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Finding purpose: What are entrepreneurs for?



In the latest roundtable discussion for Coutts Entrepreneur Month, we asked a panel of prominent business founders how their firms can have a social conscience.

3 min read

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.” 

These were the words of BlackRock CEO Larry Fink earlier this year, emphasising the importance of businesses having a social conscience.

Coutts’ chairman of entrepreneurs, Michael Hayman, shared Mr Fink’s words with guests at the second flagship event of our inaugural Entrepreneur Month, discussing how and why entrepreneurs should put purpose at the forefront of their businesses.

Addressing our  guests on Thursday morning was a panel of four founders whose businesses all live and breathe social conscience. They were:

  • Iqbal Wahhab; founder of restaurants The Cinnamon Club and Roast
  • Laura Winningham; CEO of hunger relief charity City Harvest
  • Renée Elliott; founder of health food store Planet Organic and co-founder of life-skills academy for women, Beluga Bean
  • Maurice Ostro; serial entrepreneur and most recently founder of EG (Entrepreneurial Giving)


Be clear about your social goals

In a 20-minute panel discussion, the speakers were asked to frame the importance of purpose in business and reflect on how it has become more important in the last decade.

The significance of transparency was a common theme during the discussion. “Things have shifted,” Maurice explained. “Years ago it took a long time to find out about scandals in business, but today you can find out instantly and think, ‘why should I buy from these terrible companies?’”

Renée agreed, “Consumers are looking at businesses and questioning whether they can trust them. Are they ‘greenwashing’, are they making their mission up? Customers are digging deeper and the companies that are transparent will succeed more easily in the future,” she said.

The panellists were asked about the importance of tackling climate change, and Renée explained that it was something she had been thinking about for a long time. “Organic farming has a completely different environmental impact to industrial farming,” she said. “The organic industry has been well ahead – I was sat in rooms talking about this 10 to 15 years ago.”

And for Laura, the very ethos of City Harvest is tied to environmental sustainability. “Companies have three million tonnes of food going to waste and they are making economic decisions to send this to landfills,” she said. “Every decision like this uses greenhouse gases. We provide an alternative to re-direct food waste.”

“We all want to feel like we’re doing something good. If you can just align that with your business’s purpose, you can pay your mortgage while feeling good about what you’re doing.”
Maurice Ostro, entrepreneur and founder of Entrepreneurial Giving

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The difference a job can make

One guest asked if they had been wrong to focus on their 60 person team’s wellbeing and not on wider world issues such as climate change, provoking different responses.

While Iqbal has a non-discriminatory recruitment process, which includes the hiring of ex-offenders – “Every time we hire an ex-offender we save the state £70,000,” he explained – he also encouraged a wider approach to social issues. “Investors want to see that. They are looking for companies that aim to do good, and that changed dynamic will be how businesses grow quicker.”

But Maurice said a small business that created 60 tax-paying jobs provided a purposeful contribution to society equal to anything else. “These are the things that can change society immeasurably. People need to work, have dignity, feed their families,” he said.

Finally, the panel reflected on how important a social conscience was for their staff.

Iqbal spoke about an internal report which found that more than 80% of his staff’s primary reason for working for him was the social conscience of the business. While Laura said she was at a point that she would feel comfortable leaving City Harvest knowing how passionate her staff was about injecting purpose.

Maurice had the final word on the matter. He said: “We all want to feel like we’re doing something good. If you can just align that with your business’s purpose, you can pay your mortgage while feeling good about what you’re doing.”


Coutts Entrepreneur Month

Entrepreneur Month launched at the start of October in the atrium of our HQ at 440 Strand in London. The opening event focused on the macro –what’s next for Britain’s entrepreneurs? – while three further, more intimate events are designed to focus on the micro – purpose, diversity and innovation.

Find out more about Coutts Entrepreneur Month and read the insights shared by top business founders at the launch event. There are more top tips on building a successful business in our interviews with Cobra Beer founder Lord Bilimoria and The Dots founder, Pip Jamieson.

Key Takeaways

Business doesn’t have to be only about making money - in fact, it almost never is. Entrepreneurs in particular can bring their heart as well as their brain to their businesses. And mounting evidence suggests that a clear and consistently applied social mission is important to customers and can build employee engagement.

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