The WHU Alumna Leading the Way for Climate-Friendly Investments

Maxi Heidenblut on authenticity, entrepreneurship, and solutions to save the planet

In 2013, she was a WHU graduate with a background in asset management. Today, she is Head of ESG & Climate Products for MSCI in New York. Maximiliane (Maxi) Heidenblut is a talented finance professional making an impact. Before her current role, she worked for J.P.Morgan, then investment giant BlackRock, and technology company Diversio as Global Head of Business Development. In her spare time, she founded her own company. In 2012, however, she joined the WHU Full-Time MBA program, looking for a change of direction.

“Joining the Full-Time MBA was a big risk for me,” she explains. “I quit my job, and of course, when you do that, you lose the safety of regular income. But I wanted to immerse myself in the experience and explore other career paths. I found the focus on leadership skills attractive and wanted to develop my soft skills. We traveled to China, India, to the US, and these cultural experiences were valuable as they changed my whole perspective.”

Authentic leadership

Maxi is clear on the values she holds as a leader: inspiration, transparency, and authenticity. “The MBA really helped me to shape these principles. I want to encourage growth in my team while being transparent about any promises I can or can’t make. Being authentic and vulnerable is essential for a young leader like me. Admitting that you don’t know everything is important, and I think good leaders ask a lot of questions versus giving directions.”

“I advise any MBA student to develop their personal style by learning from the leaders they meet throughout their career. Learn from your own experiences and what you’re exposed to. Pick the best features and bring this to your core values for your leadership style. It’s always a little different for everyone, but that’s the best way to stay true to yourself.”

Investing in the planet

A year ago, Maxi joined MSCI, a global financial services company headquartered in New York. The company enables its clients to understand the drivers of risk and return to make better investment decisions. This includes ESG and climate products. “I head the ESG & Climate Products Team for the Americas,” explains Maxi. “I develop solutions for investors to better measure the carbon footprint of their portfolio and investments. For example, there are a lot of net zero commitments that investors want to achieve when it comes to climate change. How can we empower our clients to get there with better tools or models? Understanding the risks and exposures and providing these inputs to our clients helps them to steer investments toward innovative solutions. These will improve their portfolios and, at the same time, help solve the climate crisis.”

“Where money gets invested can really make a difference. For example, if an investor finances a start-up developing decarbonization technology, that makes an impact. How investors allocate capital matters, and we assist them in these decisions by equipping them with better information. We are not what you imagine traditional financial services to be; everyone is committed to improving our client’s portfolios, fighting climate change, and making an impact. It’s a very empowering position to be in.”

A sweet partnership and entrepreneurial ventures

For Maxi, the WHU alum network left a lasting impression. When founding her own vegan fruit gum company, Häppy Candy, she reached out to the network in search of a management team. “WHU has a fantastic network, and the alumni community is very supportive. I was surprised at just how communicative and encouraging this network has been, especially since I left the program: it’s a very active community. I posted on the WHU intranet and was lucky to find Kevin, a current Global Online MBA student who is now our e-commerce advisor. He had already founded his own candy company and scaled it, so he brought a lot of skills I didn’t have. It was the perfect fit to bring Häppy Candy to the next level. I feel fortunate to find such a team who run Häppy Candy on a daily basis.”

Maxi explains that the idea came from her relationship with food and struggles with an autoimmune disease. “I worked with a nutrition scientist in Germany as I didn’t feel very healthy. I discovered some surprising insights and how Germany and the US face an obesity epidemic. Many highly processed sugary options are on the market, backed heavily by the food industry. Our product contains 80% less sugar than conventional fruit gums and is rich in fiber. We also do not use palm oil due to its negative impact on biodiversity. It is a healthier option, and I am passionate about producing a better product for people and the planet. I truly believe that sugar in the future will be taxed and regulated like tobacco or alcohol because of the negative impact it has on people’s health.” 

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