When Tegan Keele (’12) entered UCLA Anderson in the fall of 2010, she was quick to inform her professors and the counselors at the John E. Parker Career Management Center that she had no interest in pursuing a career in consulting. She didn’t do any recruiting prep and didn’t interview with consulting firms during her first year.
“I was pretty adamant that I wanted to stay in health care and/or a pharmaceutical company focused on technology because that’s what I was doing before I went to Anderson,” she says, noting that before arriving in Westwood she was working as a business analyst for a firm that was producing a life-saving drug to combat hospital-acquired infections. “Going into Anderson, I wanted to be a CIO for a pharmaceutical company.”
But a “great internship” at McKesson Information Technology after her first year at Anderson helped change her mind. “When I finished my summer internship, I had a much different and clearer picture of what it means to be a consultant than I did going in,” she says. “The staff at Parker said, ‘You know, if you go into consulting, you could make a career doing that all the time.’ The rest is history.”
Keele admits that she was “very lucky to have folks like David Cooley (CERT ’08) and his team helping me think through different options. They nudged me to think bigger and broader. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t gone to Anderson and had that full, intense experience.”
What most appealed to Keele, who graduated with a B.A. in political science from George Washington University, was understanding that consulting was an excellent match for her mindset and skill set. “Consulting appeals to people who have innate natural curiosity and like to solve problems,” she says. “You have to have the ability to learn new things and concepts in different areas, and then apply what you’ve learned to your clients based on a foundation of reliable data and insights that help them navigate the challenges they’re facing.”
Beyond defining and implementing strategy for clients, Keele found that consulting is very much a relationship business. “It’s about instilling trust between two parties,” she says. “If there are specific things we need to understand about them and their business, they have to be available to answer those questions. At the same time, we as consultants never work in isolation. We serve our clients in lots of different ways all the time. Our business is built around helping our clients do what they can’t do themselves, either because they don’t have the knowledge or they don’t have the scale, and sometimes both.”
After graduating from Anderson, Keele stayed in Southern California and joined Deloitte as senior consultant – business technology, co-leading the design and implementation of the electronic health record software system within 10 outpatient departments at a major university hospital. Sixteen months later, she joined global personal services firm ZS, eventually managing business development, project execution and P&L for business technology projects related to big data access and analytics.
Much of her work in those formative years involved implementation of the entire lifecycle of IT, including software, infrastructure, big data and advanced analytics. When auditing and financial services company KPMG hired Keele in March 2017, her focus began to shift toward the strategy side of business, especially in newly emerging areas like blockchain services within the company’s growth and strategy practice.
That led directly to Keele’s current position: She leads KPMG’s climate data and technology practice, working across industries and disciplines (assurance, tax, risk) to help clients navigate climate and environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
“Blockchain and climate sound like very different things, but after working in the space, I could see it was a natural evolution for KPMG to shed the blockchain specificity and focus more on broader data analytics and technology capabilities within climate. This is a really interesting space and a really interesting time for a lot of different reasons, primarily because there’s just so much to do.”
Indeed, the focus on ESG comes at a pivotal time amid growing concern about the impact of climate on business and industry. In March 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proposed rules that would require public companies to disclose extensive climate-related information in SEC filings, including any risks that would affect a company’s business, operations or financial status. Disclosures would include the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each company and climate-related financial metrics within each firm’s audited financial statements.
The SEC’s landmark proposal comes on the heels of the establishment of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), a market-driven, science-led and government-backed initiative to develop “a practical risk management and disclosure framework enabling corporate and financial institutions to assess, manage and report on their dependencies and impacts on nature,” as endorsed by G7 finance ministers and the G20 Sustainable Finance Roadmap. It follows a string of voluntary disclosure efforts that include TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures), SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board), GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) and CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project).
Following the public comment period on the SEC’s proposed rulemaking, disclosure and reporting were expected to be required perhaps as early as 2024 or 2025. But in late June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6–3 to curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which may or may not the SEC’s bid to require corporate climate risk disclosures.
