Simon Mainwaring is the founder/CEO of We First, a strategic consultancy accelerating growth and impact for purpose-driven brands. He’s a Featured Expert and Jury member for the Sustainable Development Goals at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity; host of “Brands With Purpose” series with the Harvard Business School Association of Boston; member of the Steering Committee of Sustainable Brands, Forbes Business Council, and Royal Society of Arts in London.
Simon was a Real Leaders Top 50 Keynote Speakers in the World and was on the cover of the National Speaker’s Magazine (U.S.). He has been featured in BBC World News, The Guardian, Advertising Age, Fast Company, and Inc., among others. For Forbes, he writes the influential column, “Purpose At Work.”
His company, We First, was a Real Leaders’ Top 100 Impact Companies in the US, as well as a B Corp ‘Best For the World’ Honoree. Simon’s first book, We First, was a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Amazon bestseller, and was named Best Marketing Book of the Year by strategy+business.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The Lead With We movement
- Governments and NGO’s handle the social, economic, and environmental issues while business makes money
- The future of business leadership looks like
- Business can make a significant difference now when it has failed consistently in the past
- Business leaders’ responsibilities to their shareholders
- The number one change that companies of any size must make to be part of the Lead With We movement
- Importance of storytelling in reshaping the role of business and helping rewrite future
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Coach the Coach radio brought to you by the Business RadioX Ambassador Program, the no cost business development strategy for coaches who want to spend more time serving local business clients and less time selling them. Go to brxambassador.com To learn more. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:32] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Coach the Coach Radio, and this is going to be a fun one today on the show, we have Simon Mannering. He is the CEO of Wheat First and author of Lead with We Welcome Simon.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:00:45] Thank you, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:46] Well, I’m excited to learn about we first. Tell us a little bit about your organization. How are you serving, folks?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:00:53] Thank you. I’ve had a company. It’s a strategic consultancy for 10 years now, and we specifically drive growth and impact for purpose driven brands. So very small start ups or solopreneurs all the way through to companies, you know, like Tom’s Timberland or Sony Pictures.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:08] So what’s your backstory? How did you get into this line of work?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:01:11] It’s interesting. I wasn’t an advertising guy for a long time in Australia, London and the US where I’ve been living for the last 20 years. And then in 2007, 2008, Leigh, I saw the global economic meltdown, and it just seemed really unfair to me, quite honestly. I looked around and thought, How can you know a small number of people make an enormous amount of money and everybody else really lose their homes and their houses and their health care and so on? And so I wrote a book called We First how brands and consumers use social media to Build a Better World. And the book did well, and that launched the company for the last 10 years. And it really was about a more responsible practice of capitalism where everyone does better because more people do well instead of just a smaller number, you know.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:52] So now in your work, are you? How do you how do your clients find your they just resonating with that message and they want to pivot maybe a little bit about the way they’re doing business?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:02:03] No, absolutely. I mean, you know, 10 years ago, Leigh, in all honesty, it was hard to buy a lunch, you know, with somebody and talk about this, they’d be like, Oh, isn’t that cute that someone like you exists, you know? But now, I mean, as we all know, if you look around, every company is falling over itself talking about its good work. And that’s because we’re all acutely aware of the challenges we face the climate emergency, you know, plastic in our lives, loss of biodiversity. Every day, we’re told we’re in trouble. And so companies, if they want to stay in business, they have to do less bad, more good because people want to invest in, buy from and work for companies that are part of the solution. Is this part of, you know, to answer your question? You know, companies, they find us, they go to we first branding. They can see all the type of work we’ve done for different folks, and we really help them navigate not just how to do it, but how to do it authentically in a way that drives their business growth.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:56] Now you mentioned you mentioned the employee component to this. Do you think that this great resignation that we’re in the midst of right now is a symptom of that?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:03:06] It is. I think people got forced through COVID to sit back and reflect on how fragile life is, how they’re spending their time, what they want to. You know, what’s important to them, their families, their future. And because of that, a lot of people, not just because of the subsidies and sort of handouts that governments giving, they’ve stepped away and kind of said to themselves, Where do I want to invest my time? And actually, Reid Hoffman, who’s the CEO of LinkedIn, which is a big employment platform, said the other day that he didn’t call it the great resignation. He called it the great reshuffle. As people are thinking where they want to put, you know, direct their lives moving forward. And so the more purposeful the company is large or small, the more able you are to get the talent you need now.