Twenty years ago I came from the charitable sector into the world of business and set up a speciality food and drink wholesaler, Cotswold Fayre. Arriving from spending more than ten years of trying to change the lives of the poor and disempowered in inner-city London, the natural thing to do when first employing people was to try and change lives for better through the company. So, of our first five employees in Reading, we had three former addicts: one to drugs, one to alcohol and the third to crime.
Whilst we had seen some change through our charitable work in South-east London, I had always felt that unless people gained the self-respect through work and supporting their families through their own endeavours rather than relying on the state, then real change would never happen. I was able to do this for the first time when I set up a business as I was finishing my work in the charitable sector. There was also the added advantage that work provides the regular routine for ex-addicts which makes it easier for them to stay on the straight and narrow.
On reflection now, I think that a ratio of 60% was perhaps far too high with the extra support and care that people like this demand, but I still believe this is something all companies should engage in as their part in making the world a better place. Not only is it a good thing to do, but you will gain some super-loyal team members and other employees will be pleased to be part of a company that is reaching out to help the community. Timpson is a great example here as they take 10% of their work force straight from prison. The main benefit to Timpson’s is that they gain incredibly loyal staff, who would never do anything to harm the company, and, in addition, coming from prison, they are obsessed with turning up on time.
It will not always be smooth-running though, but some pain is worthwhile and when done right, most companies that use business as a force for good end up with more productive employees and better profits. Increased loyalty and higher longevity are key here as we all know that reducing churn within a company improves the bottom line.
I remember Tom well (not his real name) who came to us from a drug rehab centre and was employed as a van driver. A few weeks after starting with us speed cameras were installed all over Reading town centre where we were based, and fairly quickly he picked up a couple of speeding tickets when leaving the warehouse very early in the morning. He paid these, and we told him to be a little more careful. However, not long later, another four speeding tickets arrived in the post. I bundled them up with a letter to Thames Valley Police asking them to have mercy on a guy who was sorting his life out and had started a job for the first time after years of addiction. I never had a reply to that letter and nor did Tom ever hear anything else, so I assume that someone at the police HQ believed in what we were doing and cancelled the tickets.
Our fractured communities need not only compassionate charities helping to mend them but also needs businesses acting with love and compassion too. ‘Love’ and ‘business’ are not two words often used in the same sentence, but I do believe times are changing and that the businesses that consumers buy from increasingly in the future are those that are helping to mend society and not just interested in the financial bottom line.