Still, pressure from shareholders and stakeholders is mounting for companies to be more transparent about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, as well as measuring their actual impact on the environment. Set against the recent backdrop of extreme weather and concerns about ever-escalating natural disasters, these developments have sent companies scrambling to hire consultants with Keele’s breadth of experience and expertise. She says customer and investor expectations will necessitate better policies and more transparent reporting, and what those mean in practical terms.
“Our clients are just starting to get their heads around what the SEC proposal means from an organizational perspective in terms of who they need internally — what kind of skill sets, where they fit in — and what they need to do from an ESG strategy and climate reporting perspective,” she says. “They’re going to lean on consultants to guide them through that process as they begin to readjust their operations to account for the new expectations that are coming at them.”
Keele points out that “certain companies have had to be climate aware, especially when it comes to reporting, far longer than other companies,” she says, citing the banking industry and the oil and gas sector as examples. “There are others that haven’t done anything. They were thinking, ‘If I ignore it, maybe it’ll go away.’ Well, now they have to think about all the things that they need to solve for and have a strategy moving forward.”
The task is enormous, starting with the actual technical process of reporting. Keele advises her clients about what data they’re going to need, how they should go about aggregating and calculating that data and reporting on it, and what technologies to use to gather climate and ESG data. “A lot of my time is spent making sure that companies have the correct strategy, have the right programs in place and that as an organization they’re prioritizing around and enabling those strategies,” she says. “That could mean any number of things going forward, from changing the way you operate or the suppliers you work with or even your hiring practices.”
Complicating the situation is that companies operating globally “face different standards between what the U.S. expects versus what the UK is asking for versus what the EU more broadly is expecting,” Keele points out.
Keele also notes that climate and ESG data are not “just sitting in one place.” Companies might find it in their utility bills, or in sensors within the buildings they own that measure electricity consumption and occupancy. “If you’re an oil and gas company, it’s the sensors that are on pipelines or wells measuring flow meters and methane, and all kinds of things that are non-conventional from an enterprise perspective,” she says. Under the proposed regulations, organizations may need to mature their emissions and other climate metrics in order to be more granular and accurate. “That creates this cycle of, ‘Okay, we estimated the data in a reliable way, and now we’re going to try and get some actuals around it to refine our scope of what we can report.’”
Irrespective of whether the SEC’s regulatory initiative will succeed in the U.S., the growing clamor for transparency is not about checking a box, Keele says. “The point is, we want to understand where we collectively, as a company, as an industry, as a country, as a human population, are in terms of making progress toward reducing our carbon footprint, making it a more equitable world and having a true social impact.”
As for folks who are skeptical about climate change in general and think that the SEC is overreaching from a disclosure perspective, Keele emphasizes that “ESG is not something your company needs to do because it makes everybody feel good. It’s becoming a thing you can and should do because there’s value to be extracted from it — financial, reputational, operational. So, unless you want to look like a significant outlier compared to your peers, you’re going to have to do it. Otherwise, you’re putting your brand or your actual revenue at risk.”
For Keele and the ESG team at KPMG, recent conversations have focused around how they can assist their clients to make better business decisions generally and drive value from ESG-related efforts from an operational standpoint. For example, she’ll probe into a client’s real estate portfolio so that, as ESG standards evolve, she can help answer questions like “Can you better plan for where you invest to build new construction? Or, what leases may make sense today that over time you might not want to renew? If you install a program to de-carbonize your real estate footprint, how much energy consumption will you be able to reduce and how much will that reduce your operational costs?”
Ultimately, the opportunity to assist clients in the climate space has given new meaning to her decade-long career in consultancy. “The impact potential is huge,” she says. “That definitely invigorates me and my colleagues. It’s so nice to be working on something that feels meaningful and transformative at such a large scale, and that, by and large, most companies have bought into.”
That includes KPMG. “We’re working from the inside out,” she says. “It is something that we’re very committed to in terms of enabling our teams to deliver work in this space, but we’re also doing it for ourselves as an organization. That tells me that this is more than just the topic du jour and that there’s serious staying power here.”
Want to learn more about why carbon emissions disclosure and reporting benefit people, corporations and the environment? UCLA Anderson’s Center for Impact@Anderson is researching and measuring firms’ performance.