The Mainstream Values Chain: Randal Barker, Head of Legal APAC
11 May 2023
The Mainstream Values Chain is a new series that shines a light on colleagues across our global business, showing how they live the company’s values in their day-to-day work, and how that work links into our mission of delivering a sustainable, just transition to renewable energy.
Our second profilee, RANDAL BARKER, has recently relocated to Singapore to assume the position of Head of Legal, APAC. From a Quaker background in rural Ontario, Canada, he is an experienced lawyer in the fields of M&A and IPOs, has worked in Canada, the US, the UK, Japan and Australia, and joins Mainstream having held senior General Counsel positions with two large corporations, Lightsource bp and the mining giant BHP.
One of your briefs is to be a ‘business enabler’. What opportunities are you most excited about given this is an emerging market for renewable energy?
What I’ve found during a varied career in different sectors, geographies and types of organisations, is that I most enjoy operating in an entrepreneurial environment with a bit of structure.
Mainstream APAC is ideal in that respect, because the business is effectively a start-up in the region, and yet has the support and best practices of established businesses in the form of the Dublin head office and the blue-chip investors, Aker Horizons and Mitsui.
I have scope in my role to help drive business development in APAC, as well as to help put in place the legal, compliance and governance supports that the business requires for sustainable growth. These underpins include standard contracts, compliance training and enterprise risk management.
From a legal perspective, what have been the big changes in the business world over the past ten years, and what’s on the horizon?
I’m a graduate of Harvard University and the McGill University Faculty of Law, and I have seen American practices spread across the world during the course of my career. Law is such a significant risk area in the US market because of the litigation culture and high monetary awards, and lawyers are embedded in every stage of the business cycle, providing both legal and commercial inputs.
The benefit is that the legal team sees business risks holistically, and makes linkages between them, which allows for better risk identification, assessment and management. Lawyers are also good at process, which allows for the design and implementation of a better end-to-end framework to capture business risk. I expect that the innovations in the next ten years will be driven by technology, with more use of Artificial Intelligence and machine-learning.
You have worked in the renewable energy and energy intensive mining sectors. Is there any way such different industries can advance climate action together?
There is a lot of common ground between renewable energy and mining businesses now in the climate action area. The convergence has come from renewable energy companies realising that producing renewable energy is not enough (and focusing on how to operate more sustainably – e.g. addressing modern slavery risk in supply chains), and mining companies majoring on the necessity of certain commodities for the energy transition such as copper and lithium (and not just explaining how they operate sustainably – e.g. engaging with local communities and minimising the environmental impact from their operations).
There is also a real business opportunity for renewable energy companies to supply power to energy-intensive mining operations and Mainstream is well-placed to do this as a reputable supplier.
Does being a Quaker give you a different perspective on how we can achieve a just energy transition?
Being a Quaker is a core part of my identity and Quakers have been early movers on the key issues of our day (including sustainability and equality). Quaker advocacy for a just energy transition is focused on loss and damage, which is the “third pillar” of climate action alongside mitigation and adaption. Loss and damage is about providing funds to support communities experiencing loss and damage from climate change. Implicit in this is the recognition that climate change is having a disproportionate impact on developing countries and that most of the emissions come from developed countries.
At a more personal level, I know Quakers who have spent time in prison for participating in climate action protests and demonstrations. While I do not agree with the path they have taken, I know that they have sacrificed for their beliefs, and I respect them for the strength of their convictions.
“These are spending time outside. I went to a boarding school near Toronto modelled on the outward-bound ethos (learning though adventure in the outdoors) where there was no indoor gym, so lots of outdoor sports and activities! These days I tend to channel this into road cycling and I’m looking forward to getting involved with the cycling community in Singapore.”
Name one change you have made (or intend to make) in your life in order to be more sustainable
I had coffee with a business contact a few weeks ago and he made the comment that everyone is talking about ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] and I’m the only one he knows who is actually doing it. What this means is that I have made the positive decision to be part of the climate change solution by working in renewable energy (and not in another sector where sustainability is about making incremental improvements around the edges). I have also made changes in my personal life such as cycling more for transport and choosing 100% renewable energy for our home electricity supply.
“To play the electric guitar as well as Jimi Hendrix. One of my most valued possessions is a vintage Gibson Les Paul that my family gave me when they realised I loved playing. I really like heavy metal, which may surprise people. I began to take lessons with my eldest son when he was seven. He is now 23 and performs and writes his own music, and I’m still plodding along mastering riffs and trying not to disturb the neighbours.”
“Sing. I was in the school choir until my voice changed and I was then kicked out. Apparently, I was so bad that my next younger brother wasn’t even allowed to audition!”
You’re no stranger to high-pressure roles, so how do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
I’m not sure I get this one right, although I do recommended things such as cycling for exercise, reading widely and some meditation.
Most important for me – and this is my lesson from the pandemic – is the importance of family and friends. We are social animals and human interaction is incredibly important for health and happiness.
You have oversight of ethics compliance in our APAC business. Have there been times in your life when doing the right thing has meant hard decisions?
Yes, I resigned from one job because I did not feel comfortable with the direction of travel. This created uncertainty in my career trajectory but fortunately my next employer valued the choice that I had made. These decisions are judged with hindsight, and it is important to act on your values and do the right thing.
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