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KKR hires Blackstone’s global head of ESG

The move by Alison Fenton-Willock underscores the competition that exists for private equity professionals with environmental, social and governance experience.

Alison Fenton-Willock has joined KKR as a senior leader of the asset manager’s ESG team after helping launch Blackstone’s own responsible investment initiatives, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Fenton-Willock, a lawyer who joined Blackstone more than five years ago and was named the firm’s first global head of ESG in 2018, left in mid-March as five new positions were being finalised to strengthen Blackstone’s efforts in implementing positive environmental, social and governance practices, the sources told New Private Markets.

Blackstone and KKR declined to comment for this story.

At KKR, which began building an ESG team in 2008, Fenton-Willock will be a director on the ESG team which sits within the firm’s public affairs group. Over the past decade, the firm has been integrating ESG practices within its business by expanding its team of dedicated experts, committing to various industry disclosure frameworks and publishing ESG reports for its investors and public shareholders.

With prior experience as a lawyer at Barclays Wealth and Investment Management and Stifel Financial Corp, Fenton-Willock grew into her role as Blackstone’s global head of ESG, a position she took on in 2018.

Along with Don Anderson, Blackstone’s operating partner and chief sustainability officer, Fenton-Willock helped establish the firm’s dedicated ESG team. She also helped implement three ongoing initiatives across all new Blackstone portfolio companies, including a 15 percent carbon emissions reduction goal, a one-third diverse representation target and a career opportunities programme for people from under-resourced communities in the US and Europe.

Last week, Blackstone announced four new ESG-related hires as well as an internal promotion. The incoming personnel have lengthy track records in the sustainable investment space and are led by James Mandel, who previously worked on cost-effective building decarbonisation efforts at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Mandel’s position at Blackstone is managing director of sustainability.

As part of a broader revamp of Blackstone’s ESG policies, the firm’s private equity group informed chief executives of its portfolio companies of new quarterly reporting requirements, an initiative that the real estate group implemented in 2019.

With investors applying increasing scrutiny on asset managers, the hunt for ESG talent has become more competitive as firms have sought to add credentialed experts to their teams. In a recent interview, Kate Goodall, who works for the job placement specialist Private Equity Recruitment, told New Private Markets that firms have expressed “the pressure they are feeling from LPs” to signal their seriousness about implementing ESG initiatives.

“There has been a marked increase over the last three years in the number of private capital firms considering an ESG hire,” Goodall explained.