GTI Interviews | Robert Court, Board Advisor

Read the latest GTInterviews with Robert Court, a Board Advisor at GTI. Discover his tips for setting up a robust risk management program, his insights on the importance of corporate governance, and how attitudes toward ESG initiatives have evolved.

Robert Court, Board Advisor at Ground Truth Intelligence

GTInterviews is a series of conversations with our community of industry experts - from our network partners and clients through to our own team. We discuss what brings people to the world of due diligence and investigations and how they see the industry changing in the coming years. This month we chatted with one of our Board Advisors, Robert Court.

What is your professional background?

I'm a linguist by training, a skill that came in handy during my various international postings for the British Diplomatic Service. Between diplomatic posts, I worked with two UK-based multinational companies: Rio Tinto, a diversified mining and minerals major, and GlaxoSmithKline, a research-based pharmaceutical company. My work has focused on geopolitics, a wide range of policy issues and building alignment between diverse stakeholders.

For the last few years, I've been running a non-exec portfolio, including Ground Truth Intelligence, and also advising a number of extractive companies, on political, ESG and stakeholder risk in challenging jurisdictions.  

The incorporation of governance and risk management directly into the platform struck me as genuinely value-adding for clients by creating a safe environment in which there is direct and rapid access to the information they need to make good decisions.

What inspired you to become a board advisor for GTI?

Shortly after leaving the Foreign Office, I had the pleasure of meeting Stewart, the founder and chairman of Ground Truth Intelligence. At that time, I was contemplating a portfolio career and had engaged in discussions with heritage business intelligence companies. Having been a client of such firms myself, I had been reflecting on their service offerings and wondering if there could be a more streamlined and efficient approach to meeting clients' needs. Stewart introduced me to his innovative concept. Once his vision had begun to take shape and I saw the exciting progress that the company was making, Stewart asked me to join GTI as an advisor, with a specific focus on governance and risk.

Having been a recipient of extensive Enhanced Due Diligence (EDD) reports in the past, I was well aware that amidst the wealth of information provided, there were often only a few key insights that were directly relevant to my needs. The traditional model often involved a convoluted chain of people, making it challenging to trace the source of specific insights. The GTI platform circumvents this challenge by enabling clients to contact the investigator directly, within a safeguarded framework, and ask follow-up questions or request specific details. The incorporation of governance and risk management directly into the platform struck me as genuinely value-adding for clients by creating a safe environment in which there is direct and rapid access to the information they need to make good decisions.

What are some tips for building a robust risk management program for businesses?

Today's business landscape is complex. Organisations face a myriad of risks such as geopolitical shifts, cybersecurity threats, intricate supply chains, global competition for talent, the impacts of artificial intelligence and the impact of other technological advances. In my view, it is vital that companies establish a robust risk management process, one that is deeply ingrained from the earliest stages and is owned right at the top of the organisation, including the board of directors. This process should encompass a broad spectrum of risks, with an assessment of their probability and potential impact, together with the required mitigation options.  

If a risk persists at a significantly high level, even after mitigation efforts, it needs to be addressed in a more fundamental way. I strongly advise organisations to adopt this proactive stance and seek out reliable sources of information that aid in making the best-informed decisions.

Governance is a continuous and dynamic process, not a box to be ticked and forgotten about. It necessitates continuous vigilance and adaptation to evolving circumstances.

All too often the third pillar of ESG tends to be overlooked. Could you explain the importance of “governance”?

The governance component is pivotal in how a board manages and oversees a company on behalf of its investors. Effective governance should encompass attracting and retaining talent, as well as establishing the standards for how all individuals within the organisation interact with one another, often delineated through a well-defined code of conduct. This not only ensures ethical behaviour but also fosters a positive corporate culture that can have a profound impact on employee morale and, consequently, business performance. Governance is a continuous and dynamic process, not a box to be ticked and forgotten about. It necessitates continuous vigilance and adaptation to evolving circumstances.

Furthermore, strong governance practices are crucial in reassuring clients and partners. Businesses are scrutinised not only for their financial performance but also for their ethical and social conduct. Clients and stakeholders want assurance that their suppliers and partners will not jeopardise their reputation. This assurance comes from knowing that the company is paying due attention to a wide array of factors, including human rights, environmental sustainability, and the avoidance of conflicts of interest. Demonstrating a commitment to good governance not only safeguards a company's reputation but also enhances its appeal to clients and investors who value ESG principles.

Have approaches towards corporate governance changed over the years?

Shareholder activism, which is when shareholders engage in campaigns to influence corporate decisions, has been gaining steadily in importance and impact on how companies manage their affairs. Traditionally, activist shareholders have focused on governance matters such as board composition and executive compensation. However, in recent years, there has been a significant surge in campaigns advocating for specific environmental and social objectives.  

Corporations in all sectors across the world need to pay close attention to their social and environmental impacts. The stakeholders are diverse, including employees, investors, host countries and communities, customers and supply chain partners. Issues that need consideration are also complex: climate change, biodiversity, water, human rights, diversity and inclusion, to mention but a few.  Companies cannot be across all the detail but neither can they avoid their responsibilities.

The social and environmental impact of corporations has become a pivotal focus for boards and senior management. Increasingly, environmental factors, particularly climate-related issues, are recognised as integral components of the financial risk profile that boards must consider. Consequently, the spectrum of challenges that boards must address has broadened and become more intricate.

How do you see AI impacting the corporate world?

Innovation in this area seems very likely to evolve more rapidly than the robust regulatory systems that are required. Organisations need to take a proactive and strategic approach to artificial intelligence (AI) considering both its potential benefits and inherent risks. Businesses should consider the implications of AI for both their industry and business model.  A commitment to transparency in all dealings with stakeholders, partners, and customers is paramount. Businesses must clearly communicate their position and approach to AI, fostering trust and understanding across their organisation.

What are you reading at the moment?

Since I believe that it is important to never rely on just one source of information, most of my reading tends to revolve around current affairs. While other reading is very important to me, I have quite a backlog to look forward to. Top of the pile is the latest novel by Isabel Allende called “The Wind Knows My Name.” She is a remarkable writer and one of the most inspiring individuals I've ever had the privilege of meeting.

What is your favourite food and why?

After living in Thailand for 3 years I am a great fan of Thai cuisine. It's so rich and varied. Thai food outside of Thailand is never quite as good, but still usually excellent!

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