Yogesh Chauhan was appointed Director of ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) at HubSpot in February 2022. His brief is to develop a new and impactful ESG strategy covering all HubSpot’s operations. He oversees a range of environmental, community engagement, reporting, innovation and thought leadership initiatives designed to embed sustainability and responsible business across the company.
Check out HubSpot’s 2022 Sustainability Report to learn more about HubSpot’s progress and goals in ESG, and stay tuned for the 2023 report, which will be released in the next few months!
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast on John Shegerian, and we’re so honored to have with us today, Yogesh Chauhan. He’s the director of ESG of HubSpot. He’s in London today. Welcome, and thank you for joining us from London. Yogesh.
Yogesh Chauhan: Well, hello John, and thank you for the wonderful introduction.
John: Hey you’ve had a long storied career that traces back to some wonderful and big brands. Before we get talking about all the important work you’re doing as director of ESG at HubSpot with your colleagues at HubSpot, I’d love you to share your own journey, Yogesh.
Yogesh: Sure. Well, as a teenager, I was a starry-eyed do-gooder, wanting to change the world. I guess now several decades on, I’m no longer that starry teenager, but still I want to change the world in my own little way. Actually, that journey has zagged and it’s zagged and it’s taken me in so many different directions. But the desire and the passion for me to change the world in my little way still is there and is still burning away. So that’s where I was as a teenager. I went on to study social policy and sociology, and I ended up at the BBC first making TV programs of all things.
Yogesh: Then actually got very interested in how the corporation was run and the strategy side of it, and planning what the future of the corporation ought to be. So I ended up in strategy. And as part of that, it was very much about envisaging what the future of the organization would be and what its relationship should be with its key stakeholders, its audiences, the physical environment in which it operated. That’s really where my interest in what is now ESG really peaked. So I helped set up what was at that time called the Corporate Social Responsibility Department at the BBC, which was just very much about making the corporation a broadcaster with the nation rather than a broadcaster onto the nation. This was about engaging audiences of whatever complexion they might be. So a diversity agenda, a geographical agenda, making the BBC a much more open and accessible organization for potential employees, discovering talent, discovering new genres of program making, and making our programming much more accessible and linked to, in certain cases, social causes. For example, many of your viewers might have enjoyed Blue Planet many years ago.
Yogesh: This is often repeated. At the end of the program, you will often hear a continuity and answer, say, if you are interested in marine biology, click on this website, and that website will take you to learning resources. Eventually, if you are so interested, you could do a degree in marine biology having peaked your interest by watching a TV program. So this was the kind of adding a longer shelf life to TV programming. So that was with the BBC. Then I moved on to the Tarter Group, a conglomerate of colossal size and scale, employing 800,000 people, a hundred different businesses from cars software to salt. So it’s referred to as the software to salt conglomerate and everything in between. And I ran their sustainability efforts for UK and Island, and particularly for its technology business, and drove that agenda very much around looking at the intersectionality between digital technology and sustainability, what that actually meant, and how a company of that size and scale can address its environmental footprint, its social impact, and the governance issues that were being thrown at it. Then I ended up in HubSpot because actually I was offered a dream job, and that dream job was very much about being the first director of ESG.
Yogesh: For a company that actually is going places and a company that is taking responsibility really seriously. As part of my interview process, I was told that actually, I’ve got more or less a blank sheet of papers to start with. How exciting and how amazing is that for anyone wanting and leading a CSR or an ESG function? So I’ve ended up at HubSpot and I’ve been here for a year.
John: So you’ve been there for a year?
Yogesh: Yeah that’s my journey.
John: That’s fascinating. What a story career BBC, the Tata, and then the HubSpot. Where did you grow up when you said you were a star young teenager. Where was your [inaudible]?
Yogesh: I grew up in the UK, in the Midlands, and then as a young adult moved down to London.
John: Got it.
Yogesh: Actually, I haven’t been very adventurous. I’ve lived and worked in London ever since. And I doubt whether I will move for a good while longer.
John: But having spent a lot of time in London, like most great, great large cities that are cosmopolitan, it’s an adventure itself just to live in London.
Yogesh: Well, one, never tires of it.
