Alumni in the spotlight: Matt Wise

Matt Wise is the Head of Strategy and Business Development at ABB in the Electrification Service division, leading the energy transition in industrial automation by supporting customers to improve the sustainability and reliability of electrical power. Read on and watch the video as he provides an overview of his time as a participant in WBCSD’s Leadership Program and the practical solutions he brought back to advance ABB’s sustainability journey. 

Key takeaways 

  • Since participating in the Leadership Program, Matt has taken action to ensure sustainability is not merely an extension of traditional business strategy but rather an integral component, deeply ingrained in the fabric of decision-making processes. 

  • Embracing innovation and appointing a dedicated sustainability team, Matt supports ABB’s prioritization of research and development aimed at delivering sustainable products and services while optimizing operational efficiency through energy-saving measures. 

  • In pursuing sustainability, Matt emphasizes the importance of embracing progress over perfection. 

What motivated you to join the Leadership Program? 

At the time, I was looking after strategy for our electrification business area, which is a $15 billion business area with a presence in over a hundred countries, and sustainable development topics were turning from a trickle into an avalanche. Every discussion you would have with business leaders covered sustainability from all angles, from supply chain and raw material sourcing to operations and net-zero to sales and evolving customer needs around sustainability. I realized that to be able to do my job correctly, I needed to have a baseline level of familiarity with sustainability concepts, frameworks and ways of thinking, including decoding the “alphabet soup” of sustainability. The Leadership Program appealed to me to help build a foundational level of sustainability knowledge and integrate what I learned into my work.  

Before I joined ABB, I was a strategy consultant. The classic Milton Friedman doctrine of business was drilled into us from the very beginning – the imperative of shareholder value creation, the link to intrinsic value for the company, generating free cash flows and returns above the cost of capital – and that this was the sole basis to make strategic decisions. I wanted to have the chance to challenge this notion that I had of shareholder primacy and returns maximization and find a way to alter my way of thinking to incorporate stakeholder value and sustainable development concepts. 

What steps did you take at ABB after the Leadership Program? 

Around the time the program finished, I started a new role in the Electrification Service Division at ABB. As the Global Head of Strategy and Business Development, one of my top priority tasks when I joined that division was developing and defining our strategy.  

The Leadership Program helped crystalize my belief that strategy should incorporate sustainability; in a modern business, a business strategy is not merely supplemented by a sustainability strategy that comes afterward. Our mindset from the beginning was that sustainability should be an embedded part of the business strategy. When looking at the market drivers that influence our resource decisions, we're strongly taking into account how our customers think about sustainability, as well as environmental and social regulatory and organizational contexts. Sustainability is a key driver that we integrate into our development of strategic frameworks.  

Secondly, how do we capture our sustainability ambitions and how is that consistent with our other business ambitions? In addition to shareholder returns, we want to ensure that we embed sustainable development principles and have a stakeholder-oriented mindset when thinking about the strategy's ambitions. In making resource allocation decisions and choosing where to invest, sustainability is a core part of the strategy, not something we bolt on at the end. 

Concretely, we hired a dedicated sustainability lead and we had concrete initiatives to invest in sustainability as part of the strategy, not as a tick box exercise, but to make more money generally. We’re investing more in R&D to develop sustainable solutions for our customers, developing environmental product declarations because we see an evolving customer need, looking for ways to save cost in our operations by reducing energy use and switching to cheaper electricity sources like on-site renewables, and looking for ways to grow our business aligned to these market trends of sustainability. 

A final message for business leaders who are watching 

The other mindset that I've tried to embed in the strategy that we have in our business is not letting “perfect” get in the way of “good.”  

ABB has a very ambitious target, for example, to switch its fleets to 100% electric vehicles by 2030. As part of the initiative, every site in ABB will have an electric vehicle charger in the next five years. In some countries and use cases, however, we can't get battery electric vehicles yet for a whole host of reasons, including insufficient charging infrastructure, unavailability of the suitable models, etc. Instead of giving up completely, we have explored the option of getting a plug-in hybrid for these situations. We have assessed the use case for shorter distances, for example, or routes with frequent opportunities to charge.  

When faced with such challenges, we are always thinking through whether there is a way that we can make a little bit of progress rather than doing nothing because we can't get to the furthest extent of the end goal. Let’s not let “perfect” get in the way of “good”, and continue to tick over, continue to demonstrate progress, and bring the organization and the business as long as we go. 

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By choosing to continue, you agree to our use of cookies. You can learn more about cookies on our privacy policy page.