Twin master degrees help pioneer a new path developing business sustainability
By Will Henderson
For Esther Speck, vp of global sustainability at lululemon athletica, the key attribute driving her to the top of her profession in a pioneering leadership role is the willingness to take a risk.
“Sometimes you need to jump,” says Speck. “Business sustainability and impact is still somewhat of an emerging discipline without a clear playbook. With most things that I’ve worked on, I needed the confidence that, if I knew I had the ability to do half of it and had good people to work with, that was sufficient. It’s the confidence that you can figure it out.”
When she started her career, the idea of sustainability in business was still in its infancy. But Speck had always been interested in a more holistic view of business that combined social, environmental and economic impacts.
“When I was doing a business degree I remember thinking that the ways we look at approaches and decisions are insufficient,” she says.
Moving to Vancouver, Speck enrolled in SFU’s MBA program, where she learned about the master’s program in resource management (MRM) in the School of Resource and Environmental Management. Sensing the opportunity to combine the business-focused MBA with the community engagement and environmental impact elements of the MRM, Speck took courses in both and completed the two master’s programs together in 2002.
“That was eye-opening for me, and engaging to see how you can take two disciplines—sustainability and business—and create something out of it,” Speck says. “I think having that combination of those two degrees allowed me to create a new path.”
After SFU, Speck initially worked with Whistler and Vancouver on integrated long-term visions and strategies. She then launched her own consultancy, and later moved into business as director of sustainable business innovation and community at MEC before joining lululemon athletica as vp in October 2015.
While she sees a logical progression to her career, in retrospect there was no well-worn path for her to follow. Each step required her—and her employers—to see opportunity in a new way.
The ability to connect and create with others on the journey is the other key attribute that Speck says is essential in this discipline.
“I recognize through my career that you need to be excellent at what you do, and what really enables opportunity is genuine curiosity, engaging with people and leadership skills,” she says. “We’re asking people to be part of a journey.”