HeForShe: Paul Hargreaves | Speaker, B-Corp Ambassador, Author & CEO, Cotswold Fayre

Paul Hargreaves

Paul Hargreaves is a speaker, a B-Corp Ambassador, and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership

Paul is on a mission to help businesses make a positive difference in the world and reverse some of the injustices which are increasing year by year. He is the CEO of Cotswold Fayre, who supply retail outlets across the UK and Ireland with artisan food. Cotswold Fayre is one of the founding UK B Corporations – companies that meet the highest standards of overall social and environmental performance and in their recent recertification achieved one of the highest B Corp scores for FMCG companies in the UK.

As well as continuing as CEO of a rapidly growing business, Paul is a B Corp ambassador and professional speaker, who inspires and equips organisations of all sizes to find their purpose and do their part to create a better world.  For years, Paul has also invested time and company resources into an orphanage and schools in Western Kenya, one of the poorest parts of the world.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

A degree in Zoology led me to a brief 3-year period in sales (my only ever employed role) before around 12 years working in the charitable sector in South-east London, which was mainly spent trying to help those who had been dealt a harsh blow by society or business: the homeless, drug addicts, prisoners etc… When the funding started to run out for this, I started to buy artisan food products from the Cotswolds and sell them to shops in and around London.  In 1999 this became a proper business and 22 years later we are the largest wholesaler of speciality food and drink to the retail sector in the UK, supplying 2,000 sites across the UK.  We were one of the first B Corps in the UK and this has led me to be a speaker into other businesses and has inspired me to write two books.  This year we also opened a retail and restaurant business in Bristol and we now have over 100 people making a positive difference to the world.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not!  My main goal has always been to make a positive difference to people’s lives and more recently the planet.  The charitable sector was the first way of doing that and now business.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, many and various – the largest one was in 2014 when the business (around £10M revenue at the time) was within weeks of collapse due to a botched new IT installation.  I now look back at this time as pivotal in changing both me and the business for better.  The crisis forced me to address both my personal purpose in life and the purpose of the business, neither of which were as clear as they need to be.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

That’s a tough question, but what I am most proud of at present is the retail and restaurant business, Flourish, we started this year and the way that the very positive culture of Cotswold Fayre has been cross-pollinated into a brand new venture 60 miles away from our wholesale office. 

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Self-awareness.  I realised fairly early on that there was no point in doing stuff within the business I was neither good at nor enjoyed.  Finding great people to do all the things I am no good at is our main reason for success!

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?     

I think mentoring is something that every business leader would benefit from doing.  My experience is that those mentoring learn as much as those being mentored, particularly when there is cross-generation relationships.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

Quick answer: much more than they do currently!  They would do more if more people realised that those businesses best at this are actually more successful businesses.  After all an orchestra just made up of violins would not sound very good – we need the whole orchestra to make a sound.  The key to making this happen is to ensure that everyone in the business feels that their voice can be heard and their perspective is taken account of.  Empathetic leadership is clearly important to achieve this.  The leadership team also needs to reflect proportionally those within the company or organisation.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

Many of the problems in the world both now and throughout history is due to an over-masculinised leadership.  The qualities our westernised brains think of when thinking about leadership are often the male stereotypes and we desperately need to re-affirm the many great feminine leadership qualities to re-set the balance.  Men need to learn from women and operate more within these feminine characteristics and we also need more women in leadership positions.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

“Spend less time doing things and being ‘productive’ and more time reflecting and learn to ‘be’.  That way you will do less but achieve more.”

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next challenge is to re-assess the structure of the company – we have doubled in revenues since Covid and some of our systems and processes that worked well in the past need to be changed for a company now approaching £30M in size.

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