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Q&A with Paul Hargreaves

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Paul Hargreaves, Chief Empowerment Officer.

How could you describe your career path in a few words?

I would probably describe myself as ‘an accidental entrepreneur’ as I fell into founding and growing successful businesses almost by accident. I was working within the charitable sector for over a decade, trying to help people in a very poor part of London and needed to find a way of supplementing my very low income to support my children. The business started on a very small scale with me driving around to fine food shops and selling them a small range of artisan food products from The Cotswolds.

When it was clear that there was a demand for the products, I teamed up with a business partner, who had also come from the charity sector, and we started a proper business. We both came to the realisation that whilst charities mopped up mess, businesses had a real opportunity to employ people well and give people a real chance in life. As such, 3 of our first 5 employees would have been ‘unemployable’ to others.

So, the DNA of being a business for good was there at the start and, despite losing that purpose for a decade after my business partner left after only 2 years, it helped us become one of the first UK B Corps and for me to be one of the leaders of the sustainable business movement in the UK.

What was your most challenging experience, and it has changed your mindset?

The most challenging experience was in 2014 when I almost lost everything, I had worked hard to build over the previous 15 years. We had installed a new warehouse management system which went horribly wrong resulting in upset customers, suppliers and everyone who worked for me. We were a few weeks from going under and it was an extremely stressful time. Now, though, I look back with thanks for this time as it was the turning point for me and the business.

It helped in several ways:

  • The people who weren’t committed to being a business for good left.

  • It was very clear that we needed a much clearer purpose as a business, our ‘Why’.

  • The experience (and a couple of personal traumas) helped me to discover my personal ‘reason for being’ which was covered up by frenetic activity or ‘doing’ up to that point.

It was soon after this very difficult time that I discovered the B Corp movement and I, in effect, started the business again with much stronger foundations and we have never looked back. Most successful people have had traumatic times and I strongly believe that we need these difficult times to change us, build our character and help us become better leaders.

Based on your experiences, what skills should an entrepreneur develop in 2023?

As mentioned above I spent many, many years focused on achieving and ‘doing’ and many entrepreneurs are the same as generally they are people who ‘get things done’. Now, though I would say I do much less but achieve more by spending time in silence and reflection and in nature. We live in a world that is increasingly going to bring more and more challenges and business leaders need to be able to be able to change and adapt faster than ever before in these VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex & ambiguous) times. Key to being a good leader in 2023 is to learn compassion for both people and nature. For centuries have taken from people and planet and a successful leader now are those who are generous and compassionate to their people and the world around us. The old ways of doing business are already breaking down and our ecosystems are collapsing due to bad business practices over the past 200 years. We can’t fix the problems using the same dualist methodology that created them in the first place. 2023 and beyond needs leaders who can be creatively change their businesses in order to help alleviate poverty and alleviate climate change.

Based on your recent experiences, if you had one piece of advice for an entrepreneur's success in the context of 2023, what would it be?

Giving only one piece of advice is always difficult, but if we could learn to make our decisions by intuition as well as logic, we would have better businesses. I have always used the phrase ‘go with your gut’ but now with more authority as recent science is showing more and more links between our guts and our brain. Too often, is we only use the logical left side of our brain then we can miss an opportunity. Clearer there does need to a business case for decisions we make, but in our leadership meetings we always go around the table and ask each other how we feel about decisions that are being made and this sometimes means taking more risks, which surely successful businesses need to do more of.

This also extends into our recruitment. Sometimes the most qualified person isn’t the one who is right for our culture, and by asking some challenging questions we try to get to the core of the person rather than just their skills and experience. I call these my ‘heart and soul’ questions - if ever there was a time when we need people at work engaging their heart and soul it is now!

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