In conversation with Mark Cuddigan – The importance of leaders bringing economic, social and environmental priorities together

In conversation with Mark Cuddigan – The importance of leaders bringing economic, social and environmental priorities together
Published: 10 June 2020

Mark Cuddigan is CEO of Ella’s Kitchen and Head of Sustainability and Marketing at Hain Celestial Europe. He is also a member of the B Lab board, a UK registered charity that supports certified B Corps in the UK - businesses that give equal standing to people, planet and profit. Mark is a passionate advocate of business being used as a force for good and through his leadership at Ella’s he exemplifies how a business can be both profitable and purposeful. With so many distractions right now, it could be easy for leaders to put ethical and social agendas on the backburner and focus purely on the numbers. But will this lead to a prosperous future? Katie Hart, Consultant in our Consumer Practice, recently spoke to Mark about how Ella’s Kitchen’s Purpose has helped him lead the business through the pandemic, how the business will evolve and why it is more important than ever that leaders bring economic, social and environmental priorities together.

How is having a strong sense of Purpose helping you lead your business at the moment?

It guided us immediately. We came up with three areas which we needed to focus on as a business because we were facing record sales and very anxious parents who were going into lockdown and were worried about feeding their children. It was a very serious situation which we had to respond to. We established a three-point plan which was quite simple. The first point was to ensure we had enough stock to supply our retail partners. The second was to make sure we were available online, through our own shop and through our online customers. This was important for our consumers that couldn’t get to stores, or those that did go into stores to find all our products had sold out. We wanted to make sure that these consumers were able to get next day delivery – this was really important to us. The third area was supplying our charity partners to make sure the most vulnerable had product. Empty supermarket shelves meant that many of our charity partners couldn’t access the food they needed, so it was really important that we able to provide them with enough Ella’s Kitchen product for the most vulnerable in our society. If we didn’t have our mission and our Purpose, we wouldn’t have had three areas, we would have only had the first two which we benefitted from commercially. The third cost us money, which we haven’t even calculated yet. We just had to it.

Reflecting on what you have learnt over the past few months, what will you be doing differently at Ella’s Kitchen in the future?

We will increase the amount of time that people can work from home and we are going to travel less. I’ve challenged the business to halve our travel next year and I want to use those financial savings to invest in schemes that reduce our carbon output and put Ella’s on the path to becoming carbon neutral much sooner. We’ve committed as a business to being net-zero by 2030, but we want to decarbonise our entire business. We’ve got a lot of ideas on how to do this which is really exciting. We are also looking at how we engage differently with our consumers, new product innovation and how we capture the growth opportunity in ecommerce. There are big changes that we need to consider, including changes in consumer behaviour.

When many business leaders are focused on the bottom line and having to act defensively to protect their business, why should sustainability and using business as a force for good remain a priority?

It should always be a business priority regardless of the situation that we’re in. It will be the way that all businesses are run in the future and you can see this change happening. It’s difficult to feel the change at the moment because we’re all cooped up and isolated at home, but it’s definitely there and there’s a stronger sense of community spirit and togetherness. It feels as though the country and world have been brought together through this. I think businesses need to take on a leadership position right now. There are businesses that have responded to the pandemic in really inspiring ways to help other people. Simon Sinek says that you only get real fulfilment in one way at work and that is by helping other people. The businesses that are prepared to help other people will be the most financially successful, because, quite simply, people are going to want to work for them and they will attract the best talent. Consumers will also want to buy what they are selling. For me, it’s a no brainer – using business as a force for good has to be priority.

What advice would you give to leaders who want to start building a stronger sense of Purpose and social and environmental initiatives into their recovery plans?

The advice I would give is really look at your business – the way it operates, the type of business it is, etc. and look to the innovations you can make and how they can make a difference to the world. The obvious one at the moment is less travel, but what other innovations can make your business stronger but also kinder to the environment? There must be loads and they don’t have to cost money. In fact, a lot of these initiatives are going to save businesses money and be better for people. What could be better for people’s mental health? How can we innovate around flexible working? There are so many opportunities for innovation.

We have this moment in time where we have this massive opportunity because as a total global society, we have shown that we can reduce global emissions. We know we can do it and we’ve shown we can do it. Thousands and thousands of lives have already been saved through lower emissions in Europe. We need to keep that going. My challenge to everyone is, when does that number become statistically important? It’s important when it’s one, but when are people going to stand up, take notice and ask, ‘how do we ensure this continues?’ ‘How do we ensure asthma rates continue to decline?’ ‘How do we ensure that we continue to see stars at night in cities?’ You can literally taste and feel the difference in London. Lots of people are saying how amazing it is, but how do we make sure this is long term change and things don’t return to how they were. Let’s not go back to business as usual. Let’s grab the changes. Let’s think differently and be innovative.

What advice would you give leaders who may be getting pushback from their shareholders claiming that there are more important things to worry about at this time?

Now is absolutely the time. If the shareholders are only interested in money, then explain that it makes financial sense to run a company that connects better with your staff and with your customers. There are so many companies that can be used as proof of this. They are doing amazing work and inspiring so many people that they will reap the financial rewards and good for them. There’s no risk. There’s only benefits to running your business in a more environmentally sound and ethical way.

When talking about B Corp, I was once asked by someone from a large organisation ‘so what is the cost of us doing this?’ I replied and said I didn’t know and the person asking the question just smirked. I continued by saying that I didn’t know because I had no idea where the business was at that moment in time and if the business had never measured anything then there was no way I could answer that question. But what I did know, was the cost of not doing anything. The cost would be that the business would continue to haemorrhage staff in the way they had been doing, they would continue to not be able to emotionally connect to their consumers or their brands, and that the business would not be successful financially or against any other business metric going forward.

Closing thoughts….

This is a great opportunity for leaders to lead. There has never been a time like this and I’m sure all leaders are finding that they are being called on in ways that they just wouldn’t have thought possible a few months ago. I’m sure most are responding really well, but we have this opportunity to make real change, which would be such a massive benefit to everybody. That’s pretty exciting. Challenging but exciting.

For more information please contact Katie Hart, a consultant in our Consumer and Retail Practice. 

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