Yogesh: There’s always umpteenth amounts of things to do and enjoy for a city like London.
John: So now a year ago you started HubSpot as the director of ESG, the first position ever, the first person to hold this position, and you’re handed that proverbial blank paper. Where do you even start? Because although it’s wonderful to have a blank piece of paper in front of you, it could also be daunting. So what informed you, and how did you figure out where to even focus on, what areas of sustainability? Because there’s such a now a wide range of topics that you could decide to focus on and to begin to work on. I’m fascinated by the process and your thinking as you had that blank piece in front of you.
Yogesh: What a great question. And that was exactly how I felt when I started both trepidation, but also excitement both hand in hand. Actually, the starting point was acknowledging some of the great work that had already been done. So there were a lot of people, and there continue to be a lot of people within HubSpot who are excited, engaged, and passionate about ESG and who were doing it as a side of desk activity above and beyond their day job.
Yogesh: They took some of the key elements of what makes ESG and socialized it and developed a really strong case for HubSpot to actually invest in this area. So is actually acknowledging and recognizing the great work that those staff members had done. I guess second, it’s a case of really understanding one’s stakeholders. So it was a case very early on, I think within the first two or three weeks I met with our founders, and then I met with our board, then I met with the senior management team, and then I met our customers, and then I walked, ran and talked to lots and lots of employees and really gathered and like a sponge soaked up all of their views and thoughts and opinions and aspirations and concerns. From that developed a skeleton of a plan of where do we go and identifying key priority areas because it’s impossible to do everything. It’s like boiling the ocean, what can never do that? So we identified a number of key areas that we wanted to particularly focus on. And environment actually bubbled up as a particularly important area. We were doing pretty well, in fact, really well on governance issues. Our social area, particularly our engagement with communities, was really well formulated and doing extremely well. It was our environmental pillar that actually needed quite a bit of attention. So we’ve been very much focusing on that and building that out in terms of a priority area. But as I say, we’ve kept our priorities pretty simple and just focused on a handful of initiatives with the views that over the years that will expand and grow and develop as we mature in our journey of ESG.
John: For our listeners and viewers to find Yogesh and his colleagues at HubSpot, you could go to www.HubSpot.com. If you want to read about and understand their sustainability journey even more, it’s HubSpot.com/sustainability. Let’s go back to the size and scope of the company. We know that BBC is a very large company. We know Tata, as you said sold to software is massive with 800,000 employees. How many employees does HubSpot have and how many offices did this cover?
Yogesh: Sure. We have 7,400 employees.
Yogesh: We have 13 offices across the world in that many locations.
John: Wow. Got it.
Yogesh: So whilst we are not a huge company as far as a SaaS-based tech company goes, we are pretty big and we have got a presence dispersed across the globe. And that is really quite exciting because in my previous jobs, it was very much a UK and UK and Island focus. So this brings a global focus to it. And HubSpot being an American company and founded in America, there is also a very strong bent on looking at how ESG is unfolding in the US rather than just simply concentrated on the UK and the EU. Actually, there are differences, around the evolution and the nature in which ESG is panning out in different geographies.
John: Well, given that you decided a lot of the focus is going to be on environment, but you’re also very employee-centric, both from your history but also with regards to how you went about talking with, and understanding and integrating yourself into HubSpot. How did you decide to work with, and how did you communicate with and engage all your employees besides London, but across the global scale that you were now working with?
Yogesh: So just to give you a sense of us as a company and the culture we’re tech company, and we actually utilize tech extensively to be productive. The vast majority of our staff around nearly 90% of our employees or HubSpotters as we call them, are either remote or flex, which means they occasionally go into the office. So we have a very small population that are physically going into our offices on a regular or weekly basis. And so what we have is a very dispersed workforce. We utilize tech, and our culture is such that we put a huge amount of effort in connecting us as a group of employees. And we use all sorts of really interesting tech solutions, whether it’s Slack, and through Slack where we do relays, for example. We have all sorts of connections through Wikis. We have a number of different applications that are all about providing good connections amongst our employees. So actually the fact that we are globally dispersed, largely a remote workforce hasn’t in any way hindered my ability to connect with and develop a sense of closeness with HubSpotters across the globe, because we do that anyway through a lot of the tools that we have.
