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Fireside with Joshua Morshead

Who is Joshua?

I am the father of four beautiful children, and the husband to an amazing wife – who keeps us all organized with her impressive German efficiency! I would be lost without them, they give purpose to everything I do. Exactly eleven years ago, we relocated from my home city of Melbourne, Australia to live in a small country village in northern Germany. I suddenly found myself amidst the polar opposite of climates, cultures and career prospects (or lack thereof), where I needed to adapt quickly and find my feet. We had just started our family at the time, so becoming a father was perhaps the biggest adjustment of all. Plus I was still finishing my MBA, so it was also the threshold to my current role in business management. Carrying the responsibility for my family, whilst finding my way in a foreign country and having to make a living in a new profession really made me feel like an grown-up for the first time in my life! But looking back, I think those are the times which have formed my character the most.

Tell us more about your role in Sphera.

Based in Chicago, Sphera Solutions is a global provider of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) software, data and consulting services. In my role as Regional Manager for the Nordics, I spend a lot of time talking to companies about what is driving them to take action on sustainability. Up until just recently, I would mostly hear about the pressures coming from customers, sustainability rankings, industry regulations and the competition. And while these drivers were all very real, it was still very easy for companies to simply pay a bit of lip service towards sustainability that would keep their stakeholders happy. This is the part that I’ve seen change dramatically over the past few years as the climate crisis escalates; these days, I am hearing about boards and C-levels across all industries that are making sincere efforts to build ESG into their corporate values and long-term roadmaps. It is truly a fascinating – and historic – time to be working in this space, and I am privileged with Sphera to have a front row seat to watch these changes unfold across the industry each day.

What is the most difficult part of your job? But the most rewarding one?

My challenges are the same ones that my clients face – to figure out how to improve ESG performance and then use it as the foundation for a competitive advantage. This requires a complete re-think of how corporate success is measured against a new third bottom line for ‘planet’. In my view, this begins with having the right skills internally to properly graps the sustainability issues that are at stake. You can see that sustainability has never been a major topic for companies in the past, which is evidenced by the huge skills gaps around ESG that is severely slowing them down in meeting their net zero targets. Meanwhile the pressure is building – investors want to see companies not just vaguely referring to the Sustainability Development Goals on their websites and reports, but actually putting them into action with clear metrics, reliable data and audited reports. What we’re talking about is a top-down transformative approach that takes sustainability beyond just the nice-to-have side topic that is has been in the past. Now we are clearly seeing that the climate crisis has escalated ESG up the corporate agenda so that it is now about ensuring long-term viability as we face the biggest challenges humanity has ever known. Helping companies to navigate this new terrain is definitely the most challenging, but also the most rewarding part of my job.

Is there anything that you would change about your professional path?

Definitely – looking back, I wish I had taken the first steps in my career more carefully. I chose my undergraduate course in health sciences when I was still just seventeen, at a time when I had still never worked a full day in my life! Instead of taking time out to think about it, I just dived straight into a four-year bachelor degree which I’m still paying off today. I was half-way through the course before I started having serious doubts about whether it was right for me – but by that point I had already invested so much time and effort that I figured I should at least finish it. After my first few years out in the workforce and even doing a diploma to become more specialized, it still didn’t get any better. I had come to the realization that different people are suitable for different jobs, so I needed to work out what kind of job would be a good match for me. In the meantime I landed a job in community development, running social integration programs with marginal groups in Melbourne’s southern suburbs. This was a time of real personal growth for me, which also gave me my first experience in a basic management role – which I loved! Realizing for the first time that work can be a source of energy and inspiration if it aligns with one’s natural abilities and core values, I started to think about a career in business management. This soon led me to start my MBA which is when I really learned what I’m cut out for. So what’s the lesson to this story? Well, for any readers out there who feel like you’re stuck in a job that just doesn’t match who you are and what you are good at, then I strongly urge you to take some time out to think about a completely different path. It is never too late to switch, and it was the best thing I have ever done!

What’s your key strategy for the development of your company?

88% of investors say that a top concern for them is climate-related risk, which is crazy given that many of them are also planning to double their ESG assets in the coming five years. New types of risk – particularly natural hazards and regulatory compliance – are impacting companies everywhere, including their supply chains. As a Blackstone-owned company, Sphera follows a clear strategy to strengthen our presence in this growing market by helping our customers prepare for and mitigate the challenges that lie ahead. Most recently, Sphera acquired my previous employer, riskmethods, which is a German-based software company specializing in supply chain risk management.