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:50] Is that something that a lot of companies and brands are really rethinking how they present themselves to the public and really trying to create that mission or that big why that is attracting the talent they need to grow?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:04:06] Absolutely. But I think there’s an important distinction there. It’s not just how they’re presenting themselves to market which, but that’s a really important part. As you say, it’s actually how they’re showing up in the world. It’s not just communications and marketing or maybe a corporate social responsibility or CSR program or philanthropy. It’s what’s our supply chain like and are we doing more harm to nature than good? How are we treating our people? Are we really diverse and inclusive after the Black Lives Matter movement? What products are we taking to market? Are we exposing our company to risk because we’re taking products to market that are bad for you or do damage to the environment? So they’re getting their house in order? And it’s only going to increasingly, because these issues we’re trying to solve for like the climate emergency are getting worse. And so there’s going to be more and more pressure on on companies to show up in accountable ways.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:53] So you think this is a real movement, this is not a fad that’s just there people giving lip service to some of this and just hoping it goes away.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:05:04] Well, you know what? You’re right, there’s a lot of companies, large and small that just pay lip service to it. They call it purpose washing, where they put out some good messaging, but nothing changes. But what we’ve found is that not only the media, but also your customers and your employees and even your investors call you out. You know, you saw, you know, Apple, you’ve seen Google, you’ve seen Amazon, you’ve seen Facebook all be called out by their employees. So there really is nowhere to hide. And so companies. These are really looking to make sure they’re on the right side of these new market forces that are rewarding them for showing up in a positive way. And at the end of the day, Lee, yes, it’s about business and the bottom line, but we’ve also got to solve for our future if we just keep doing what we’re doing. We’re going to be in real trouble very, very soon.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:49] So now let’s talk about how your firm helps. What is typical point of entry for you in an organization?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:05:57] You know, whether you’re large or small, we start with an audit of the company where we just go, OK, let’s have a look at see and see how you’re showing up right now. How what sort of supplies are you working with? You know how you’re treating your employees, how is your marketing or messaging being received? And we just work with the company large or small to say, Hey, what sort of shape are you in and how does that compare to your competitors? And then thirdly, we we talk to the key stakeholders in the company, the leaders, whoever they may be a solopreneur or a CEO and say, What’s your vision for the future? So we look at the company do the research, we look at the competitors and we speak to leaders, then we define what’s foundational for them, their purpose, which is why they exist, their positioning, which is what’s unique about them, their story or tagline they take to market and all the messaging to that end. And then we work with them to make sure that that is integrated inside the company in an authentic way. Because if you’re saying one thing to the world, but it’s different inside, it’s worse than not doing it at all, you’re going to get exposed. So we do the strategy piece in the first place. We do the culture building piece where we make sure it’s true inside the company. And then and only then do we help them go out to market and tell that story and what it unlocks. Lee is so powerful not only from a strategy point of view as to how they want to show up in the world. But their people are behind it, their employees and then their customers believe in their products and what they’re doing. And suddenly everyone’s building your business with you, not just your marketing department, especially if you’re a small company where you don’t have, you know, a lot of people to do that.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:31] Now is your work primarily an enterprise level organizations,
