HM Insights

Values-led business takes centre stage at the Impact Summit

Natalie Wallace, a solicitor in our Corporate department who specialises in advising entrepreneurs throughout their life cycle, has been a regular attendee at the Impact Summit – Europe's leading purpose-led business event - in recent years.

She attended again this year to meet with likeminded businesses and hear from founders and experts of world leading impact brands. Despite the event being online again this year due to the pandemic, it certainly did not disappoint.

The prominence of "Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG)", "impact" and "purpose" in business has grown massively throughout the pandemic. People have had time to consider their values and realise their importance to our everyday lives. In turn, many people are now enshrining these values in their businesses.

Across two days, this year's Impact Summit was packed with over 30 keynotes, interviews, panels workshops, Q&As as well as the Impact Summit Competition and the calibre of speakers was fantastic.  Later in this blog, you'll read some highlights involving speakers from Timpsons, drinks brand Innocent, IKEA and Iceland – very well-known brands across the UK. There were so many highlights and great speakers that it's going to be difficult to digest it all in one short blog but we will try our best!

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It's not the profit, it's what you do with it?

There was a common theme across many of the speakers such as Richard Walker of Iceland and Douglas Lamont of Innocent speaking about the importance of profit. A narrative has been created in some quarters that profit is exploitation and is not needed in business, which they argued is not true.  We need profit for businesses to be successful and grow, employ staff and support communities but it is what businesses do with that profit that is important.

This is something that we completely agree with. All too often we encounter businesses that don't consider the "profit" element enough but this is fundamental to growth and, as we noted above, to employ staff and support communities. 

The key aspect when it comes to impact and purpose is what that profit is then used for such as staff mental health or environmental issues. The three "Ps" of profit, planet and purpose are intrinsically linked and together can create what was often referred to throughout the event as "sustainable capitalism". 

This also brings responsibility for businesses to be activists and inform customers, clients, suppliers and likeminded businesses of the three Ps and "tell them about what needs to be done without telling them off". Large corporations and businesses are now wakening up to the importance of sustainability and the three Ps, but some are too late. 

Mike Barry, ex-M&S now Change Agent, noted that Tesla is now worth more than all other car companies combined because they took the risk years ago and knew that electric was the future. He advised that if businesses do not start to conform to sustainability, they will not have a business by 2030. Change happens quickly and the importance of sustainability and impact is already prominent across businesses from start ups to scale ups to large corporates - that's why it such an exciting and important area that we support.

Ticking boxes?

Sustainability and impact should not however just be a tick box exercise. James Timpson of Timpsons and Jessie Macneil-Brown of Ikea both discussed the importance of this during their fireside chats.  Jessie said that she feels Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an old phrase that is not what impact and purpose are about. 

CSR tends to be HR-led and consists of things such as giving employees time off to dedicate to volunteering, without that volunteering necessarily having a purpose for the employee/company. We need to focus on "brand purpose" and how to communicate that to staff to allow them to generate a positive impact. 

Timpsons key values are trust and kindness, which James explained is the basis of all of the decisions they make and the reason he believes they are so successful. It seems that CSR policies are a thing of the past and true purpose is what businesses need to focus on and encourage in their staff for the future.

Impact Investing

The highlight across the two days was definitely the Impact Investing 101 panel.  Four female investors, (Milly Shotter, Zoe Peden, Check Warner and Nadia El Hadery) were interviewed by Daisy Ford-Downes about the importance of impact investing and what they look for in a business when they want to invest.

It was refreshing to see an all-female panel, especially after Mike Barry confirmed that one of the reasons he decided to leave his senior role at M&S was to allow younger, more diverse groups to be represented at a senior level. The panellists highlighted prominent sectors in which impact investing feature heavily, including food and drink and medical technology. 

Our Entrepreneurial team at Harper Macleod have seen a similar trend, with technology (including medical and health) and food and drink being the top sectors for deals since 2019. Great advice was given to entrepreneurs about how to pitch for investment and key questions to ask such as the size of the fund and the plan for the future of the business. 

Check Warren, Founder of Ada Ventures, stressed the importance of business structure. A business needs to consider if it wants to be a charity, a social enterprise or a limited company.  If it is looking to obtain impact investment, it should be a limited company to allow it to grow and obtain investment.  We always stress to clients the importance of getting solid foundations and the correct structure in place to allow the business to grow.  It's never too early to be speaking with a lawyer about your plans for your business to ensure that you do not inadvertently do something at an early stage that could hinder your business going forward.

It was clear from the expertise on the panel that impact investing is not going anywhere and it is a focus for a large number of key investors. Zoe Peden, Investment Manager of Ananda Impact Ventures, discussed how there is not mainstream investment on one side of the line and impact investing on the other. Impact investing is mainstream investing and all businesses should be seeking impact investors as these impact principles will be key to any business and will be imperative to their growth. 

Get in touch – we're here to help

It was clear from the questions from the number of attendees and the calibre of speakers that Impact Summit 2021 was a huge success. Impact and purpose are here to stay and at Harper Macleod we are seeing the importance of them in our client's businesses as well as in our own business.   

Hopefully as you'll see from this blog and her recent social media content that Natalie is completely passionate about this area for lots of different reasons so get in touch with her if you want to discuss any issues highlighted in this blog.  

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