John: Got it. You just mentioned a very interesting fact that I would love our listeners to hear more about, because I feel the same way as when I go to Europe and get to spend time in London with clients and other partners and other parts of Europe. There are many distinctions between Europe, more specifically UK and the United States. Share some of your thoughts about where some of those distinctions lie, and then how do you create an integrated plan to go forward at HubSpot?
Yogesh: Sure. Europe and UK have largely been driven through a environmental lens, a decarbonizing lens for a long time, and it’s pretty mature. So for large companies, there is carbon trading, for example, which doesn’t exist in other geographies. And there is now legislation in place as well around whether it’s disclosure, whether it’s around diversity and inclusion in terms of the gender pay gap as it’s described, or whether it’s around other social issues such as modern-day slavery. So there’s legislation in place in a lot of geographies around that. The US there isn’t as much regulatory framework although I’m sure you will know that the SEC have got a ruling eminently around climate change. So we all wait with baited breath, what that’s going to come out with and what the recommendations are. So what you are beginning to see is a little bit of alignment in terms of a regulatory framework emerging in some of the big trading blocks. But I would say that in the UK and Europe, that’s been well formulated for some while. The other distinction is around community or the social strand, and I think again, in the US things are changing. There’s a significant in emphasis on giving and corporate community engagement around the social piece, and it being done largely through kind of philanthropic lens or you give back to society. Whereas across Europe and the UK, what you will find is that there’s a less of a focus on that nowadays from a corporate level. It’s much more around what I describe as, and others describe as enlightened self-interest. So I will give back to the community with a view that actually it benefits the company back. So whether it’s about, say, investing in younger people and education so that eventually those young people become your employees and creating that long pipeline or providing products and services at discounted rates to certain communities who then become your customers. There’s always a kind of read back into the core business purpose. In the US we are seeing elements of that, although the philanthropic push is still pretty significant. And it’s not to say one is right and one is wrong. It’s just a distinction between the two.
John: Also forces you to be sensitive as you, as you [inaudible].
John: The global opportunities.
Yogesh: Precisely. On the governance side certainly the US has a much more stricter environment around legislative expectations, around board and the, alienation between the board and the executive, the makeup of the board, et cetera, et cetera. It’s not tightly regulated in Europe and in the UK. So there is a distinction there. So actually the [inaudible] of the ESG from a US context is really high up there as a priority.
John: Got it. As I mentioned to our listeners and viewers a little while ago, to find more about Yogesh and the important work you and your colleagues are doing at HubSpot, you can go to HubSpot.com, which actually has sustainability. I love the radical transparency on your sustainability page. You put it right out there, five employee resource groups, part of sustainability, four people of color on your board of directors, 1400 people out of 7400 people were members of your the interest [inaudible] Yeah. Then 100% renewable energy across all your building sites. That’s very impressive already.
Yogesh: It is. Other than the last stat. It’s impressive. Largely because we have our HubSpotters are passionate folks. Without exception when I’ve traveled across the company and met with lots of people when I say travel, virtually traveled.
John: Yeah. Of course.
Yogesh: I met with our employees virtually the passion is so evident, and that level of collaboration, cooperation, interest, and engagement in all that we do on ESG is immense. Actually, it’s a nice problem to have, but one that I have to be really careful with because I cannot afford to get it wrong.
Yogesh: How do I channel that passion and engagement in the right way because I won’t get that many opportunities, and if I mess up, then actually you lose those folks.
John: Well, it’s the curse and blessing of your white page.
John: But, still was it a happy surprise? Obviously, you only knew so much about HubSpot going through the interview process, and then knowing that they were giving you the white page. But once you got the job and took the position, was that a happy surprise for you to realize how many people really cared about sustainability?
Yogesh: Absolutely. There’s a staying in the UK where if you’re really happy about something, you have a grin as wide as a Cheshire Cat. I don’t quite know where that comes from, but I’m typically grinning as wide as a Cheshire Cat.
John: I see it.
Yogesh: Actually the job of an ESG director, and I know you’ve interviewed hundreds if not thousands.
