Christoph Lueneburger, head of the sustainability practice at Egon Zehnder, the executive search and human capital advisory company, says that boards and executives are all talking about the issues that make up the sustainability conversation, “even if they’re not using the word ‘sustainability’.”

Christoph Lueneburger, head of the sustainability practice at Egon Zehnder

The way Christoph Lueneburger sees it, “the CEOs who are most advanced in their thinking are people who are quite young in their view of the world.”

What he means, he says, is that “they have a much more intuitive appreciation for the idea of what a stakeholder is, how rapidly the world is changing, and how much they depend on others in their organizations to innovate and lead the way on sustainability.”

Lueneburger founded the sustainability practice at Egon Zehnder three and a half years ago, after a career in private equity, running a fund focused on water investments. In that work, he says, he realized it’s very difficult to articulate an investment hypothesis in water without seeing the social and environmental issues that surround it. "Everything we do, everything, requires water. So if that’s your business, you’re in the business of everything.”

It was from that work, he says, that he became interested in sustainability as a corporate theme, how it was becoming embedded in the way that we think about business. Egon Zehnder had him start the sustainability practice with a vote of confidence: “They said, listen, if you think this is a board-level dialogue, well, board-level dialogue is what we do.”

Lueneburger spoke with MIT Sloan Management Review’s Michael S. Hopkins about what he's learned after reviewing 25,000 assessments of leaders and why the smartest executives are now searching out "horse whisperers," people who will send them signals about how their businesses are really being received.


I lead the sustainability practice at Egon Zehnder, which is a firm dedicated to aligning human capital and strategy. I was in private equity. I ran a fund focused on water investments. I realized it’s very difficult to articulate an investment hypothesis in water without seeing the social and environmental issues. I was very interested in sustainability as a theme, as a corporate theme of, how is this becoming embedded in the way that we think about business. Egon Zehnder said “Listen, if you think this is a board level dialogue, well board level access is what we are.” I founded the practice three and a half years ago.

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