From Sotheby’s to Sustainability: William Theisen’s Journey to Becoming CEO of EcoAct

William Theisen

by | May 3, 2023

William Theisen

From Sotheby’s to Sustainability: Welcome to Part 4 of my interview with William Theisen.

EcoAct, an Eviden Business, is a sustainability consulting firm that helps organizations reduce their environmental impact and manage climate risk. They provide services such as carbon footprint assessments, sustainability strategy development, and climate change scenario analysis. The company has over 300 experts and an international network of “EcoActors” in 9 regions. William leads a team of experts supporting global and Fortune 500 companies to develop and implement net-zero strategies, including assessing emissions, creating roadmaps for Science Based Targets, climate scenario analysis, and alignment with reporting frameworks and guidelines. Parts 1-3 can be found here.

Trusting the Process

JH: Can you share the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

WT: It was from my sister and she gave it to me years ago. Trust in the process – I think on a large scale or even on a micro-scale there’s frustration. Are we not moving fast enough or why is it happening like this? Confusion around a topic. But, trusting in the process and putting your best foot forward at all times. This advice has been really helpful for me when it comes to having all the necessary conversations I must have. While there may be a little bit of a delay in the greater process, you cannot get discouraged.

We may not be moving as fast as we need to right now, but each step is important, each conversation is essential for growth, understanding, and progress.

When thinking about the greater good we have to trust the process. This advice is something that I have to remind myself of, and I always have my sister’s voice in my head saying it to me. Whether it’s someone that we’re trying to recruit and maybe it doesn’t work out – from our side or their side, you have to trust that maybe it wasn’t the right fit and wish everybody success because life is too short.

I want everybody to be successful and people are making the best decisions that they can and we just have to trust them.

JH: Yes! Making the best decisions, and this is where my husband keeps me grounded. He always says, ‘You can’t control everything, Jessica. You can only control the variables within your scope, so you’ve got to learn to let go of those outside forces you can’t control.’

You don’t have control over somebody’s decision. All you can do is provide them information and they will make the best decision possible based on the information that they have in front of them.

WT: The information you have today may change tomorrow, right? And then, you have to reassess. Everybody says this, but I think it bears repeating. Trust your gut.

From Sotheby’s to Sustainability

JH: While preparing for this interview, I came across various articles and videos about you, your work, and your background. Can you talk about your journey to becoming the CEO of EcoAct?

WT: I’ll try not to bore you with the details. In my former life, I actually worked at Sotheby’s Auction House. Random, I know.

Sotheby’s was really where business and art came together. Two subjects I am very passionate about. I was excited to work in HR. I got to deal with art specialists as well as business professionals. It was a great experience for me personally and professionally.

During my MBA, I really was excited about the opportunity to do a dive deep and understand where my passion was. I wanted to focus on sustainability, but, I had to start over. I completed my MBA in Paris and during my studies, I worked at a Brazilian-based company called Veja. I was hired to create a strategic marketing plan for the UK and Scandinavian markets. In addition, I evaluated supply chain efficiency and made recommendations for improvements. They really showed me that businesses can be different, and can be run differently.

Veja wanted to challenge the conventional belief that sustainability alone could drive consumer purchasing behavior. They understood that although their sneakers were sustainable, customers wouldn’t necessarily buy them for that reason. Rather, they recognized that consumers are drawn to products that are stylish and fashionable. Therefore, Veja set out to create sneakers that not only met sustainability standards but were also trendy and attractive to customers. By doing so, they aimed to change the mindset of consumers and prove that sustainable products can be just as desirable as any other product on the market.

Then, I received an opportunity to work for the Gold Standard Foundation. This was my first true experience in climate finance, so it really opened my eyes to the carbon market. I knew nothing about carbon finance but I’m a person who really wants to understand the entire picture.

Two years later, I jumped ship and moved to Mali in West Africa working for the NGO GERES, earning a minimal salary. I also worked on a transparency study around project development and certification for projects in West Africa. Next, I moved to Cambodia and worked on community-based projects and innovative financing mechanisms.

All of these experiences really gave me a 360º perspective of climate finance. Not just, the mechanism, but what was happening on the ground and what kind of projects I wanted to support.

Then, in 2015, I started working at EcoAct and began to really expand on everything in the advisory space. Again, all new to me. I was a climate finance expert at that point, but I jumped in and immediately started learning about advisory, and business development. Ultimately, then they sent me back to the homeland to open up operations.

And in the US  – expanding our business was my number one priority.  I was pretty much a one-man show. I had a small team, but just figuring it all out, and coming back after 12 years of being abroad, was an undertaking.

Launching a business in North America was nerve-wracking.  Can I be that one-man band who can talk to different clients?

As soon as I saw that my team was able to really articulate the expertise from our experience in Europe, we had a base to start with and then things started growing.

Business really started taking off in 2019 when we had a good number of clients. All while not sacrificing our integrity and keeping the bar really high. Our core clients opened the doors for us. They recommended us to others and then just organically grew. It’s been really amazing.

JH: I love when I get to talk to CEOs who are so passionate about what they do. Knowing that they are truly helping others.

WT: I find it somewhat amusing to think about my leadership style and how I manage things. Even though I come from a more established company, I greatly appreciate everyone’s expertise and contributions. My role is to create a stage for everyone to have their chance to shine, like a director on a stage. They know their lines, but they also know the overall message that the production is trying to convey. As we continue to grow and work remotely, I want to ensure that people have avenues to contribute and feel valued. It’s important to appreciate the greater good that we’re achieving, especially when working with challenging clients.

**Editor’s note: Certain statements were edited for clarity after the interview transcription**

On behalf of the entire team at E+E Leader, thank you for sharing such insightful thought leadership with our readers over the past month. We look forward to working with the Team at EcoAct again in the near future!

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