Yogesh: They will tell you that one of the biggest challenges is getting cut through an engagement within the company.
John: That’s right.
Yogesh: The technical side is fine. You can learn that, et cetera. Getting resources is okay, but getting buy-in can be really tricky.
Yogesh: And the reason why I grin like a Cheshire Cat is that that buy-in has been there from day one from our founders, from what we call our salt committee, which is our executive leadership group through to our new employees who have started through to the critical bit, is the middle managers. So most directors of ESG will tell you that’s the trickle layer that you can’t get anywhere. You just get stuck and you can’t make any progress. Whereas I work with managers and directors across the business. And the level of enthusiasm and keenness to get involved in aspects of our ESG work is just amazing. We have working groups and work streams on a wide variety of things, whether it’s about making some of our events more sustainable, whether it’s about looking at the legal dimension of ESG, or whether it’s our learning and development, learn our materials, and we have groups of people enthusiastically wanting to contribute to that. I’ve never experienced that before in all the places I’ve worked at in terms of that level of engagement.
John: But you are a sustainability OG, you’ve really been doing this and you’ve been focused on making the world a better place all the way back to the days of BBC, Blue Planet, and everything you were sharing earlier. Is that a cultural issue with regard to corporations, or is it more of a side of the times Yogesh?
Yogesh: I think it’s a bit of both, but in the case of HubSpot, a lot is to do with culture. I would say, and certainly, in my experience, it appears to be a unique culture. I don’t use the word unique, likely, or rarely ever use them, because I know unique is pretty hard to beat. But it does feel unique. It feels very different. And a lot of time, energy, thought process, and sweat goes into developing our unique culture. And that unique culture has a number of elements to it. One is about extreme transparency. So everything I do, I report upon, it’s available to anyone and everyone internally to see what I’m doing. I do quarterly reports that are accessible to all sundry. We have radical candor. So yes, we are empathetic as a company and with each other, but also we will be honest and we will pull each other up. And that level of engagement is very rare to find. That culture has taken a long time to build. When people startup up HubSpot and become HubSpotters, invariably that’s what they recollect as being the most significant, important, and unique characteristic of us as a company, our culture. So there is that bit to it, and that is pretty important.
John: Yeah, I love that. You also have, obviously, already you’ve published your 2022 diversity report. Very unique to have it out that fast.
John: But also you have up in your sustainability section, on your website, the supplier code of conduct, your human rights policy, and your environmental policy. That’s a form of, like you say, extreme transparency. That still is rare to define. It’s unique.
Yogesh: Absolutely. And just on the diversity report, one of the things you will see is that we have a predominantly young workforce.
Yogesh: So just coming back to your earlier observation, it is a bit of both. It is we are dealing with a workforce that has embraced a specific and unique culture, but we also have a workforce that is representing a very different attitude to life than perhaps you and I.
Yogesh: Yes, absolutely.
John: You mentioned earlier Yogesh about the environment. Obviously, carbon emissions are a hot topic more than ever in the United States, in the UK, and around the world. A SaaS company, how do Hops go about reducing carbon emissions as a SaaS company?
Yogesh: I guess there’s a number of elements to it. One despite being a SaaS company, we do have assets. We have buildings, we employ people, we travel as a workforce, and so like those companies, we have to address that. And whilst our footprint is a blip in comparison to a big, large-scale emitter, which might be manufacturing steel or producing cars, et cetera, we do nonetheless have those emissions. And they are our kind of scope two and scope three emissions. By far, the largest emissions that we have is through our supply chain and the providers of our cloud-based technology. So for us, it’s about kind of working with our key suppliers and ensuring that they too are embracing a model of reducing carbon, because we have decided to focus very much on the reduction of our carbon emissions rather than offsetting. And we have signed up to, I’m sure you’ll be very familiar to science-based target initiatives. So we are at the committed stage, and fingers crossed, in a few months’ time, we will emerge with validated status for our targets, which will be done in a very short period of time. Once we come out of that exercise, we will have some very specific tough, but I hope in my mind achievable targets for reducing our carbon footprint. And that will be done through a whole range of measures. As I say, some will be like any other company, some will be focused very much on technology and the technology we use. The other aspect that is worth remembering is that our product team and our engineering team are also very much embracing climate change and its impact of climate change. So we are exploring how we can make our technology more optimal and bring about greater efficiencies in how an end user uses HubSpot as a tool, which then results in a reduced carbon footprint of that as a tool. So be quite early in the journey, but it is very much about looking at the actual product and how we can drive greater efficiencies through better coding, better product design through encouraging our customers to use HubSpot in slightly different ways to all eventually bring about efficiencies and reduce our carbon footprint.