Simon Mainwaring: [00:07:36] It’s startups, which might be, you know, a founder on their own or a small team of four to six people through to private equity or venture backed firms that still have small teams but have got some sort of traction in the marketplace. Or it can be a portfolio company like we worked with Timberland, which is part of VF Corp. Or it could be, to your point, an enterprise we’ve worked with, you know, Sony Pictures and VF Corp and VSP Global. So it runs the gamut. The common denominator really is that you’ve got to, you know, want to be purposeful and you’ve got to want to do it for real. Whatever size you are, we can help people do that.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:16] Now, is there any thing actionable you can share with a smaller organization that they could be doing right now, something that doesn’t require hiring a consultancy, but just some low hanging fruit?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:08:28] Absolutely. Firstly, no one. Have a look and do a sort of a gut check on your company. Like, where are you exposed to risk? You know, there are certain suppliers that you think, Wow, they’re really not responsible with their labor practices or the materials they’re using a really bad like, could they get you in trouble and have a look at your culture in the same way? Are you diverse, but are you inclusive and have a look at how you’re marketing, you know? Are you talking to people? Are you talking at people or are you inviting them to join in bringing your purpose to life? So just do a gut check across your business without getting a consultant. And then secondly, once you had that sober assessment, think about what you’re going to improve because there will be things every company has got to improve something, but then define your purpose, which is why you exist. It’s, you know, it’s the foundation for the entire company. Your company and its products are a proof point of that. And how do you do it? Here are three questions you can ask yourself First question What is your enemy? And by that, I mean, what is that thing that you exist to solve? You know, with Uber, it was the bad traffic taxi experience.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:09:37] You know, with Airbnb, it was the homogenous, you know, hotel experience. What’s that thing that you really rattles you that you want to solve for so you can play a positive role in the world? Secondly, what are you the only of? There’s only one founder like you, one team like yours, one industry like yours at this moment in time? What are you the only of? And then thirdly, when you’re at your best, what are you doing when you crush it? When you have a high five day where you’re just like celebrating and you’re like, Damn, we rocked it today. What were you doing? So what is your enemy? What are you the only OG? And when you’re at your best, what are you doing? And when you answer those questions slowly, your purpose will start to emerge. It’ll start to be clear because sometimes it’s hard to see the label from inside the jar. But when you answer these questions, you externalize it.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:26] Now, how do you kind of prioritize? Because, like you mentioned earlier, there’s a lot going on like you can talk about the environment you can talk about, you know, just labor practices in different parts of the world. And if you’re getting goods or from different parts of the world, that might not be optimal. You know, for your clientele in your business, how do you decide which is the, you know, which of these priorities do you attack first?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:10:56] Here’s what I’d say to that question, because the big challenge for leadership, whether you’re a tiny company or a big today, big one today is you’ve got so many issues to solve for where do you stop? It’s so overwhelming. I mean, last year and this year we’ve had Black Lives Matter COVID and the climate emergency. You know, it’s just paralyzing. So here’s what you need to do. The three most important issues to consumers in the US and around the world are sustainability, or ESG, which is environmental social governance metrics. If you’re a big company but your sustainability, your impact on the planet. Secondly, it’s diversity and inclusion. Like, do you have the appropriate mix of people of color and backgrounds and so on at your company? And thirdly is fair and living wage and you’ve seen the average wage in the restaurant industry and folks like Amazon go from 15 to 17 to 20 dollars as they compete for talent. So do these. These three things write sustainability, DNI and Fair and Living Wage. Above and beyond that, you can look at other issues like, for example, mental health, where Harry’s the razor company wanted to help young men during COVID, and they provided a crisis text line where they could get mental health support because people were losing their jobs. You can do those issues above and beyond, but start by getting those first three things right
Lee Kantor: [00:12:17] Now when you’re working with your clients, is this something that you have to look? You mentioned the assessment at the beginning. Is this important because now you’re kind of benchmarking where we’re at today and then we all have something to measure against as we move forward?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:12:33] Yeah, that’s such a great point, Leigh. I mean, you know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, as the saying goes. So if you don’t know where you’re starting, how can you prove to leadership, to your CFO, to the founder that this has been worth it, that there’s an ROI return on investment? So when you go in, you can do employee surveys or you can just bring your team together and have a discussion, but capture that right up the summary of what you heard, you know, get the survey results and make sure everyone’s aware of them. Then when you do the purpose work and you bring it to life inside the company and you measure again in six months, you’ll be shocked. You will have gone from only 15 percent of employees knowing why the company exists and whether it’s meaningful to them to 73 percent. I mean, you just have to be intentional about it, and it adds enormous value in terms of your reputation, how long you keep your employees, why consumers buy your product, and just that your defensible in public. As more and more people are saying, Hey, are you doing bad or are you doing good?
