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SaltWire: ‘You simply need to take that initial step forward’

After working for more than 15 years in the institutional equity markets for major Canadian financial institutions, where she was consistently ranked as a top-tier salesperson, Milla Craig wanted more.

She had a desire to focus on topics that weren’t being explored to their full potential when assessing the value of a corporation.

“When I left Scotia Capital, I started to recognize a new trend in the marketplace. In capital markets, our focus tends to be solely on financials, setting aside the broader aspects crucial for long-term sustainability. These include attracting and retaining top talent, fostering diversity in the workforce, addressing cybersecurity concerns, and acknowledging the impacts of climate change and other potential risks to the business,” says Craig.

It became apparent to her that investors were already considering these factors, yet there wasn’t an official platform to address them.

“The motivation behind starting my business was two-fold – to help investors grasp the value of these non-financial aspects, and to assist companies in understanding and effectively communicating these issues to investors. Ultimately, the goal was to facilitate access to capital for both investors and corporates alike,” adds Craig.

Craig founded Millani, a Montreal-based Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory firm, in 2008. Operating successfully for 16 years, Millani specializes in advising on integrating ESG issues into investment strategies, reducing risks, and enhancing returns. The company offers leadership in investor trends and assists corporations – public and private – in strategy creation, stakeholder engagement and disclosure enhancement. These goals promote access to capital and maximize market value.

As the spouse of an entrepreneur, Craig had an opportunity to closely observe her husband’s journey. Inspired by his entrepreneurial spirit, she decided to take the plunge herself.

“I started by renting a small space in his office, essentially a broom closet. What I gleaned from this experience is that to pursue a great idea, you simply need to take that initial step forward. My venture has been entirely self-funded, and though it took time, I eventually managed to assemble a team of like-minded individuals who shared my vision. Despite limited financial resources, they were eager to be part of the project because they believed in its potential,” says Craig.

When setting up Millani, Craig overcame initial challenges – such as helping clients understand the importance of responsible investing and corporate sustainability advisory services, including ESG integration and impact – to both investors and companies.

“One of the primary hurdles I faced was elucidating the concept to others and conveying its importance. As we advanced, we wanted companies to recognize the importance of investing in support of ESG development, especially in the early stages of the market evolution in Canada,” adds Craig.

During the pandemic, in 2022, Craig discovered the Centre for Women in Business’ Greater Heights of Growth Program (GHG). The initiative – created with support from the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy – focuses on helping women business owners build a solid business model and manage risk and profitability through controlled growth. It provides practical tools, strategies and content to grow a scalable interactive business model.

The Centre for Women in Business – seated at Mount Saint Vincent University – has supported women entrepreneurs across Canada for 32 years by providing learning opportunities, exposure, networking and membership programs, to women identifying and gender diverse entrepreneurs at all stages of business development.

“Amidst the pandemic, my business experienced significant growth as the market began to grasp the importance of Environmental, Social and Governance factors. The pandemic spotlighted the significance of the ‘S’ in ESG, emphasizing the value of prioritizing people and societal impact. This exponential growth prompted my interest in undertaking this course and program. I sought to gain insights into managing and sustaining this growth effectively,” adds Craig.

According to Craig, the program included practical and tactical opportunities.

“It was focused on women, which I found interesting. All have their own small or, in some cases, larger businesses. It provided a safe environment for genuine discussions. Throughout the program, we not only learned practical tactics but also had the opportunity to discuss challenges and implementation. […] It was hands-on and allowed for valuable exchanges among participants,” says Craig.

“What stood out were aspects like shifting business models and strategic thinking. I didn’t initially start with a solid business plan; it was more of a learn-as-you-go approach. This program equipped me with practical tools for immediate implementation. Many of these tools are still integral to our yearly strategic planning, contributing to our substantial growth,” she adds.

For Craig, client relationships are fundamental.

“Our unique offerings in the market rely heavily on positive client feedback for credibility. In a more competitive market, leveraging client testimonials is crucial for opening doors,” says Craig.

And they did indeed open doors.

Millani boasts some of Canada’s most prominent asset managers, serving corporate entities listed on the stock exchange. They cater to some of the largest pension plans in Canada.

Their focus lies in facilitating the connection between these listed corporations and the investors participating in the stock market. Their goal is to facilitate the flow of capital to Canadian businesses. Currently, Craig works with a team of 10 people who handle client mandates.

According to Craig, in recent years, there has been a noticeable shift towards acknowledging the reality of climate change. As a result, the financial markets are evolving, with a growing emphasis on measuring these impacts and exploring ways to mitigate negative effects.

“We have been early adopters in this regard, with a strong focus on understanding capital flows and a commitment to thought leadership. Our regular investor sentiment studies, conducted biannually, contribute significantly to our understanding of market trends and inform our strategic direction,” adds Craig.

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