John: Obviously you’ve been doing sustainability even though it’s been called different things the last 25 years since you were back at blue planet.
John: Now we’re into this. We’re going from a linear to a circular economy where ESG is a big deal. There are all sorts of new acronyms and new wording for this, but there are a lot of folks that sit in your seat or looking to sit in a seat like yours at smaller companies and at even large companies. Sometimes when I talk to them on the air and off the air, they look at that white piece of paper as a very, very scary step forward. They really don’t know where to start the journey. They’re afraid of miss stepping, and because of your story career, massively successful at BBC and Tata, of course before HubSpot, you were not afraid of the white piece of paper. But for those who are and those who are looking to start their sustainability journey at the company organization that they are working at, what words of advice, what guidance can you share with them given if you’ve been doing this now for decades?
Yogesh: Sure. I guess there are a number of points I want to make on that. I guess the first is to be authentic and prioritize. So the two go quite hand-in-hand because there’s always a temptation to just kind of jump headfirst and do everything, and to suddenly emerge as this amazingly sustainable or responsible company, whatever word you want to use. And yet there will be many stakeholders who will know your company intimately, whether they are your employees, whether they’re your investors, whether they’re your customers or even your distractors who will see beyond that. And who then may begin to start to question some of what you are doing? And so my advice is to start modestly and understand what your stakeholders want. Do something called a materiality assessment of identifying what your priorities are, and really, really avoid greenwashing. Do not put a kind of shiny veneer and a gloss on what you are doing. Be transparent, own up to things that aren’t going particularly well, and just acknowledge the challenges and blockages that you might encounter. That would be my first piece of advice. I guess the second is that the success I see in ESG is not so much about how big and powerful my team is in a company. We’re simply facilitators, it is about how well I can embed the notion of sustainability across the company. So my measure of success is when an engineer comes up to me and says, listen, I’ve been experimenting with this new kind of engineering tweak that is going to really help our product be more efficient. And if they can come back to me and say that they’ve done that, I would say I’ve done my job.
John: Got it.
Yogesh: Because they have embedded the notion of being sustainable. If a marketing person comes to me and says, right, we are thinking about a marketing campaign and we want to use different types of technology, and we’ve chosen the most sustainable technology, and here is, what do you think? I will think, wow this is what sustainability and this is what embeddedness is all about. So it is about driving knowledge. It’s about I guess kind of exciting and getting your employees engaged in sustainability. It’s about trying to give them the tools and the know-how to understand what ESG means in their day job, in their core job. And I bet you if someone spent 10 minutes thinking about it, and you equip them with the tools to think about it, they’ll come up with umpteenth ideas, whatever their job is within the business, whether it’s customer-facing, whether it’s product designing, whether it’s administration, whether it’s legal, whether it’s marketing. I bet you there will be a sustainability or an ESG aspect to their job. And my job is to unlock that and to give them the tools and power to be able to do that.
John: I love it. I love it. Yogesh thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for not only what you’re doing at HubSpot now, but for your whole career of really successfully accomplishing the goals that you wanted to when you were a teenager. You’re making the world a better place. You’ve made it a better place for many, many years. You’re now making it a better and greener place with your colleagues at HubSpot. To find Yogesh and his colleagues, please go to HubSpot.com to learn more about their sustainability journey, go to HubSpot.com/sustainability. Yogesh, you’re always invited back on the Impact podcast to share this journey that’s in front of you. Thank you for staying starry-eyed. Thank you for making the world a better place. And thank you for being our wonderful guest today on the Impact Podcast.
Yogesh: John, it’s been an absolute pleasure, and look forward to seeing you again soon. Thank you very much.
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