Inspiration: Jane Ambachtsheer

Pensions at the dinner table, recalls Jane Ambachtsheer of her early years spent with her father, Keith Ambachtsheer, president and founder of KPA Advisory Services Ltd., and a well-known name in the industry.

Ambachtsheer says she benefited from her father’s expertise from a young age. In addition to the casual chats about the industry at home, she had the opportunity to learn while researching his second book while completing her undergraduate degree in economics and English lit at York University in Toronto.

In 1997, she began full-time work at Cost Effective Measurement (CEM), a pension benchmarking firm co-founded by her father. And, when a Dutch brokerage firm approached CEM to do a joint venture and have someone head up the operation, Ambachtsheer, 23 at the time, got the call. “I was the only non-married portable person, so they moved me to Holland,” she says.

Despite all this exposure to pensions, Ambachtsheer says she didn’t necessarily consider a career in the industry to be her calling. After a year at the brokerage in Amsterdam, she had arranged plans to move to London to join Mercer—until a lecture changed the course of her life.

The lecture, at the University of Amsterdam, focused on international refugee movements. “It was this whole other world. I’d been spending all this time in pension funds and I thought I needed to take a step back and broaden my horizons,” she explains. So, at the lecture break, she left the room and called Mercer to turn down the position, cancelled her flight to Toronto and then called her mother to tell her what she’d done. “Then I went back into the school and finished my lecture.”

In Amsterdam, she completed a master’s degree in political economy and international development, before joining Mercer’s London office as an analyst in 2000.

Initially, most of her time at Mercer was spent helping to globalize the firm and heading up special projects. But Ambachtsheer was introduced to responsible investing (RI) following changes to the U.K. Pensions Act in 1999 mandating that plans disclose their approach to environmental, social and governance issues. “That was the perfect storm of my master’s and my background. So I volunteered to work on the file.”

Three years later, recognizing a growth opportunity, she led the creation of an RI consulting unit at Mercer. Since the unit’s launch in 2004, Ambachtsheer has relocated to the Toronto office and today leads a team of 15 people around the world.

Ambachtsheer says in addition to making good investing sense, RI can help pension plans connect with their members. She points to the many surveys indicating that employees want to work for a good corporate citizen. “Why don’t you make your pension plan sexier, in terms of living the values that you know your employees care about? The pension statement could have a page of all the cool things you’re advocating for and investing in.”

Ambachtsheer’s passion for RI and sustainability goes beyond the workplace. She teaches a graduate course on RI at the University of Toronto. And she has lent her expertise to the United Nations as a consultant on the development of the Principles for Responsible Investment. She’s now working on a project looking at solutions to “quarterly capitalism” (investors focusing on short-term performance rather than long-term sustainable growth).

But Ambachtsheer is the first to admit she’s still learning. “I still learn a lot from my dad. It’s a real privilege to be able to shoot him an email and say, What do you think about this?”

Brooke Smith is managing editor of Benefits Canada.

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