Lee Kantor: [00:13:33] Now a lot of organizations, if you look at their people page on their website, they tend to all look alike. A lot of times the people in leadership, when they attack something like diversity, they don’t consider the leadership group as the place they’re starting with. They start further down the chain and then that’s kind of the last group that gets kind of under the microscope. How do you advise those kind of folks? Because the optics of that to me are just, you know, it looks like you’re saying one thing and doing another.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:14:08] No, it’s very, very true. And you know, it’s funny. I’m not to generalize, but a lot of the true diversity in companies happens way down the bottom of the organization, at the operator level or the line workers and so on. And what you really need is in the leadership level, you know, in the boardroom and managers and so on. The good news is the industry is on point about this. It is waking up all industries. I mean, I mean, there is so much expectation after the Black Lives Matter movement. So what can you do to start that dialog? I think what you need to do is to look at the research. You need to look at it and say, Hey, the business case is that if you have a more diverse and inclusive company and board, it delivers more ideas, greater returns on investment, greater return to shareholders and just really make the business case. Now, does that mean you kick people out? No. But as they actually cycle through the process or you can expand your board to have more people of color, more women, and it will only add value to the bottom line of your business. But no one’s going to listen unless the business case is there. So that’s where you’ve got to start.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:14] And then, like you said, this isn’t something that just sounds good. It actually there’s there’s metrics that kind of back this up. This isn’t something that just sounds good and is a nice to have. There’s proof that this is a better way to do business.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:15:30] Absolutely, absolutely. You know, business has no tolerance or time for something that doesn’t deliver bottom line value. And sadly, but also in a good way. We’re now at a point where our future is so compromised by all these issues social inequities, you know, racial bias, as well as the climate and other things that companies are getting rewarded for making these changes. They are getting and they’re getting penalized by not making those changes. So it actually is a risk to a company now to have a dozen old white guys sitting on a board. Decade after decade. And you don’t want to expose the company to that risk. You’re not responsible to your shareholders and nor are you enabling, you know, a good future for the company. And so you look at the research, the business case is there. We are now at a moment in time where companies and their bottom line are being rewarded for showing up differently. And when you think about it in the next decade, the majority of you of the population in the US will be people of color and from multicultural backgrounds. You know, we need to reflect the reality of the country that we live in. And I think that, you know, this is only going to accelerate this expectation, especially as you’re seeing a lot of capital from, you know, investors and venture firms and so on now being directed towards people of color and multicultural communities because the statistics are so terrible, there’s such disproportion there, but it is changing quickly.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:58] Yeah, but the status quo is the status quo for a reason. It’s hard. A lot of folks aren’t raising their hand and saying, You know what, maybe I should give somebody else a chance. It’s like you said, you’re going to have to expand boards and you’re going to have to expand the leadership pool. It’s harder to, you know, ask people to leave or to get rid of people.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:17:17] No, absolutely. I think to your point, you know, when people naturally cycle out of their term on a board and so on, that’s one way or the other way is to expand the board or to start having sort of advisory boards or subcommittees and so on and nurture the next generation of leaders so that they can then take their place at the right time. I mean, there’s no there’s no substitute for talent. And when you find the talent and you nurture the talent, it will rise to the top. But we just need to widen our lens and recognize not that this is just good in terms of our conscience. It absolutely is, but it’s really good for business as well. So we’ve got to get going on it and go go faster now.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:56] Can you share a little bit with our listeners about B corpse? That’s kind of new for some folks, but I think it’s an important development.