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Jo’s Journey through Business and Sustainability: Part 1

Jo’s journey through business and sustainability: Part 1

My main achievement to date is surviving working with a serial entrepreneur, Larry Sullivan, for the past two decades whilst simultaneously successfully bringing up a fabulous daughter, now 21 and graduating from Oxford University in Chemistry. So I can certainly resonate with some of the challenges of work life balance for parents that were expressed at the Global Woman Summit. Balancing your time but always being fully ‘present’ at whatever you are doing is essential.

Those who work closely with entrepreneurs will probably appreciate the challenge that I refer to, and those of you reading who are in fact established entrepreneurs, you really should know how challenging you can be… But what is crucial is the importance of the relationships and teams surrounding each of you, to ultimately achieving success.

So, how have I not only survived, but thrived? In part my character, and also in part those I have chosen to work with, and I chose well. I do thrive on challenge, I am rather tenacious, make myself hard to ignore, but have matured from feeling a need to be forceful. I don’t really see barriers, just opportunities and challenges to overcome, puzzles to solve.

However - absolutely key was establishing, what is now, a quite extraordinary working relationship. Having a shared set of values, I believe, was one of the most important ingredients and also crucial for establishing any core leadership teams. We established mutual trust and certainly absolutely nothing works without this. Through actions, not words, consistently overtime, we demonstrated integrity and judgment.

I want to share with you our business landscape and primarily try and demonstrate how we use our enterprises as a force for greater good. If this story influences anyone reading to think slightly differently about the values of companies you choose to work for or how you run your own enterprises, I’d be delighted.

Our business landscape: COINS: A global presence, market leader in the UK, revenues of £30m, large for a niche software house. I sit on the Board as the Group Commercial Director. Currently my attention is focused on developing our business in Dubai, which is a very challenging environment. OASIS is the smallest in the group and focuses on the distribution market with cloud based SaaS offering with over 60% resilient revenue. I’m the CEO for this business responsible for Strategy and P&L. There’s nowhere to hide in a small business, which keeps you sharp!

Both are ERP software providers, which once is embedded in organisations remains pretty ‘sticky’, and builds very sustainable and resilient businesses. All operate with a shared set of values, driven firmly by the leadership. Our primary value, is that we believe that with privilege comes responsibility. We care about the outcomes of our people and our clients, we are committed to building socially responsible businesses and collaborating to achieve the best possible outcomes.

I think these are great examples of the ‘feminine values’ that Ervin Lazslo referenced at the conference when asked about his views regarding the potential impact of women leading the three of the largest western economies. His view seemed to be, that if these new leaders bring with them a set of ‘masculine values’, then nothing much is likely to change.

We try to apply our values to how and why we work. We invest in developing innovative and sustainable technology not only for our clients e.g. Building Information Modelling, Mobile applications, but also in the environment that we work – smart lighting and electrical vehicles. We always consider the value we can offer to our clients. We invest in our people, whom we seek long-term relationships with. We take care in the recruitment process to establish suitability and fit and then invest in people development, building effective teams with the use of tools like Belbin. We also bring in new talent through apprentice programmes.

Across our businesses we invest in wellbeing. On my journey, committed to my work and family, I lost track of my own wellbeing, and nearly doubled in size. I set about addressing it about 2 or 3 years ago, to get back to being fit for life, dropping 50 kilos or so, and can now run a half marathon at a drop of a hat. These days Larry and I tend to have our catch up meetings on ski lifts, bikes and in the mountains.

This also inspired me to ensure we put in place facilities within COINS that addresses the wellbeing of our people. We offer healthy breakfast and lunch onsite in our Cookie Bar facility and a gym facility. Both aid health and well being, but also support far better collaboration and communication between teams. It breaks down barriers. If you know and care about your colleagues, you are far more likely to better support them.

The real USP is our social agenda programmes. All our employees have the opportunity to learn and benefit from new experiences by engaging in different ways with our social agenda programmes. We run successful and profitable business, but seek to use the power of these businesses and our business knowledge to help build amore sustainable future for those less privileged. This gives far greater reason to why we work.

I had not long met Larry when he invited me to attend a fundraising challenge event in Windsor Great Park alongside some young people who had quite severe cerebral palsy. They had travelled quite some way, and had been sponsored to cover the ½ marathon course and we were their support crew. Prior to this event I perhaps would have been described as a social Darwinist, a child of Thatcher, survival of the fittest and to heck with all others. I’m not sure I had actually directly encountered anyone with a disability or disadvantage, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed?

One of the panelists at the Global Woman Summit said we all have the power to change our circumstance, and largely I believe that to be true. But this certainly isn’t true for a child born with a disability in rural Africa. Whilst pushing one of the youngsters around to the course, it struck me (somewhat belatedly) that opportunity comes differently to all, perhaps due to the time or place of birth, their health and ability, none of which we are in control of. I guess my own privilege struck me at this point and caused a paradigm shift in my thinking, which has significantly influenced my journey since.

Part 2 to be continued...


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