This move strengthens our presence in Europe and in the U.S., while at the same time allowing us to help even more companies to operate in a safer, more sustainable and productive world. Our future development as a company will be to dig deeper into the ESG space with a strong portfolio of solutions that serve the diverse and complex range of topics that our customers need to address on a daily basis.

What do you think about the next period of time, keeping in mind the pandemic and the new business climate? How will your industry be affected?

Today’s business world is becoming increasingly defined by climate change which is literally changing the face of our planet. Droughts, pandemics, food insecurity, and rising temperatures have a domino effect on the environment that impacts all industries, everywhere. As we cross tipping points and enter the entirely new epoch of the Anthropocene, the climate crisis is changing the way we live our lives, from the food we eat, the products we buy, how we travel and even the kinds of jobs we do. Right now we are in what is widely recognized as ‘the decisive decade’ – in other words, this is our last chance to influence the fate of our existence on this planet. As this last window of opportunity rapidly closes, we need to learn how to decouple our economic growth from our resource use. I am baffled by the fact that modern human society has completely forgotten how to live on this planet without belching out massive amounts of carbon emissions – and yet here we are… So to turn all of this around, the coming years will see the most rapid rate of change ever experienced on earth. This is the time when humanity needs to put our differences aside, and instead draw together our combined brilliance, our ingenuity and our resourcefulness as we collectively learn how to conserve our planet, rather than consume it.

Please name a few technologies which have the greatest impact on your business.

Companies these days are not suffering from a shortage of technological solutions, but rather the ability to merge the ones they already have. Just last week I was speaking to a company with a particularly diverse IT landscape spread across sixteen major manufacturing sites, twenty-two distribution centres, fifty-four local sales offices and four large corporate offices. Each of these locations has its own set of data management systems in place, including multiple fragmented ERP, ERM and PLM systems. As complex as this IT setup sounds, this scenario is very common after decades of mergers and acquisitions that have broken down companies, sold them off in parts which are then patched them onto other companies. That is how we have arrived at this point, where we have a minefield of different tools and systems that were never intended to integrate with each other in the first place. What we end up with is data silos where information is spread across different departments and sites worldwide, making it a major project to build an accurate picture of company performance and work out what’s really going on. This is where I see an urgent need for better APIs and other system integrations to allow the smooth flow of data throughout the business. This needs to be combined with AI to check data quality as it passes between the different systems to filter out inconsistencies and errors. Especially in the ESG space where companies are desperately gathering data from across every part of the global operation, it is important to remember that having bad data can be worse than having none at all!

What books do you have on your nightstand?

Currently I’m teaching a university course on Corporate Sustainability, so I’ve been busy lately gathering a lot of different perspectives on climate change. One of the books that I came across is called ‘Sustainability for the Rest of Us’ by a journalist called John Pabon. It provides a great step-by-step introduction to the environmental issues we’re facing today, and what the average person on the street can do in their daily lives to reduce their carbon footprint. I am really convinced that the battle against climate change really needs to be won at this individual level by making smarter, more sustainable choices. Another book that I have kept on my nightstand for a while now is called ‘Our Final Warning – Six Degrees of Climate Emergency’ by Mark Lynas. This one really packs a punch, by taking the reader through each of the different environmental scenarios if our climate heats up by 1 degree Celsius (above pre-industrial levels), then 2-degrees, 3-degrees, 4-degrees, etc right up to a terrifying 6 degrees where things really go off the rails! I was particularly haunted by the 3-degree scenario which is when civilised society would collapse, leaving us in a desperate Mad Max world where everyone is reduced to fighting against the elements – and also against each other. The other book on my nightstand has been a constant companion for a very long time – The Bible. This is what triggered me to get interested in climate change in the first place. Right at the start, the Book of Genesis makes it crystal clear that humans have a special role to play as custodians of the planet and everything in it.

As the most intelligent species, we have been entrusted with the power to either abuse the natural world around us, or to care for it. In his recent COP27 speech, Al Gore made it clear that we can either choose curses or we can choose blessings. Ultimately, I believe how we respond to the climate crisis will be determined by our human nature – are we selfless enough to make short-term sacrifices for our long-term survival, or are we so selfish that we will actually orchestrate our own destruction?

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