Episode #16: Michael Kelly – Turning risk into opportunity

08 January 2019

Michael Kelly

In this, the first episode of 2019, I talk to Mike Kelly, chairman of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust and former head of CSR for KPMG.

Mike is a seasoned campaigner from the pioneering years of corporate responsibility. He was instrumental in the creation of the UN Global Compact, and has been a consistent supporter of some of the more difficult causes, from a corporate perspective, such as homelessness and the living wage.

In this interview we talk about how he got to where he is, how he ended up creating hugely influential frameworks at the UN that have shaped the business approach to sustainability world-wide, and some of the approaches he took that successfully put KPMG into pole position in the CSR community.

Mike is a brilliant example of how you can change the world from wherever you find yourself – and how part of the task is to build the system that will embed the right values into an organisation from day to day. He’s a fascinating, thoughtful and inspiring character, and I think you'll get huge value from this interview.

Show notes

How did the world look to Mike when he first started on his adult life? (1:48)

How the family felt about dropping out of University, as the first family member to go there (3:20)

What happened on the first day, why Mike had to be called aside by the manager, and why he progressed rapidly (4:11)

How the old-style banks evaluated risk (6:20)

How Mike came to have the environment first included in his risk portfolio (8:45)

How Mike ended up becoming one of only six business representatives at the original Earth Summit in Rio (10:30)

The huge impact of the Shell Brent Spar campaign on how businesses saw the risks ahead of them (12:06)

The moment Mike began to see that the environment presented business opportunities, not just risks (14:43)

How Mike’s sense of mission shifted as he became exposed to the UN negotiation process on climate change (17:08)

Mike’s primary project at the UN – the UN Sustainable Finance Initiative (18:19)

How the environmental management agenda rolled out through Nat West (20:24)

How the UN finance initiatives developed, and where the finance sector is now, and how the financial crash played out (22:15)

The creation and early progress of the UN Global Compact (23:52)

The critics of the Global Compact, and the need to take the long view (27:08)

How the Greenwich Principles became the Equator Principles (28:40)

Why Mike decided to leave the UN and take up the job with KPMG (30:34)

What Mike found at KPMG when he first arrived, and how his entrepreneurial flair created opportunities (32:35)

Why KPMG took a leadership role in some tricky issues such as homelessness and the living wage (34:00)

Where did the commitment to the Living Wage come from, and how did it get through the Board at a time when it was laying people off? (37:14)

How Mike had an active process to ensure that incoming leaders saw the social responsibility agenda as part of what was involved in leadership (41:40)

KPMG’s support for the UK hospices in a way that would double up as carbon offsetting the company’s energy use (44:35)

Mike’s work to continue making a difference post-KPMG, including the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust (46:38)

Does Mike have a personal purpose? (50:47)

What single change would Mike most like to make before hanging up his gloves? (51:23)

What one nugget of advice would he give to the younger Mike Kelly? (52:03)

What impressive change makers have inspired Mike? (52:32)

What mistake led to some better outcome or personal growth? (53:19)

What habit would Mike most want to change? (54:17)

What book, or books had a powerful impact on your thinking or your life? (54:48)

What advice does Mike give to young would-be change-makers? (55:45)


Books mentions

The Silent Spring, Rachel Carson

Factor Four, L. Hunter Lovins, Amory B. Lovins, Ernst von Weizsacker



Mike on Twitter

Dame Kelly Holmes Trust 

The Passage