Evora Global counts the world’s biggest property investors among its clients and has grown its headcount to 140 during its first decade in business.
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"Of all the proposals suggested, mine was ranked as the worst one,” laughs Chris Bennett, co-founder and managing director of Evora Global.
It was 2010, and the Birmingham born entrepreneur was working in the asset management industry. Bennett saw the emerging theme of environmental, social and governance (ESG) and believed it would become a mainstay of investment.
So, when Bennett and his colleagues were asked to submit some ‘new business ideas’, he suggested the company expand its fledgling sustainability offering to its clients and develop a software product.
“I saw ESG and sustainability as the future. So I created a plan of how we could really push the agenda for our clients on those fronts. My employers and colleagues were not impressed, to put it mildly. For them, ESG was still in the ‘nice to have, but not essential’ category. They saw it as a sprat to catch a mackerel, but not something to be taken seriously in its own right,” Bennett recalls.
“In a sense, I’m grateful my plan was rejected. I’d always wanted to run my own business, so I saw it as a sign and left to set up my own company.”
Bennett persuaded two colleagues, Ed Gabbitas and Paul Sutcliffe, to leave the security of well paid jobs and join his entrepreneurial mission.
Together, they founded Evora Global in 2011, with a plan to bring the world of property investment into line with the environmental concerns of the 21st century.
“Understandably, there were some objections from family members, as we were taking a big risk. Our plans were ambitious and it would have been very easy for us to simply continue our careers working for large companies. But myself, Ed and Paul had a sense we wanted to do the right thing. And once the decision was made, the support from our partners has been unwavering.”
Evora now provides ESG data and reports to investors, helping them understand how both climate risk, and the legislation designed to prevent it, will impact their portfolios.
“Our work makes it more likely investors will take steps to reduce their carbon footprints, invest in renewables and think about their property estates from a long term point of view.
“It’s a big conversation to have with a client, as you’re requesting they rethink their approach at a fundamental level. It’s still the norm to think of an asset within a five year timeframe. But a sustainable approach calls for asset managers to think in terms of a decade or more.”
With plenty of business experience and a substantial contact book between them, the Evora trio set out to bring in business. However, they soon discovered sustainability was a tougher sell than they anticipated.
“I had put together a plan to bring in six figures worth of business in the first quarter and, after six months, we had only achieved a fraction of that,” says Bennett.
The Evora team persisted, but realised they were battling a big knowledge gap in industry.
“I remember one meeting where Paul and I pitched to a large investment bank. Just before we began, we both asked one another: ‘is this too basic?’ But it was too late to change anything, so we presented a really simple presentation about why sustainability was important for asset management.
“We got a round of applause. The client said: ‘No-one has ever properly explained all this stuff to us before.’ It was a key learning moment. No one enjoys a presentation they don’t understand. So we’ve always kept it simple from then on and in a language our clients can understand.”
Steadily, Bennett and his team brought in clients and grew the business. However, they needed something to help Evora stand out from the competition. So they developed their own software, SIERA, to complement Evora's consultancy services.
Currently, the software is used in about 6000 buildings, by Evora’s consultants and building managers, who use it to record key data on energy use, waste and emissions. SIERA combines these inputs with global datasets to create reports that show how sustainable an asset and fund really is.
“SIERA puts a building and its true value into its global context. If you own a skyscraper in a capital city in Europe, you really want to know how much it will be worth if temperatures soar in that part of the world. You also want to know what you should be doing to make that asset sustainable, whether it’s adding solar panels or new heating systems, or doing a complete overhaul.”
Like many, Bennett feels the world needs to urgently adopt sustainable measures. Evora has accelerated its own offering with SIERA+, a user-friendly version of its software designed to be used directly by property managers. Meanwhile, legislation is now putting wind into Evora's sails and ESG is moving from the ‘nice to have’ to a critical metric for business.
“Legislation means investors must now report on a property’s sustainability. They must state if its location is prone to temperature increases, flooding or drought. So, increasingly, investors are looking at sustainability and financial data at the same time. By offering a downloadable tool, we feel we’ve got into the mix and are making it easier for the investment world to put ESG at the heart of decision-making.”
Evora now has staff across the world with offices in the UK, Germany, Italy, Romania and India and US expansion is next. For Bennett, success depends on finding the right people, broadening the company’s outlook and thinking both ethically and globally.
“We need to think on a bigger scale and that means hiring people with a broad diversity of viewpoints and experience, being as inclusive as possible. Over the past 18 months, we’ve doubled our headcount from 70 to 140 and I’m proud of how diverse the team has become.
“We all need to make fundamental changes to the way we are all living. It feels good to be driving sustainability through our clients. We still haven’t hit the panic button yet on climate change - I think it’s time we did.”