As the co-founder and CEO of impactvise AG, Adrian Peyer has a vision to help law firms across the globe become more sustainable in their business practices, and to help them align to global Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards.
A former corporate lawyer with more than two decades of experience, Adrian spent 19 of those years as in-house counsel with Zurich Insurance Group. His roles included leading the Corporate Centre Legal Team, acting as Company Secretary to the Group Board of Directors, and running the company’s global legal operations. Inspired by the company’s dedication towards ESG matters, Adrian shares that he too began to consider how he could contribute to sustainable business practices.
“Zurich Insurance was a firm believer in ESG and had adopted it into their overall growth strategy… In my role as in-house counsel, I saw that I could play a part by choosing to work with law firms that aligned with our company’s values, especially in the area of ESG.”
Somewhere along the way, however, Adrian began to realise that many law firms, even the global ones, were not as far along on the ESG journey as they should have been. Moreover, there was little to no framework or standards on which law firms could benchmark their ESG efforts against. This was where the seed for impactvise AG was first planted.
Moving out of his comfort zone
While Adrian shares that while he has always held some interest in entrepreneurship, it was mostly just a passing thought.
“I was very comfortable and well-established in my previous role and never thought too much about risking it to step out on my own.”
Around the middle of 2020, however, as individuals and companies were starting to grapple with the legal implications of COVID-19 on business and human resource matters, something awakened inside of Adrian. He saw how smaller enterprises were struggling and wanted to help them gain access to much-needed legal advice.
“When the pandemic hit, we had so many questions within our legal department. We were a large company that could handle it, but what about the smaller and medium enterprises that did not have the legal resources and probably also the money to hire external legal counsel.”
This resulted in Adrian starting up Legal Solidarity, a campaign that pulled together Swiss law firms to provide free legal advice to people who had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It wasn’t exactly an entrepreneurial thing, but it was me coming up with an initiative; turning an idea into action to do something meaningful. That sort of sparked something in me.”
The experience of starting Legal Solidarity coupled with enforced working from home arrangements due to COVID-19 inadvertently put Adrian in a position where he was now ready to leave the comfort of his established career to try something new.
“Having spent more time at home with my four young kids during COVID-19 let me experience a completely different engagement with my family. I started to think about what kind of meaningful business I could start that would also allow me to spend more time with the family.”
Equipping himself for the new role
In preparing for his new start-up, Adrian started to look around at how he might better equip himself with entrepreneurial skills. No stranger to INSEAD, having formerly completed its Leadership Excellence through Awareness and Practice (LEAP) programme in 2018, Adrian decided to look through its list of courses for something that might support him in his new venture.
Incidentally, he discovered that INSEAD had just launched a new Entrepreneurship: New Business Ventures (EBV) programme in 2021 that catered to people at different stages of the start-up journey.
“What attracted me were the topics that the programme covered. From ideation to pace of growth to building a team, it was useful content that would help me better frame my thoughts and my approach… Our lecturer, Professor Henning Piezunka, taught us to challenge our own ideas. Because, oftentimes, we end up becoming too in love with our own idea that we lose our objectivity. But now I know: having an idea does not equate to it being commercially viable.”
Yet another useful takeaway that Adrian got from the EBV programme was with regards to building a team. He shared that instead of just surrounding oneself with like-minded people, there was also much value in building a diverse team that could provide different perspectives as well as complement existing skillsets.
“It helped to affirm our decision to hire, for example, a data science person into our core team, because that was a complementary skillset that we did not have, and which would be beneficial to our overall business strategy as well.”
Real-world learning with real-world implications
Adrian might have gone into INSEAD’s EBV programme to pick up practical knowledge about starting up a new venture, but came away with much more. He shares that beyond the technical knowledge download, he also benefited greatly from the practical classroom exercises and interactions with his lecturer and programme mates.
“One of the exercises was to pitch a business idea to actual investors. It was like a dry run for our own business – this was a good practice in a safe environment for what we would actually need to do, and certainly not an opportunity that comes by easily.”
The diverse mix of participants also gave Adrian some unique insights into other entrepreneurs’ mindsets.
“There was a good mix of people who were about to start their own businesses, some who had already started and some who were from large corporations, looking to innovate from within. This gave me different perspectives. It was also interesting to see and hear other people’s ideas and the passion they had.”
Another aspect of the programme that Adrian appreciated was how the lecturers were able to bring across learning points in a very visual and experiential manner.
“Prof Henning was exceptional in this regard. He didn’t just use traditional slides. He was able to use stories such as the Antarctica exploration to parallel the journey of an entrepreneur – like how you need the courage and the right team, and the ability to adapt to different circumstances."
Today, right out of the programme, Adrian has already been able to transfer his learnings to benefit impactvise.
“Moving forward, impactvise is going to be focusing on growth and partnerships. These are two things that I really gained insight on at INSEAD. In the first area, I have learnt that it is not always best to expand at full speed. Sometimes you need to stop to ensure you get the quality right, and consider if what you are doing is scalable. Don’t just rush to grow your business and then find out later on that there is no market for your product…
So, even though we are now exploring partnerships to help us scale up quicker, we will not be rushing the process, but we will be patiently taking our time to evaluate, making sure our partners are a right fit.”