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:18:05] So where a B Corp and the best for the world, B Corp and what that means is that you are certified to have met the minimum criteria of what they have is a B Corp impact assessment. And what that impact assessment is is they look at all aspects of your company in terms of your supply chain, your environmental footprint, how you treat your employees and so on, and you’ve got to get above a score of 80. Now why? B Corp What I mean is Benefit Corporation, much like a sequel or an escort, which, you know, every company in the U.S. and around well in the U.S. at least, is either a, you know, b, corporate escort or a sequel. So a B Corp is a third type of legal entity entity and it gets incorporated into your articles of incorporation at the company. And basically, it allows you to take your values and how you want to show up in the world and build it into the company articles. And it holds you accountable so that every two years you’ve got to be reassessed and make sure you meet that minimum threshold. Why is that valuable? Well, firstly, it makes sure that you’re really showing up in a meaningful way across the board. But secondly, when you get B Corp certified and you can put that stamp on your company, people instantly look at it and say, Wow, this is a company that’s showing up responsibly in the world in terms of its supply chain, its people, its products, its marketing, and increasingly especially with younger demos like millennials and Gen Z, they want to buy from companies that are showing up that way. So it’s a really, really powerful shorthand way to hold yourself accountable, but then take that to market in a way that’s going to benefit your business. So you can always go to B Labs or B Corp Dot Net, and you can find out all the details there.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:56] So now this lead with we movement that seems to be happening or we’re encouraging it to happen more often. What is kind of your biggest success story that you’ve seen for companies embracing it?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:20:14] Oh, there’s so many. There’s so many younger throw a few quick action. Rapid Fire The largest retailer in the world, Walmart has announced Project Gigaton, where they’re partnering in a wee sense with their suppliers all over the world. Massive supply chain all the things that Wal-Mart sells to pull a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions out of the air of carbon out of the air. Another example here in California, a smaller company, 30 year old outdoor power company called Prana, they thought they wanted to get plastic out of this, you know, the way they ship their products to retailers. So they developed a new folding system that means you didn’t need the plastic. And in one year, they took out 10 million plastic bags from their supply chain. They thought, What if we open that up to other people and they’ve now got one hundred and five brands involved? So time like just on the math. Ten million bags of prana times. A hundred other companies and those other companies may be exponentially more. That’s real impact or another. Another example in the B2B world, which sometimes people think, Oh, they don’t have to be purposeful because they’re not don’t have to face consumers. You’ve got companies like Interface, which developed a carbon assessment tool called EQ three that they’ve now shared for free with the entire built industry.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:21:34] The whole building industry, which is one of the biggest polluters on the planet so that they could all assess the carbon impact of what they were doing, so they can reduce it. So all of this is to say that it’s companies working with competitors or other, you know, companies and other industries to level up those industries. It’s companies working to get plastic and carbon out of their supply chain to make their reputations defensible in public. It’s companies developing new tools and technologies and products to do less bad and more good. Why so? Consumers buy more of their stuff because they feel good about buying those products? So, you know, there are so many examples, but the fundamental presumption is that we’re in this together. We are all suffering from the climate crisis the same way we’re all suffering from COVID, and we’re going to have to solve it together. So it’s not us against them. It’s not profit for profit sake. But let’s start with our purpose. Let’s work with others. Let’s level up our industry. Let’s make better products. And in turn, customers, consumers, employees will build our businesses with us.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:43] Well, if somebody wants to learn more about the movement and get a hold of the book or maybe get a hold of you or in your team, is there a website?
Simon Mainwaring: [00:22:51] Yeah. I mean, if you’re interested in consulting with we first, it’s we first branding. Com We first branding. But today is a very, very special day because my new book called Lead with We, which lays out a step by step. Blueprint for how any company of any size can actually drive growth while also solving for these issues, it’s out tomorrow on Amazon, or you can go to lead with Wycombe, Amazon or lead with weed and grab it. It will show you exactly what to do. All our 10 years of experience is laid out for you in a plan. Plus, give it to someone in business you know who would benefit because the more of us that do this, the better future will have.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:33] Well, Simon, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Simon Mainwaring: [00:23:37] Thanks so much, Leigh. Thanks to your listeners.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:40] All right, this is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you next time on Coach the Coach radio.