Former Scottish Widows responsible investments and stewardship head makes private market switch.
Maria Nazarova-Doyle has joined IFM Investors in the newly created role of Head of Sustainable Investment, where she will continue to grow the firm’s Global Sustainable Investment team.
A key focus of her role will be the implementation and measurement of sustainability initiatives across the IFM’s global portfolio which prevalently features infrastructure assets.
IFM Investors is a global investment manager owned by a collective of 17 Australian pension funds, including AustralianSuper, Australian Retirement Trust and HESTA. It makes investments on behalf of 665 institutional investors globally.
The firm is primarily a private market investor, with an emphasis on critical infrastructure investments such airports, seaports, toll roads, and renewable energy producers. Its infrastructure assets currently includes 39 portfolio companies with operations spanning more than 20 countries.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on IFM for a long time, so it’s such a pleasure to be here,” Nazarova-Doyle told ESG Investor.
The firm’s alignment with pension funds and strong focus on systemic risks provides an “excellent platform for driving positive change and fostering collaboration on large-scale projects worldwide”, she added.
“Aligning aspirations and commitments”
Nazarova-Doyle joins IFM following almost four years at defined contribution pension scheme Scottish Widows, where she was initially Head of Pension Investments and Responsible Investments before becoming Head of Responsible Investments and Stewardship.
In this newly created role, Nazarova-Doyle will be responsible for running IFM’s global sustainable investment team. While the firm has between 700 and 800 employees and £117 billion (US$147 billion) in AUM, with a team of ten people responsible for the overall coordination of sustainable investment at the firm.
One of her key responsibilities in the new position will be to continue the hiring process to further expand and strengthen the team, ensuring that IFM establishes a “robust global presence”.
Nazarova-Doyle will also be focusing on “aligning aspirations and commitments” across the firm.
“As the company grows and they have more products and more investments across different classes and regions, it makes sense to have that central team that coordinates everything so that everything works in unison,” she added.
Nazarova-Doyle said new her role will see her focusing on strategy, measurement, reporting, and accountability to ensure the firm “works as one whole”, as well as setting a “realistic level of ambition”.
She added that her objective is to support the firm’s growth and its wider aspirations while ensuring that it “doesn’t go in too many different directions”.
Nazarova-Doyle is also currently a UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) board member.
Strengthening sustainable investment
Nazarova-Doyle described IFM as having a “unique position” on the cusp between asset owner and asset manager.
She said that the firm’s investments are focused on “very long-term projects” due to IFM being pension fund owned. Sustainability is an “integral part of their approach”, she added, not just something that is “fashionable”.
She underlined the strong social focus of IFM alongside its work on environmental concerns.
“These pension funds represent hardworking people, and the way they manage their investments reflects a comprehensive consideration of social issues,” she added.
According to Nazarova-Doyle, the convergence of pensions, sustainability, and private markets is “where the magic happens”, adding that IFM excels in all three areas.
Luba Nikulina, Chief Strategy Officer at IFM, said that Nazarova-Doyle has joined the firm at a “crucial moment” of increased client focus on the risks and opportunities of issues like climate change and energy security.
“Maria’s in-depth experience and technical knowledge of investment stewardship helps strengthen our broader sustainable investment team and will support our clients in achieving their investment objectives,” she added.
Reporting directly to Nikulina in the new role, Nazarova-Doyle notes that sustainability sits within strategy at IFM. She noted that this was “unusual” but the “right thing to do” and demonstrates how important sustainability is to the overall long-term strategy of the business.
Private sector return
Nazarova-Doyle has previous private market experience, having started her career spending just shy of two years at US$6 billion AUM Russian private equity firm PromSvyazCapital.
“Private markets have always had a special place in my heart,” Nazarova-Doyle said. “I know how good it can be in terms of the returns for investors, but also in terms of the outcomes and impact in the real world, so if you do it right it can be a force for good.”
She also noted the increased degree of control afforded by the private market compared to public and the “huge” contribution that private market investments can have on sustainability and systemic risks facing the environment and society.
Private markets offer a “quite significant” opportunity to “roll up your sleeves and get things done and make a lot of positive change directly without having to persuade many people”, she added.