Like most entrepreneurs, I like independence, to the point of being contrary sometimes, and I don’t like to follow the herd. So, when I first heard about a movement that judges how ethical your business is, I had an almost allergic reaction, until my thinking changed.
Initially, it felt to me that the fast-growing B Corp global accreditation, born in the USA in 2006, that “marks” a business against its impact on the world, was some kind of New Age monster – a toxic combination of West Coast wokeness and box-ticking administration. And it felt like it would distract us from our core business.
It also felt unnecessary. From the start of Ten, we had been ahead of the curve – focused on values and trust, on creating an office environment where people could be themselves at work, and are treated fairly. We had taken tough, even unprofitable, decisions to try to do the right things for our membership; I have even signed up to the Founders Pledge, committing to give a sizeable chunk of my “upside” from my shareholding in Ten to good causes.
We thought, “We know we are on the side of the angels, why do we need an outside organisation to certify us?”
And yet, this month we asked our shareholders – including serious “big name” fund managers at Lombard Odier, Baillie Gifford, Soros and Canaccord – to vote to enable us to become a B Corp. That includes amending our company articles so that we agree to make decisions considering what is right, not only for shareholders, but also for our colleagues, our clients, the environment and broader society.
Three things changed my mind.
Firstly, I gradually learned, mostly from other entrepreneurs, that B Corp is not a box-ticking exercise. The evaluation framework the movement provides stimulates ideas and shares fresh, best practice. As we went through the survey, it made us notice that in some areas we had been resting on our laurels, and the process has resulted in new, better plans that are improving our business.
Secondly, there is not a pre-defined way to achieve B Corp status – every company applies it differently. For us, organising holidays for our members remains part of what we do. However, we have invested in becoming more skilled at organising staycations, so that more people choose to stay in the UK; and we have made it easier for our green-minded members to more easily select the most sustainable restaurants and hotels.
Thirdly, the B Corp movement is a magnet for attracting new business and staff. That’s partly because it is rapidly becoming more widely understood. Andreas Adamides, CEO of Helm, the community for London’s fast-growing business founders, says “I expect we’ll see close to half our members become B Corps within two years and more than 20% have already started their B Corp accreditation.” More than 4,000 companies have become B Corps in the past four years. The Kite-mark opens up new conversations. Instead of being empty virtue signalling, it is genuinely value-creating. One of our blue-chip partners is Coutts, which became a B Corp in 2021. The private bank is delighted that we are joining it, and that leads to new opportunities to serve our shared customers.
Not everyone agrees with us. A long-standing and respected private investor voted against our change and sent me an article from entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy who passionately makes the case against “woke capitalism”.
But overall, I do now believe that becoming a B Corp will not distract us, it won’t force us to conform to a “right-on” brigade or turn us into shallow “re-tweeters” of the latest hip movement. It is simply an extremely useful tool to help us create a more successful business that we can be proud of. And this month, 95% of our voting shareholders, including some of the hardest capitalists in the City, agreed.
By Alex Cheatle