in developing markets on how best to attract investors into developing essential infrastructure, with an emphasis on sustainability and ESG," he said. "It also works to partner like-minded foreign corporates with domestic companies to their mutual benefit, and helps corporates raise capital to aid their growth." John Walker, then-chairman of Macquarie Securities Korea, speaks with The Korea Times and Hankook Ilbo Chairman Seung Myung-ho before The Korea Forum 2018 begins at The Shilla Hotel Seoul, May 3, 2018. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Eastpoint's work to date has overwhelmingly been in the energy transition sector. Some of the examples include: partnering up very well-known Korean and Chinese companies to establish a new mobility fund; advising Indonesian government entities in the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund and more recently, a sustainable investments fund; advising a growing renewable energy company in Korea on gaining a major foreign investor; and assisting several energy companies in the United States to establish a presence across South East Asia. Walker made the point, however, that work by Eastpoint has not been just about green finance, but more broadly about all of the principles of ESG. "We've focused on how best to structure the governance of companies or projects, and how best to contribute to the communities who will benefit from the investments," he said. "Very recently, Eastpoint Partners has also sponsored a number of events to benefit communities, such as the recent joint meeting of the Korean and Australian Business councils, where a key agenda item was hydrogen."