"It's nothing personal, it's just business"

A phrase I’m sure you’re all familiar with. It’s become the easy way out to treat people, suppliers and customers poorly. The fact that the phrase was coined by Otto Berman, an Accountant for an American Crime Family (read Mafia) in the 1920’s says it all really.

For me, the phrase is as bad as “nice guys finish last”...

...as if the only way to get ahead in business is to be hard faced with no empathy or compassion. It’s crazy that for some people their perception of success in business is defined by their ability to shit on others from a great height.

Every day we see people who are hanging on to their sanity by a thread, sick and tired of being treated like a commodity by companies who are not living up to their corporate values written on expensive shiny brochures. The news and social media are full of companies who spend thousands on corporate CSR activities not always because they care, but because they need to tick a box on a tender, or they want to get one up on their competition by putting themselves forward for a CSR award. We all see companies who make millions in profit every year, working their staff to death, lining shareholders pockets and bumping up their pension pots. These are often the same companies who immediately slash salaries, make staff take unpaid leave and ultimately make them redundant when profits drop by a few percent.

But remember, it’s ok, it’s nothing personal…it’s just business, right?

Finding my own social conscience

Perhaps I’ve mellowed with age. Perhaps becoming a parent has fundamentally changed my view of the world. Hell, throw in Covid, the oil price crash, and a media who are focused on making us all angry, scared and furious, and is it a surprise that most of us are asking serious questions?

A few weeks after I handed in my notice in 2018, sitting in the ball pit at The Den and The Glen with my eight-month-old son, I met Danielle Fletcher-Horn. A few months later I started volunteering for her charity AberNecessities on a weekly basis, and my God my eyes were opened. I was so incredibly ignorant to the real issues people were facing in our city and I was quite ashamed of the fact that I’d never done anything to really give anything back. However, through volunteering I started to regain a bit of my old self, the person described as “fights for social justice and always roots for the underdog” by my guidance teacher in sixth year at school. It actually gave me the confidence I needed to start entertaining the idea of running my own business.

Fast forward several months and when I read Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game everything clicked. Simon argues, in his unique charismatic way, that our current model of win-at-all-costs-capitalism is widening the gulf between rich and poor. Although Andrew and I have always worked in high pressure, target driven environments, neither of us have ever cared for the notion that being ahead of the competition (both internal and external) is the main goal. The idea that an infinite (read “long term, no winners or losers”) mindset could be applied to a socially conscious, community focussed recruitment business sealed the deal for us, and Vero was born.

Discovering Conscious Capitalism

Working with Mark Kemp and the team at FortyTwo Studio to bring Vero to life was a cathartic experience. Looking back it’s funny to think that we always scheduled one hour appointments, knowing full well that we’d be sitting around that table chewing the fat for at least two and a half hours, discussing everything from what really goes on behind the scenes in a recruitment business, to how difficult it is being a genuine good guy in an industry with a reputation for being more than a little sharky. Mark was the first person to introduce us to the term “conscious capitalism” and it started us on a journey which has taken us to where we are today, shaping every decision we make, including who we work with (both suppliers and clients). We decided to pick our suppliers based on certain key attributes; socially conscious, customer service focused, and full of people who we liked and trusted.

This is also the right time to introduce Alasdair McGill of Ashton McGill. He’s become far more than just our accountant - he’s our friend, our confidante and our sage. He’s a firm believer that balance needs to be restored to business and to people’s lives, and he has become one of our biggest advocates, always encouraging us and steering us in the right direction.

It was Alasdair who first recommended the book “Impact” by Sir Ronald Cohen (if you haven’t read it, you absolutely must) to us. As the pioneer of investing for social good, Sir Ronald is a firm believer that the very system that enabled him to haul himself out of poverty is actually the root cause of growing inequality – capitalism. He doesn’t argue that capitalism is wrong, quite the opposite in fact, but that the sole pursuit of profit has a damaging effect both socially and environmentally.

It's already happening

Ashton McGill have just launched Powered By Positive, bringing people together to create ideas in order to bring about positive change. It’s a place to amplify positive stories of change, community and innovation, to learn from them and to use them to co-create a better world.

Mark Kemp is now Co-Founder of a community called Conscious Leaders Scotland, a group of socially conscious business owners and thought leaders who believe that growing people and prosperity should be harmonious. They seek to educate others about the benefits of embracing a conscious and purpose driven mindset when it comes to employing people and growing their business.

Every day we see companies re-evaluating the way they work, building more positive environments for their staff, and improving the communities they operate within.

Default to open

The tide is definitely turning. Almost daily we speak to people seeking to work for purpose driven businesses who put just as much value on social conscience as they do profit. For some of you this might read “fluffy nonsense, disguising the fact they don’t know how to run a profitable business”. If that’s the case, we might not be the right recruiter for you.

I very much embrace the default-to-open mindset. When I first moved into a managerial position, I was determined to build trusting relationships with my team. A huge part of that was vulnerability. Did I get too close to them? Was I more of a friend than a boss? Definitely. Did that get in the way of my ability to do the job, to manage them when required and ultimately resolve conflict. Possibly on occasion, but on the whole it was the complete opposite. Because we had mutual respect for one another and the unique challenges each of our roles brought, we genuinely worked as a team. If someone was having a bad day we’d all rally round to support them, never wanting someone to suffer in silence. We created a zero blame culture, focussing only on building each other up.

This doesn’t mean you have to be unprofessional and forget you’re ultimately there to do a job and drive income. In my personal experience, when this is done right, you increase employee engagement and productivity, decrease recruitment spend (and the time costs associated with this), set a more positive work environment and ultimately increase profitability. Who doesn’t want that?

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a big company vs small company issue; with smaller owner managed businesses embracing the new cultural wave. But you’d be very wrong. Some of the most socially responsible businesses can be global PLC’s. It’s not just about glossy corporate values and CSR initiatives; it’s about the way they treat their employees on a daily basis, their working hours, their maternity and paternity benefits, and their (genuine) environmental impact.

Why are you telling me all of this now?

When Andrew and I were in the early stages of business planning we knew we wanted to create something with a conscience. To create something driven by our desire to do good in our community and to positively affect people’s experience of seeking work. We had originally intended to publish this blog in March 2020, but then COVID hit and our plans were put on hold somewhat.

Now, almost one year into our business it feels like the right time to be public with our intentions. It’s something we’re personally very passionate about and we’ve realised that many of you are too. We want to use Vero as a source for good, working with trusted partners to bring like minded business owners together and to give everyone a platform to embrace this new paradigm.

Very shortly we’ll be launching a campaign in support of the wonderful work Danii and the team at AberNecessities are doing to support families in our local area. Keep your eyes peeled and give me a shout if you want more information or if you would like to get involved. In addition, we’ve created our own set of business standards which will be published on our website and across our social channels.

It’s just the start of a long journey for us. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but surely it’s worth the effort to try?


I’d encourage anyone who has enjoyed this blog today to follow Conscious Leaders Scotland and Ashton McGill’s Powered by Positive.