Inspirational Woman: Helen Thompson | Non-Executive Director, Lily’s Kitchen

Helen ThompsonI’m a Non-Executive Director (NED) at Lily’s Kitchen. Lily’s Kitchen is dedicated to providing proper food for pets, with a commitment to treading carefully on the planet and actively engaging with its community.

Being a successful and profitable business allows Lily’s to do even more for people, pets and the planet.

My roles as NED is to support the company as it grows from an already successful brand, into an even bigger and increasingly international business, while staying true to its purpose.

Before joining Lily’s Kitchen I worked at TOMS – the shoe brand – where I was leading and building the brand and business in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career, and have you faced any challenges along the way?

My biggest challenge in business has also been my biggest success: learning how, where and with whom I do my best work. I think everyone starts out in a career and isn’t sure if it’s the right path for them, and it takes several, sometimes many, years to develop a clear path for yourself. Nowadays this can be termed developing your ‘personal brand’, but I rather think of it as developing deep down clarity about how to spend your working life in the best way you can for yourself. This is a very individual thing but I believe I have found this for myself.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

At Lily’s Kitchen, I think it’s the fact that we take sustainability so seriously and being a certified B Corporation is testament to that. There are various ways that we aim to lessen our impact on the environment, one recent example being our commitment to use 100% recyclable packaging by 2025.

We really try to show our commitment to keeping the planet that we – and our pets – love so much, something that makes it a stand-out pet food company in my view. Our recently released 2020/21 Impact Report highlights some of our key successes, for example reducing our carbon footprint by opening a European warehouse, reducing freight miles. We’re also really proud to say that 50% of our leadership team is female.

My time at TOMS was at a key moment for me personally, in terms of both business and brand development. I’m really proud of how we managed to evolve the company from being a start-up in the region, to one of great scale.

How would you advise attracting and retaining talent?

By finding a purpose – whether by supporting to solve inequalities of the world, or helping to provide for basic needs, or a focus on sustainability and supporting the environment. Businesses attract people as much for the mission, story and purpose as they do for the business role they are skilled to do.

Therefore, building a comprehensive employee experience, engagement and benefit approach that builds strong and frequent connection to this purpose is key. This takes different forms in different companies, but most would have strong employee practices around flexible working, diversity and inclusion, mental health support, pensions, health care, generous holiday allowances and many more.

If you could give some advice to women in business, what would it be?

To be successful you will need to have both a strong commercial proposition and an equally strong purposeful core.

I believe that consumers will demand more of this from the brands they support in the future and in fact, if we are to solve the problems of our world, whether they are born of inequalities, climate change, or many of the other issues we face, it will take businesses as well as governments, charities and individuals to solve them.

You will therefore need to become adept at managing both the successful commercial side of your business and building a strong ethos with synergies between the two. By doing this, one will reinforce the other to create a unique and defining reason for being.

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

Lily’s Kitchen is already a very successful and growing business with its own plan of how to expand in the future, and I hope to help the company in its next stages of growth. I would love to help strengthen the commitment to their purpose and values and help grow their international and multi-channel brands.

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