Nandita Sahgal Tully is Managing Director at the impact asset manager ThomasLloyd. There, she is responsible for the group’s investments in the Indian subcontinent. She was part of the leadership team who led the group’s first investment into renewable energy in India in 2018 – investing into SolarArise India Projects Private Ltd, a Delhi-based developer and operator of grid-connected solar power projects in India. Fondsfrau Anke Dembowski talks with her about women in the infrastructure sector and what makes this sector so attractive to her.

Nandita, you are a senior woman in the industry – what has enabled your success?
When I started in the industry, I quite actively looked for mentors that could give me guidance on my career. At every level at the organisations I worked for, I found good mentors although mostly they were men. My approach to mentorship evolved as in the beginning I had quite a few general questions that I asked my mentor. After a while, I was more focussed and arranged meetings every two months with my mentor where I would discuss wider issues than just the day to day job such as career progression, opportunities and leadership.

What does it mean to be a female leader in the infrastructure sector?
We all know that asset management is a male dominated industry, and the asset class infrastructure very much so. I have now been working for more than 24 years in infrastructure and have deep knowledge of both the investment case and also the technical issues. This can include looking at the opportunities but also anticipating risks e.g.: currency, market, supply chain and so on.  For women that are interested in a career in infrastructure, I strongly recommend that you focus on having good technical knowledge and understanding!

Tell us more about your career… how did you find yourself in infrastructure?
I went there because I was always interested in emerging markets. Infrastructure is a global topic, and there are large projects in many jurisdictions. My particular interest was in energy, which is a sub-sector of infrastructure.

Do you feel you have particular responsibility to encourage more women into the sector?
Absolutely! Infrastructure is a great sector which offers lots of opportunities. ESG and more broadly impact investing and finding roles with purpose are important for the younger generation, and particularly women are interested in these topics. With the opportunities in infrastructure-financing and the trend towards more sustainability and climate action, there this has been a great impetus to encourage more women to join the sector.

When looking at the beneficiaries of the investments in the Philippines and India – does gender matter in infrastructure planning and provision?
Oh yes! We build up projects in remote areas. For example, we are providing energy and electrification to areas that were previously off grid. So we are creating an impact in the communities, which also benefits women, as it provides a whole ecosystem for them. In emerging markets, it is a problem keeping girls in school.   Our investments provide stable and renewable electricity for schools in the communities where we build the plants – something we take for granted in developed markets – which makes it a better place for all children and can help keep children in remote communities in school for longer, which is particularly important for young girls. Also, our plants are providing many good jobs for women. For example, in the Philippines, during the construction phase of one our plants, a group of local women organized and were provided food stalls so that they could prepare and sell food to the employees of North Negros Biopower and their Contractors. Members of this group were displaced sugarcane workers who were given the opportunity to make a living. They were able to earn extra income and sustain the daily needs of their families. As the women were busy with the operations of the kiosks, their husbands were hired as construction workers at the plant. This is a great example of the real impact our investments make. The flow on effect then means that these families have additional money to send their children to school.

Globally, investment in infrastructure assets is booming. What do you see as the key drivers for this growth? Where does this growth come from?
We believe the growth comes from an explicit and global shift of investors who are wanting to allocate capital to sustainability and impact investing.  The experience of the past 18 months has been a roller-coaster ride for many investors. With short-term interest rates still negative, traditional bond funds offer returns well below inflation, and equity markets are highly volatile. Investing in even the ‘greenest’ listed equity fund or buying the stock of the best-regarded public company provides no new money to the real economy; it merely changes the ownership of a share certificate. As countries seek to build back better and stronger from the COVID recession, investment in sustainable real assets will be the key driver of economic growth. With listed equities at historically very high valuations, today’s investor can best obtain the true benefits of infrastructure investment – superior risk-adjusted returns and portfolio diversification via non-correlated assets – in the private market and benefit from both lower volatility and higher absolute returns.

How do you describe the relationship between infrastructure and sustainability?
When investing, we don’t just consider or integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations, we go much further and deliver measurable positive impact while still delivering strong financial returns. We call this the ‘ThomasLloyd’ triple return of delivering financial, environmental and social returns. Since inception, we have tracked the environmental as well as socio-economic impact our investments have made. Our investments directly. Our investments in the Philippines and India, have generated lasting positive impact for the communities we operate in and the environment globally. Through our investments in renewable energy, millions of people in emerging markets have received access to stable and reliable energy. The immediate impact is clear with energy providing lighting to homes and schools, fuelling economic productivity and supporting socio-economic development. The indirect impact is exponential.

What key policy decisions in the countries you are focusing on do you see as vital to driving infrastructure investment?
At ThomasLloyd, we invest in high-growth and emerging markets in Asia. We have always invested where our money can have the most impact. To support the global green transition, we need to tackle the problem at the source and Asia is the world’s largest and fastest growing consumer of energy as well as the largest emitter of CO2.  This is a result of its rapid economic development, dominant manufacturing base and dependency on coal as the primary source of energy. In this context, the decarbonisation of Asia poses an unprecedented challenge. Many of the large economies in Asia have pledged net zero targets by the middle of this century, heralding a transformational change ahead in the Asian energy sector and potentially acting as the key catalyst for decarbonisation efforts in other Asian countries. Renewable energy is now largely cheaper than fossil fuels, generates more employment per dollar of expenditure than fossil fuels and would significantly reduce fossil fuel imports. So in terms of where we operate, the transition to green and renewable energy is a key priority for the governments where we invest.

What skills do you think the infrastructure sector needs to tackle vis a vis an increasingly digital enabled future?
For the asset management side, it is good to have a financial background to be able to do the job. And very importantly, you have to have an interest in what you are doing. You do not need to be an engineer, but you must be interested in global economies. Anyway, you should be open to learning, as it is such a changing sector with many new technologies!

What message would you leave for future women who are at the beginning of their careers and seek to one day be examples of excellent female leaders?
My message is: Always have a mentor, and ask lots of questions to the people around you. And then: Take opportunities. Be proactive in that!

How can you combine family and job?
Different things  work for different people, but in any case it is important to have reliable child care if you have a family and I have two children. I have been travelling internationally for 20 years now, and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t have a stable system of family and extra help which enabled me to do that!

Thank you for these good insights, Nandita!

 Nandita has 24 years’ emerging markets experience working in equity capital markets and M&A at Insinger de Beaufort and Seymour Pierce. Prior to joining ThomasLloyd, Nandita was Chief Executive Officer at IL&FS Global Financial Services (UK) Ltd., the UK subsidiary of the investment banking arm of IL&FS, one of India’s leading Financial Institutions focused on infrastructure development.

Nandita holds a Bachelors in Economics and Business from The University of Edinburgh, is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants England & Wales (ICAEW) and is Member of the Chartered Securities Institute. Additionally, Nandita is a Group Board Member and the Chair of the Audit Committee at the UK India Business Council (UKIBC).

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Anke Dembowski

Anke Dembowski ist Finanzjournalistin und Autorin verschiedener Investmentfonds- und anderer Finanzbücher. Sie ist außerdem Mit-Gründerin des Netzwerks „Fondsfrauen".