Sohaila Ouffata is the Managing Director of BMW i Ventures in Europe. Her work is focussed on investing in companies which can advance BMW’s future business, while also delivering social impact. BMW i Venture’s work is seen as vital in BMW’s transition to a more environmentally-conscious long-term business model.
“This is how the two perspectives come together: a very very financially attractive investment, and at the same time a company that has a super positive impact on society for one of our biggest climate crisis problems, which is plastic.”
In early September 2021, 150 junior lawyers from Hogan Lovells and our clients, took part in HL BaSE Training. Attendees were taken through a number of workshops and talks aimed at helping them to develop their commercial skills and social impact. On the final day of the program, delegates were paired with social enterprise clients, who they will be advising over the coming months, allowing them to deploy some of the skills which they developed through the program.
A highlight of this year’s program was the keynote speech from Sohaila Ouffata, Managing Director of BMW i Ventures in Europe.
Sohaila’s talk focussed on the connection between economic growth and purpose. As she explained, until recently the two were “seen as something that was not combinable. It was thought that you either make financially good investments, or you make social investments”. Sohaila spent years trying to convince people that the two concepts were not in fact mutually exclusive, but it is only in the past few years that people have really started taking notice.
Sohaila sees there as being a number of reasons for this attitude shift. First, consumers care increasingly about purpose and sustainability. Sohaila cited research showing that millennials are twice as likely to invest in companies which have a positive impact on the environment, and noted that this is a demographic group that is becoming increasingly relevant as they grow older and more influential. Secondly, regulatory pressures on corporations are increasing, which leaves them with little choice but to think about how they achieve profit-driven goals in a more sustainable way. Sohaila also stressed that increased regulatory pressure ultimately derives from changing attitudes at voter level. Finally, she cited research which suggests that purpose-driven companies have an 18% higher “return on investment” than conventional companies: purpose drives people to succeed in a way that profit alone does not.
So there’s a lot of money in purpose-driven business, which is just as well given the cost of addressing the social and environmental issues which these companies are seeking to address.
BMW itself is a conventional car-maker, and Sohaila is under no illusions about this: “The lines are blurry. The worlds are merging right now. We are not an impact investor. We would never say that we are – that would be just wrong. But we are making impactful investments.” Like many other companies, BMW understands that a serious approach to sustainability is vital to the long-term success of its business, and that’s why it sees the work of BMW i Ventures as so important.
Examples of portfolio companies which BMW i Ventures has invested in include Purecycle and Prometheus. Prometheus has developed an energy efficient way of producing carbon-neutral gasoline and Purecycle operates a patented plastic recycling process. In relation to Purecycle, Sohaila explained that “This is how the two perspectives come together: a very very financially attractive investment, and at the same time a company that has a super positive impact on society for one of our biggest climate crisis problems, which is plastic.”
Sohaila finished by highlighting the relevance of HL BaSE training and saying that the shift to more sustainable business is here to stay and is something that will define the careers of junior lawyers everywhere: “It’s easy to say that it’s just fashionable – everyone talks about it today, tomorrow it will be something else. But I don’t think so. I think that your work careers at Hogan Lovells will mainly be influenced by this shift.”
purpose-driven companies have an 18% higher “return on investment” than conventional companies: purpose drives people to succeed in a way that profit alone does not