As part of our series profiling the finalists of the Business Champion Awards 2023 we spoke to Paul Hargreaves, the founder of Cotswold Fayre, who are a double finalist in this years awards.
What do you currently do at ‘Cotswold Fayre’
I am the founder and CEO (Chief Empowerment Officer) at Cotswold Fayre, which has two sides to the business. The main business, which started in 1999, is a wholesaler of speciality food to around 2,000 retail sites across the UK – farm shops, garden centres, delicatessens, food halls etc. Then in June 2021 we also opened our own retail site, called Flourish, which sells our own products and has a 120-cover restaurant.
On both sides of the business, I am fortunate to have two fantastic leadership teams who look after most of the day-to-day side of the business. I set culture and strategic direction and support them in the great work they do. I have discovered as I become older that more often than not other people can do a better job than me; I just need to be good at finding the right people!
What was the inspiration behind your business?
Originally, I was selling a few products from The Cotswold’s in my spare time in the late nineties and a farm shop manager mentioned how difficult she was finding to easily source and order a decent range of fine British food. It turned out that this was a common problem, so we rented a small warehouse, filled it with gorgeous food and drink and started supplying retailers all over the UK.
I came from the charitable sector to start the business and was keen to have a business that wasn’t just about making money but made a positive difference in the community. So, of our original first five employees, three others might have called ‘unemployable’; ex-con, recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Since 1999 we have tried to make a positive different in all we have done since then in both in a social and environment way.
Imagine then, our delight when we discovered the B Corp movement in 2015 and became one of the first B Corps in the UK. These are all businesses like us that put people and planet before profit and there are now 1,200 in the UK. This movement is our main inspiration now and I spend around 20% of my time talking to other businesses about being better for people and planet.
Who do you admire?
That’s like a question I ask at interviews, “Excluding family members, who has most inspired you in your life?” I have always been disappointed with people’s ability to answer the question. There simply aren’t enough inspiring leaders around who are inspiring their people to be better. In fact, this triggered me writing a book about being an inspiring leader, The Fourth Bottom Line. I use Nelson Mandela as a superb example of leadership in that book, so he would be the answer to this question. We can learn more from reading his autobiography than any leadership or management book you might have picked up.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Short answer: ‘plenty’. The main two things would be to make sure I listened to my intuitive side more. The main times I have made mistakes were when I made a very rational decision but had a nagging feeling inside that we weren’t going in the right direction. I am better at this now, but still learning.
The second would be to take on better people sooner. We now have a great team, but we would have better earlier if I had taken on more expensive, experienced people earlier. They always make back for the company the extra they are paid.
What defines your way of doing business?
Put people and planet first and the profits will follow. These days consumers and buyers want to buy products and services from companies that are making a positive difference in our broken world, both for the planet and the poor. Companies that do this will flourish in preference to those businesses that are only about shareholder benefit. The more we have given away as a business, the more we grow.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Don’t hold back and be afraid to fail, dream your dreams. Clearly there needs to be a balance between taking risks and playing safe, but most play safe for too long. There is still a taboo around failing in the UK. I would rather employ someone that has failed and learned than someone who has never taken a risk. I would also counsel anyone starting out to ensure there are people around them (not family members) who they can turn to for advice.