Tomas Sys was appointed principal consultant at environmental consultancy, Ramboll Environ, in April. He offers his career advice
What has helped you get where you are in your career?
When I was starting my due diligence experience in the mid-1990s the practice had newly ‘arrived’ from the USA. With experts thin on the ground it was this service capability gap, combined with my desire to find out more, that presented this opportunity. I do find it both captivating and technically challenging that there are no two projects the same. Work certainly does not get boring. I have been privileged to look behind the scenes of countless industrial facilities/sectors and travel to numerous geographies, often places where you would not go as a tourist, and I’m convinced that my language skills (I also speak Czech, Slovak and Russian) have helped me with cultural challenges along the way.
Who have been your role-models/mentors?
Maybe predictably, I have learned from numerous colleagues since starting my due diligence career. I do recall one colleague in particular – a global mergers & acquisitions (M&A) practice leader – from whom I learned a lot. He was a very tough taskmaster who taught me the importance of robust report writing skills in due diligence reports – always reflecting on whether the text could be substantiated if challenged, avoiding so-called charged language and ambiguities, and being empathetic of the report audience who may not be technical experts while still making sure that the report passed the ‘so what?’ test.
What qualifications are the most necessary/most beneficial in the consultancy sector?
Today, all consultancy, even environmental consultancy, is delivered by professionals from many different backgrounds. There is no comparison between the scope of work for environmental due diligence between 1990s and today: it has mushroomed from contaminated land appraisal only to assessing environmental and health & safety compliance and resulting reputational risk through an environmental, social and governance (ESG) scope.
People come into environmental consulting with degrees in geography, geology/hydrogeology, chemistry, engineering, environmental sciences and others and it is really hard to say which one might be better. I came to consulting with a geological background and it is my view that such knowledge is very helpful in due diligence projects to understand potential risk from a contamination perspective. However, given the breadth of environmental disciplines, different people will have different opinions. My view is that while a university qualification is important, postgraduate experience is more important in environmental consulting than any specific qualification.
What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way? And how did you adapt to these challenges?
Unlike legal and/or financial due diligence, environmental due diligence is not the first thing on the mind of many deal-makers. Some clients have had to be persuaded at first that this service adds value to what they are trying to do. Communication with clients and understanding the merger and acquisition (M&A) process are key to success, as well as becoming fully conversant with different deal structures and terminology and adapting the assessment approach to accommodate the deal stage/process, the drivers (which can evolve during a single transaction) and client concerns amongst others.
Listening to, and learning from, other deal team members (lawyers, financial advisors, sellers, buyers, insurance brokers, etc.) have been essential on that journey. These transactions are an adversarial process with conflicting interests between the vendor and buyer. A successful consultant must understand these pressures and be able to deliver a report that presents technical findings within a commercial context.
What have been the pivotal moments in the environmental sector?
I believe it is businesses’ realisation that successful companies cannot afford simply to be reactive to environmental regulatory requirements. There are now numerous examples that show companies making commercial gains through embracing environmental challenges, turning them into opportunities and influencing their supply chain. This approach and stakeholder communication increases environmental awareness among consumers and continues to stimulate the environmental sector while minimising environmental footprint from industrial activities.
How do you get the most out of your team/colleagues?
Single individuals cannot deliver a typical present-day due diligence project for a portfolio of businesses or properties to the quality and scope complexity that clients require. Team effort is required so encouraging team spirit through positive communication, team mentoring and appreciation of the effort put in by everyone helps me to get the best from colleagues.
Where do you think there are the most job opportunities in the sector?
I believe the greatest opportunities are with progressive companies that recognise that ever-increasing product scrutiny by consumers and regulatory enforcement require service innovations to deliver products that are relevant and address the challenges faced by clients. The largest companies do not always present the greatest opportunities as they may not be flexible enough to adapt quickly. At the same time, globalisation requires consultants to provide support in multiple jurisdictions, so the employer’s geographical footprint should be very important, opening up other opportunities to work on more challenging and interesting projects worldwide.
What other advice do you have for people about to embark on careers in the environment and sustainability field?
Do your homework! Firstly, be clear what you want to do and assess whether your ambition matches up with your employer’s goals and their delivery capability, for instance in terms of service offering and geographical coverage. Then, focus on understanding your clients’ needs and the drivers behind those needs and innovate your service accordingly. Standing still is not an option.